EPN Report on “EU Governance of Renewable Energy Post 2020 – risks and options”

Report of the conference about EU’s Renewable Energy post 2020 organized by Henrich Boll Stiftung and IES on December 18th 2014: 
“ EU Governance of Renewable Energy Post 2020 – risks and options”

On December 18th EPN participated to the conference organized by Henrich Boll Stiftung and Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. The event hosted guests and speakers from the EU institutions and from different civil society organizations.

First of all, Sebastian Oberthür, ProfessorAcademic Director at the Institute for European Studies, presented speakers and introduced the conference. Then Tomas Wyns, Doctoral Researcher at Institute for European Studies (VUB), presented briefly the risks and options of EU governance of renewable energy post 2020. According to him, the EU’s post 2020 renewable energy policy could change significantly. Firstly, we could attend to the removal of national binding renewable energy targets after 2020. In that way EU could be blocked in her action and will face some difficulties to meet its own targets. He stressed the solution proposed by the European Commission which would be to introduce a governance system in order to improve the middle ground between Member States and EU. However, as he said : “the implementation of a governance process wouldn’t be enough without a strong legislation”. In that case, the solutions would be the reviewing of EU Renewable Energy Directive (adopted in 2009) and the removal of financial and regulatory barriers.

Furthermore, according the European Council’ communication of October 2014, the renewable energy target should increase of at least 27% instead of 20% (current rate) by 2030. Nonetheless, how could we reach this target without binding targets? Indeed, even if EU is ambitious and advocates for more renewable energy, it can’t be a total success without binding targets at the national level. For instance, Member States could decide not to reach this target because of the absence of sanctions. Finally, none forthcoming review of the current Renewable Energy Directive is predicted.

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According Tomas Wyns, the post 2020 EU Renewable Energy Directive could be enhance by several measures. Firstly, we need a review of the current Directive because main of those measures will expire after 2020. Secondly, the reviewed Directive should make sure that the current national binding targets (e.g. 20%) will be reach even after 2020. Finally, it should ensure that Member States share a guideline in order to give an upfront to EU.

Leonardo Zannier, Policy Officer at European Commission (DG Energy), stressed the European Commission’s priorities. For instance, he highlighted the streamline and simplification’s need  of the greenhouse gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Indeed, as long as we’ll have three separate processes the EU’s renewable energy policy won’t be efficient. Moreover, as Tomas Wyns said, European Commission advocates a governance process in order to improve collaboration between Member States and EU. Therefore without a governance process it would be impossible to create a mix of European measures and national measures.

Finally, according to Dorte Foquet, Energy Lawyer and partner at Becker Büttner Held, even if targets are clear, it remains unclear how to enforce them. We can do what we want but if Member States don’t want to do that, they may not able to do that.

To conclude, the willingness of Member States is one of the most important element in this analysis. As long as there won’t be a consensus on that point, we won’t have a relevant and efficient policy. Indeed, the governance process advocated by European Commission couldn’t work without the involvement of Member States and it’s not clear to what degree this policy has to be Europeanized or not. Nevertheless, as most shared competence of the EU, the renewable energy policy is building step by step.

Author : Siham Lechkar

EPN REPORT: Inclusive education. Fighting inequalities in education and training

Report of the round table discussion about Lifelong Learning organised by EUCI-LLL on December 10th:
“Inclusive education. Fighting inequalities in education and training”

On December 10th, EPN participated to the round table discussion organised by the European Civil Society Platform on Lifelong Learning (EUCIS-LLL) at the University Foundation in Brussels. The event hosted guests and speakers from the EU institutions as well as from different civil society organisations.

 Daniele Dimitri, EUCIS-LLL vice-president and moderator of the discussion, introduced the guests and the topic addressed by the panellists. He briefly talked about the importance of the accessibility of education and of social inclusion. He stressed on the fact that education is a fundamental tool to empower people and to fight against discrimination.

After Dimitri’s introduction, Julie Ward, a newly elected British MEP from the S&D political party, took the floor and presented more broadly the topic of the debate. She expressed her insights and her point of view about the notion of inclusive education. According to her, this concept should imply that people of all ages should have the opportunity to participate in a whole range of activities. Within this context, any failure by civil society organisations and by political authorities would lead to the isolation of some categories of people and to tragic situations, such as violence issues and suicides. According to Ward, these are the outputs of a lack of access to education and to a wide range of opportunities. Concluding her speech, Ward made an important remark saying that civil society should act both through big providers as well as through grassroots organisations if it wants to fully achieve the goal of inclusive education.

