Conversations about Europe
50 guests attended a sønderjysk kaffebord - Southern Jutland coffee table - a tradition involving generous amounts of coffee and cake and allowing the participants to get to know each other.
This was the framework financed by Europanævnet - an organisation that funds information activities related to the EU. The idea was to gather 50 guests who did not know each other in advance. They were different in all respects - age, gender, background, nationality.
They were seated at tables - 6 at each table - with a carefully briefed moderator at each table. The starting point was personal stories of participants - where do you come from, what is on your mind right now, and what is your dream about? The conversations also revolved around issues of identity - what does it mean to come from Odder, from Denmark or from Europe? In this context also thoughts about the future of Europe.
After 2 hours at the tables there was a break followed by a town hall meeting facilitated by event organizer Povl Henningsen who summed up the key points discussed at the tables. Thoughts on the European challenges of establishing what we do best together - performing as a choir - in Europe and where we would prefer to sing solos.
Feedback from the event has been extremely positive. Key points mentioned:
The entire event was video recorded. A short video documentation of the event isbeing produced. In addition, a slightly longer documentary will be produced focusing on 5 personal stories about Europe heading for 2025.
Mobilising ordinary Europeans to take part in inspiring democratic conversations about the visions, values and goals of the European Communities is essential to have Europe to develop in a positive, constructive and dynamic way. The Sønderjysk Kaffebord is clearly one tested and tried method. It would be highly relevant and interesting to fine-tune this approach and try it out on other groups of Europeans.
You can build the future of Europe
The European Union is about to celebrate its 60 years anniversary. It has contributed to fundamental and comprehensive changes across the continent. The organisation itself has grown from 6 to 27 members and the policies covered have multiplied and changed. Now the EU as an organisation faces new internal and external challenges.
It is a major problem that very few citizens are involved in a debate about the future of the EU. At the European parliamentary elections, the voter turn-out has persistently dropped and now represents around 40 % of the electorate. The EU is gradually losing its former prominence on the agenda for the political parties, for governments, and for the media. Because of this, European peoples are not encouraged to be interested in the EU, even though its development is of utmost importance to our daily lives, welfare and security.
We have to use a new approach to engage Europe's peoples in the debate of their future and to have impact on the future agenda. We must have a permanent platform for comprehensive dialogues on a continuous basis.
For this reason we have launched Europe’s Peoples’ Forum. This forum will provide the place where citizens may meet - on the internet and also in person - to discuss and analyse the issues concerning the EU, which they consider to be the most important ones. The Forum will ensure that the proposed strategies and priorities resulting from these discussions are presented to and discussed with the political decision-makers and with other contributors to the EU agenda.
Europe is not built in Brussels, but our common future is built through the active participation of Europe’s people wherever they are based in the European Union.
Background for Europe's Peoples' Forum
Arranged since 2011, the People’s Political Festival in the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm in Denmark attracts more than 25.000 people every day for four days to discuss with 600 Danish politicians from national, regional and local level. More than 90 % of the members of the Danish parliament “Folketinget” take part in the People’s Political Festival. The Danish festival was inspired by similar events in neighbouring countries such as the Swedish “Almedalsvecka”, the Norwegian “Arendalsuka”, the Estonian “Arvemusfestival”, and the Finnish “Suomi Areena”.
These national political events give individual citizens, professional organisations, NGOs, members of political parties etc. direct and informal access to discuss with politicians. Politicians participating in the Danish event have to opportunity to discuss their points of view with non-politicians and occasionally adjust their policies afterwards. Other participants report having had very interesting discussions that impact on Danish policy frameworks.
Europe's People’s Forum targets the populations in the 27 EU member states. Europe’s People’s Forum shares the aims of the political events mentioned above to make the political discussion accessible to citizens and stakeholders alike. However, Europe’s People’s Forum is more ambitious because it aims to reverse the roles of the participants. In this forum, the citizens will present the results of solid analyses and conclusions of important political issues to the politicians and civil servants from national, regional and local levels of the 27 member states as well as to the civil servants and parliamentarians from the European Union. The people of Europe will set the agenda and determine what policies and strategies should be discussed by the forum.
Europe’s People’s Forum is the culmination of a comprehensive preparatory process. The first phase constitutes of national debates arranged by partner organisations in all 27 countries in order to prepare solid analyses and opinions. These debates will focus on the specific thematic issues to present and debate at Europe's People’s Forum that particular year. The debates and the analyses will take place online and can be followed up by working groups at national and European level. The outcome of the preparatory discussions will be discussed by representatives from all member states at the two thematic fora in Denmark Here they will present the proposed policy strategies for discussion with the hundreds of politicians, NGOs, associations, and average citizens at the large-scale Europe's People’s Forum.
Credits: Joshua Tree Photography