Following Ward’s views on the issue, Paul Downes, director of the Education Disadvantage Centre, presented a study he conducted about the access to education in Europe. He investigated education ministries and universities in Europe conducting interviews in twelve different EU countries. The results of his study showed that there are some blockages preventing the implementation of reforms within the education system: as a matter of fact, very often there is no commitment starting at the national level, nor there are set criteria for inclusion. This lack of interest from the side of European countries is reflected within the framework of EU institutions, where apparently the topic of access to education has been excluded from the Commission’s priorities. This being said, Downes shared his doubts with the audience about the question of the eventual need of a Council recommendation in order to tackle this delicate issue. As Ward stressed during her speech, also Downes insisted on the importance of developing community-based lifelong learning centres.

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After the insightful openings by Ward and Downes, the panellists took the floor. The event hosted: Thomas Huddleston, representing the Migration Policy Group, a Commission funded Network working on education issues concerning people with a migrant background; Gina Ebner, Secretary General of European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA); Brando Benifei, a young Italian MEP member of the S&D political party; Giuseppina Tucci, board member of the Organising Bureau of European School Students (OBESSU).

The four guests talked extensively about the issue of inclusive education from different angles and point of views, according to their personal and professional experience. During the discussion, several crucial points were highlighted. First of all, the issue of a factual lack of political will concerning inclusive education was emphasised. Since EU priorities have so far excluded important issues related to education, more efforts have to be done by civil society organisations if substantial change is to be realised. Additionally, also the problem of implementation was pointed out. Very often the strategies in the field of education seem to be written by ministries of social inclusion or of other nature, while instead they should be tackled by education authorities, teachers’ associations and organisations with an expertise on the matter. To solve the problem of implementation, more engagement with stakeholders is needed. Furthermore, some core issues were defined as fundamental in order to make further steps on the path of inclusiveness. To mention the most relevant ones: the promotion of mixed schools, the improvement of the quality and of the functioning of the vocational training system, and the solution of the issue of the mother tongue, which is still an obstacle for people with a migrant background. According to the panellists, it is also important to share the concepts of social inclusion and of active citizenship. Adult education should serve as a way to provide a wider range of self-confidence and to give a voice to people within the public sphere. This is why civil society organisations and political authorities should find ways to make learning attractive. Within this context, the “outreach approach” seems to be one of the keys to achieve inclusive education. It is a comprehensive approach which should be further exploited through the development of a whole range of activities allowing people to meet, discuss, and be listened to. This approach crosses different sectors and implies a dialogue within civil society. Some broader reflections were made also concerning the situation in which Europe finds itself at the moment, especially considering the very negative influence that the long term crisis had on our continent. Within this context, the EU2020 Strategy should serve as a framework to overcome the crisis while establishing a constructive dialogue between political authorities and civil society organisations. This dialogue should especially concern topic of utmost importance, such as the issue of inclusive education. Other relevant points were highlighted by the speakers, such as the issue of the costs of education, education snobbery and the challenges that experts of education have to face when it comes to minorities. Furthermore, the case of hidden costs of education was presented. Considering secondary and higher instruction, even though education is considered as free, there are instead some high costs that are often forgotten. For example, some schools or universities require very expensive material that is charged to the students. Moreover, the costs for the public transports have to be considered, as well as those for school trips. Very often all these costs play a decisive role in young people’s decision when it comes to choose a school or a university or a vocal training. This is one of the reasons why in a way education creates exclusion.

To summarise the most important points that were stressed during the discussion, some key-words can be highlighted: grassroots organisations, active citizenship, comprehensive approach, dialogue. A more intensive interaction between political authorities and stakeholders seems to be the key to the progressive solution of the problem of non-inclusive education.

After a short Q&A section, Daniele Dimitri closed the discussion leaving an open question: how to create synergy among different civil society organisations to fight for inclusion in education? We hope that the answer to this issue will be concretely provided by civil society organisations during the next years.

Author : Lucia Montanari

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EPN REPORT: Media freedom in Turkey Under pressure but continuing to fight back

In May 15, 2014 EPN participated in the Turkish Insights Policy Dialogue, “Media freedom in Turkey Under pressure but continuing to fight back”. The meeting was organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC) and the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) as a response to the recent events that affected Turkey in terms of media freedom. Several panelists were present to address the issue of media freedom in Turkey: Yavuz Baydar, columnist at Today’s Zaman, Renate Schoeder, Director of the European Federation of Journalists, H.E. Torbjørn Frøysnes, Head of the Liaison Office at the Council of Europe andThomas Grunert, Head of Unit – Enlargement and European Economic Area, European Parliament. Amanda Paul, Policy Analyst and Programme Executive at the European Policy Centre introduced the topic by exposing Freedom House Index ranking according to which Turkey has been downgraded from a partially free media to no free media at all, positioning itself below Iraq.       

mediafree2 Yavuz Baydar, Columnist at Today’s Zaman opened the debate by  developing four points: law, judiciary, ownership and job  conditions in Turkey. In terms of law, between 25 and 30 articles  restrict press/media freedom. However, some changes have been  made regarding the anti-terror law, which have led to positive  changes. The judiciary is also facing a number of problems,  particularly regarding the Prime Minister. In fact, around 17  people were sentenced for labeling the Prime Minister, showing  the existing pressure of expressing one’s opinion in Turkey. The  ownership issue led to protests against self-censorship and the media order in Turkey. In terms of job conditions, Mr Baydar explained that those who insisted in being part of a trade union were fired or worked under threatful conditions. Consequently, it creates a fear of being fired arbitrary and risking not being rehired. “It turns newsroom into open-air prisons, you can’t take editorial decisions out of fear”, he said. 

 

Renate Schoeder, Director of the European Federation of Journalists provided some information about the mediafree3organisation and the work undertaken regarding the journalist free campaigns. Ms Schoeder underlined two important facts: first of all, releases are always made pending trials. Second of all, 25 journalists are still in prisons, and some of them have health problems, meaning a lot still has to be done. Nevertheless, some progress has been made. The detention period, for example, has been reduced from 10 years to 5 years. 

 

mediafree4 Thomas Grunert, Head of Unit – Enlargement and European Economic  Area, European Parliament elaborated several key points. In his view, a  positive tendency can be observed in relation to journalists, meaning that  less and less journalists are imprisoned. Mr Grunert also added  comments to several topics previously brought up by the panelists, such  as the selective reporting of public media, self-censorship, legal  provisions, the monopolisation of the media, freedom of speech and the  protection of the state.

 

H.E. Torbjørn Frøysnes, Head of the Liaison Office at the Council of Europe mediafree5highlighted various aspects of the EU-Turkish relations as well as Turkey’s role in shaping the standards for Europe and influencing its political face.  He also addressed the issue of media freedom and cooperation projects which have been carried out to improve it.

 

To conclude, EPN followed the meeting with great interest. Media freedom is a value which is worth fighting for and it is important to organise such events in order to remain informed of current events and journalists’ day to day battle for media freedom.

EPN REPORT – TTIP: Fears of the Unknown

The European Professionals Network (EPN) was pleased to assist the CESI lunch debate on “TTIP: Fears of the Unknown” on April 28th, 2014. The event was jointly organised by CESI, U4U, Union for Unity and Unitee, the European – Turkish Business Confederation. Romain Wolff, CESI President opened the debate by raising a series of key questions about TTIP:  What will TTIP change in our daily life? Are we well informed about the TTIP? Are we looking at another sort of NAFTA? What are the benefits and how can we measure them? Will there be short-term loses? Will SMEs run out of business? What role will there be for social partners, the European Parliament and civil society in the implementation of the agreement knowing that civil society’s role is limited in the process? In order to answer to these questions, BerndHüttemann, moderator of the event and Secretary General of European Movement in Germany gave the floor to the panel of speakers: Jan Schmitz, Trade negotiator in the European Commission, Paul de Clerck, Head of the Economic Justice team at Friends of the Earth Europe, Romain Pardo, Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre and Andreas Galanakis, Policy Director at the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union.

 Jan Schmitz, first panelist who intervened in the discussion gave an overview of TTIP and raised a number of topics which are currently debated. He defined TTIP as being “a trade agreement which goes beyond the classical elements of trade agreements.”  

“We want to look on a case-by-case, sector-by-sector basis where the intended aim of regulation is the same but the facto implementation is different, e.g. car safety standards” he said.

He stressed, labour standards would not be lowered by TTIP, the aim being to set the minimum standards, under which we would not go below. Jan Schmitz added that the initial face of agreement was completed and that the second one – the negotiation phase – had just started. He concluded by stating that current criticisms were related to the existing system and that TTIP was introduced to improve this system.

Paul de Clerck, Head of the Economic Justice team at Friends of the Earth Europe argued the main gain from TTIP would be expected from the harmonization and making standards coherent between the EU and the US. “Deregulation of standards, that is what TTIP is about”, he said. He also explained standards and regulations would be lowered in order to make it easier for EU-US businesses to trade. In his view, there’s no evidence standards might be increased.

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For Paul de Clerck, TTIP is a business driven agenda, meaning the EU position is very much influenced by the business lobby. In fact, most of the 130 meetings organised with external stakeholders were related to business.

Another question was raised: Is TTIP transparent? According to the Commission, it is more transparent than ever before. Nevertheless, if you compare it to other regulatory processes, it is less transparent, the Head of the Economic Justice team argued.

Romain Pardo, Analyst at the European Policy Centre brought up the issue of problematic sectors such as the agricultural sector which receives a lot of subsidies in both the EU and the US. The agricultural sector incorporates health and environmental factors, which explains why it is so difficult to tackle. A dispute can also be observed in relation to the aircraft subsidies (the US with Boeing & the EU with Airbus). Finally, the data sector can also be considered as a problematic sector since the issue of trust arises. Romain Pardo explained that trust between the EU and the US had been eroded by the NASA case and that the data protections prospective between the EU and the US were quite different.

Regarding the issue of transparency, Mr Pardo argued that the Commission was doing important efforts to increase transparency by listening to stakeholders.

According to Andreas Galanakis, Policy Director at the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, trade is a good thing and it can also benefit businesses and SMEs. “EU-US trade partnership has been existing for a long time, it’s not something new”, he said. In his view, at the end of the day, the people who benefit the most are businesses and SMEs.

Dr Adem Kumcu, President of Unitee closed the debate by highlighting the importance of democracy, transparency and accountability. The challenges of TTIP are clear, in this context of economic crisis, we need to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.

TTIP3 To conclude, Mr Adem Kumcu shared a quotation from James  Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds: “Diversity and independence  are important because the best collective decisions are the  product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or  compromise.” 

EPN Report: How to strengthen the relations of European Union with Ukraine? What about the renewal of the dialogue with Russia?

The complex situation Ukraine has been facing for months and the dialogues with Russia and the EU were at the focus of the conference “How to strengthen the relations of European Union with Ukraine? What about the renewal of the dialogue with Russia?”  organised by Confrontations Europe. Serhiy Kvit, Minister of Education in Ukraine, Antoine Arjakovsky, director of the department «Society, Freedom, Peace» at the College des Bernardins, Vincent Degert, Head of division “Russia” of the European External Action Service,Oleg Kobtzeff, Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the American University of Paris and Philippe Herzog founding president of Confrontations Europe presented their views and debated on this sensitive issue.

Serhiy Kvit, Minister of Education in Ukraine underlined the importance of creating a dialogue. A lot of people think we are entering into another Cold War. But for Kvit, we must not return to the Cold War but try to arrange the dialogue and fight against corruption and other key issues. 

“Newspapers clearly illustrate the tragedy of a political marginalization and we must carry on the discussions with truthful people who want to find a solution. Dialogue with Putin is impossible”, he said.

No matter who is at the head of the Russian empire, the person has no importance in regards to the position, he explained: “Russian people do not respect the person but the seat of power which means that dialoguing with Russia is like dialoguing with an empty seat”.

According to him, we must accept the impossibility of a dialogue with Russia since it ignores the contents of the democratic procedure. A dialogue must be carried out but between people who wish to reach a result.

Antoine Arjakovsky, director of the department «Society, Freedom, Peace» at the College des Bernardins and former cultural attaché for France in Moscow and in Kiev stated that good faith in this case was not enough. In his view, each side is facing a paradoxical position. On the one hand, Russia wants to create a Eurasian union but is isolating itself. On the other hand Ukraine is fighting for freedom but also dealing with Russia annexing its country.

There are various solutions, he explained: “First of all, an international conference – with the participation of Ukraine – should be organised.  Second of all, intellectuals and historians should meet since, there’s lot of mythology in both Russian and Ukrainian sides with respect to the common history. Third of all, we should reopen discussion with theologians”.

“Today, we need a language of truth and listening” he said.

Vincent Degert, Head of division “Russia” of the European External Action Service pointed out how fast the situation dramatically changed. Warning signals existed, said the head of division, but they were very technical and we did not pay enough attention to them.

He also claimed that the EU did not shut down dialogues with Russia. Exchanges were made before and after January’s EU Summit. The Ukrainian crisis has become an international crisis and it is crucial to learn lessons from it. Nevertheless, this has to be done on both sides and not just unilaterally.

Oleg Kobtzeff, Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the American University of Paris reacted to the other panelists’ speeches by stating “We need to desovietize Ukraine”.

For Kobtzeff, we are not in a Cold War situation but it might be even worse. We have forgotten the risks of the Cold War.

“It’s a good thing that NATO did not get involved, it would not have been the right solution”, the assistant professor of the American University of Paris explained. This is a European affair, and Russia is a part of it. If it’s not too late, the solution would be a European defense.

“Russia has to understand that Putin is a tactician” said Oleg Kobtzeff.  He has no vision for the future and often improvises. We have to make Putin realise that Russia has economic potential which he is not using and that his whole economy is based on something – gas and oil – which will not last.

Philippe Herzog, founding president of Confrontations Europe made it clear that Putin’s method could not be accepted. Putin’s position is not clear, he explained and neither are his goals. Nevertheless, he has a longer-term view and is aware of the international context. Europe’s vision, however, is vague.

“Europe must develop a more elaborated long-term vision”, said the president of the organization. We must consider the long-term political vision, in consistence with the Ukrainian choice.

The debate was followed by a series of interesting questions and remarks. EPN was glad to attend this conference which tackled a very sensitive and crucial subject. 

EPN report: Missing a generation in EU politics – How to involve young Europeans?

The involvement of young people in EU politics and their underrepresentation was the focus of the conference” Missing a generation in EU politics: How to involve young Europeans?”  organised by FutureLab Europe, a programme operated by the European Policy Centre. László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Sandra Petrović Jakovina, Member of the European Parliament (S&D Group),  Jávor Benedek, Candidate for the European elections (Greens) and  Konstantinos Kyranakis, President of the Youth European People’s Party gave their opinion on the subject and contributed to the animated and interesting debate which followed the presentations. 

Introduction

Janis Emmanouilidis, Director of studies at the European Policy Centre opened the conference by presenting three reasons to address this subject: the crisis, which particularly affects the youth generation, the elections, which are an opportunity to discuss things and provide orientations for the future of Europe and finally the fact that important decisions would be taken in the upcoming period.

Presentation of the FutureLab Europe report “Missing a generation on EU politics – How to involve young people?”

Dorit Fauck and Sandra Grindgärds from FutureLab Europe provided key figures to the public and presented the results of a survey they carried out throughout Europe. In 2009, only 29 % of people under the age of 24 voted at the European elections. In addition, currently, out of 766 MEPs, only 2 are under the age of 30. On the basis of the survey results, four main causes were identified. Firstly, young people don’t see the importance of voting. Secondly, too few young people are represented in the office. Thirdly, there is a lack of discussion on subjects in which young people are interested in (i.e. education, mobility, etc.). Finally, the lack of information and communication affects young Europeans’ voting habits.

Presentation of László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and inclusion.

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 László Andor underlined the fact that the low participation of young  people is a real problem. Their involvement and participation should  be stronger. According to him, their weak representation is the  consequence of political socialization in the national context, which  means it takes time for young people to understand what happens at a  European level. Commissioner László Andor also mentioned the  effects of the crisis and how it pushed unemployment to a high level in  the EU, reaching 30% in the euro zone. The young generation has disproportionally been hit by the crisis and the European Commission has done its best to come up with initiatives (“Youth on the move”, better labour mobility) to overcome this problem. He concluded by stating that the young generation needs and deserves a better Europe.

Panel debate

During the debate, Sandra Petrović Jakovina, Member of the European Parliament (S&D Group), Jávor Benedek, Candidate for the European elections (Greens) and Konstantinos Kyranakis, President of the Youth European People’s Party were asked to answer to these questions: what are the reasons for low participation? What can be done? What could and should the EU do in the next political cycle?

According to Sandra Petrović Jakovina, becoming a young politician is not difficult but staying involved, however is really hard. She also claimed that young people involved in politics are not recognized as capable of taking serious decisions, especially in the EU. In Croatia, young people don’t vote because they think their opinion doesn’t matter. She concluded by giving the example of non- EU countries such as Serbia which give the opportunity to young people to take part in politics.

Jávor Benedek explained the reasons which pushed him to run for elections. According to him, there’s a deep and important problem within the EU and the good answers haven’t been found yet. His wish would be to become a partner in order to find the good answers and more specifically dig into the issue of youth unemployment. Jávor Benedek highlighted several points on which the EU should focus: (1) the missing generation in politics at a local and national level. In his view, the general trust to the democratic institution is fragile. Young people don’t relate to politics because it doesn’t deal with their issues or problems. In his opinion, young people see great promises in politics but very small steps are taken. They expect fast reactions and results. (2) There is not only a missed generation in politics but also in “democratic” politics. He claims that the nature of extreme right has shifted and that is has become attractive for young people. (3) Young people are not active in European politics because of the path the European project has taken. Most of the people regard the EU bureaucratic institutions with distance and don’t feel the EU project is dealing with their future. The challenge would be to convince people that Europe is about their future.

Konstantinos Kyranakis focused his attention on the European legislative procedure, stating that it was too complicated. In his view, the long-term solution for engaging young people would be to get back to basics and create a simple Europe which decides fast.

 missgen3An animated and interesting debate went on for more than one  hour during which the speakers clearly answered to the questions  and put forward their opinions on various matters. Anna Karolin  closed the debate by stating it wasn’t a time for despair and that  the demonization of politics was wrong. EU citizens should take  the time to find politicians in which they believe and vote at the  elections.

A Divided Syria: Next steps for the international community

The European Professionals Network (EPN) was pleased to participate in the CEPS conference “A Divided Syria: Next steps for the international community” on February 18, 2014. Steven Blockmans, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit – CEPS opened the meeting by providing key facts on the current situation in Syria. Three years have passed since the hostilities in Syria started and the situation shows no imminence of improvement.Mr Blockmans then gave the floor to the panel of speakers: Andrew J.Tabler, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute US; Nacira Boulehouat, Deputy Head of the Middle East Division at the European External Action Service and Richard Stanforth, Regional Policy Officer at Oxfam Great Britain.

Andrew J.Tabler (Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute, US) presented the position and actions undertaken by the US on the Syrian issue. He mainly focused on the recent Geneva II talks, a product of the US-Russia cooperation. The talks didn’t produce the expected results. The opposition which is historically known to have divided opinions on many subjects, unexpectedly agreed and stuck together at the Geneva II talks. The Assad regime position was also surprising inelastic. To conclude, Andrew J.Tabler proposed three possible ways of approaching the coming period in Syria: have a clear idea and understanding of the 2118 resolution, manage the delivery of supplies in a divided Syria and deal with terrorism activities coming out of Syria

Nacira Boulehouat (Deputy Head of Middle East Division, European External Action Service) presented the European Union’s position in the Syrian conflict. The European Union has been criticized for its management of the Syrian dossier. That is why, Ms. Bouleouhat reminded and underlined the EU’s high involvement in the promotion and the facilitation of negotiations. The EU has been trying to make the talks possible and maintaining the opposition on the table. In addition, the EU is the major donor when it comes to the Syrian crisis. In fact, it has brought a lot of support to civilians and refugees.

Richard Stanforth (Regional Policy Officer, Oxfam Great Britain) gave information on the assistance granted to Syria. The organisation has been providing help in various ways. In fact, it has been repairing water systems as well as working in refugee camps by handing out blankets and clothing. Mr. Stanforth stated that the Syrian crisis was the worst and most complicated crisis to which Oxfam had responded, especially in terms of expenses and complexity of delivery. According to Mr. Stanforth, the intervention itself in this current context is wrong. There are conditions and times when intervention might be appropriate but at the moment it would only make the situation worse. Even though he recognised the financial support provided by the European Commission, he pointed out the lack of assistance from some of the member states – alongside the European commission – who are not giving their fair share.

The conference was followed by a series of very interesting questions. Overall, the EPN team was glad to attend this conference, which, as we know, tackles a very sensitive issue to which we must react on time.

EPN Report: ifa Seminar “Migration and Cultural Integration in Europe”

The European Professionals Network (EPN) was pleased to participate in the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) conference on “Migration and Cultural Integration in Europe” on December 11, 2013. The event was organised by ifa and took place at the Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the EU. Johannes Jung, Head of the Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the EU as well as Ronald Grätz, secretary General at ifa and Charles-Etienne Lagasse, President of EUNIC, opened the conference by sharing their personal remarks and examples on the subject. They reframed the debate and gave the word to the first panel of speakers. Nkechinyere Madubuko, Journalist and Sociologist successfully moderated the discussions.

Keynote speaker, Christian Joppke, chair in General Sociology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, expressed his view and main concerns on multiculturalism and civic integration. According to him, there are two critical integration issues: language and religion. The first is additive while the latter one is exclusive since we can only have one at a time. Regarding civic participation, national variations can be observed in the hash of policy, meaning that France and England will, for example, focus on different integration processes.

Three panel speakers participated to the first discussion on “New Perspectives on the Cultural Integration of Migrants” by giving a presentation which exposed their work and organisations. Sarah Cooke O’Dowd, Policy Analyst at Migration Policy Group and Communication Manager for Sirius, introduced the work of these two organisations and the Measuring Migrant Integration MIPEX which focuses on education. Larisa Inić, Coordinator of the Intercultural Cities Programme in the Serbian city of Subotica, explained the origins of the historical minorities and the intercultural and education strategy put in place to break prejudices and offer education services to everyone. Ricard Zapata-Barrero, Director of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Immigration (GRITIM) at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra of Barcelona, introduced the concept of spanishness and highlighted the impact of historical context on the perception of diversity.

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The second panel covered “Cultural Institutes and Cultural Integration of Migrants”. Costanza Menzinger, Coordinator of the language programme PLIDA at the Società Dante Alighieri, gave a brief description of the Italian policies for linguistic integration of adult migrants and the programmes proposed by the Società to help them in the integration process. Alexander Kruckenfellner, Project Leader Language and Integration Programme of Goethe-Institut in Munich, stressed out the importance of creating a culture of recognition. In order to do so, the institute organises workshops and participates to conferences in order to reach this objective. Finally, Martin Eichtinger, Ambassador and Director General of Cultural Policy at the Austrian Federal Ministry of International and European Affairs, exposed Austria’s situation and its migration history. As a result of the high number of non-Austrian citizens – 11% – Austria’s citizenship law has been changed.

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To conclude, Annika Rembe, EUNIC’s ingoing President shared remarks and summed up the main points developed during the conference. Immigration and integration are crucial issues which need to be handled due to their importance for the well-being of our society. Unfortunately, the risks of making mistakes in this field are substantial. Consultation and dialogue are consequently required to reduce uncertainties. She closed the seminar by raising the question of tolerance in the context of migration.

EPN Report: ECAS Brainstorming Seminar ‘Civic Participation and the EU’

The European Professionals Network (EPN) was pleased to participate in the ECAS Brainstorming Seminar ‘Civic Participation and the EU’ on December 2, 2013. The event was held by ECAS (European Citizens Action Service) at the Representation of Saxony-Anhalt to the EU.Dr.Henrike Franz welcomed the participants on behalf of the Ministry of Saxony Anhalt and raised the main question of the seminar: how can we get the people involved?

Should there be a new Treaty?

Assya Kavrakova, ECAS’ incoming Director, launched the debate by stating it was time to switch from the good governance concept to the open governance concept, which would imply adding up an essential component: citizens’ collaboration. In order to be an open governor, the EU should give the citizens the opportunity to become contributors and co producers of European policies and decisions. ECAS would like to test the application of this new concept at the EU level.

According to Andrew Duff, MEP and Co-Chairman of the Spinelli Group, this is a particularly bad time for conventional politics. The current crisis has been so devastating that it has transcendent classical politics and the conventional lines – which Europe has experienced for several decades – dividing the right and the left parties. Nowadays, a new frontline is opening up: nationalistvs federalists. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that we are experiencing a good time for civic politics. The power of citizens, which is expressed in an organised way across the international roof, has a chance to be heard as well as having an impact.

Today’s urgency is finding a way to overcome the current situation. In order to do so, Mr. Duff suggested the idea of reforming the Lisbon Treaty to rectify its weaknesses. Colleagues of the Spinelli group and himself have started the work and rewritten the entire Treaty. The main adjustment regards the creation of an EU government. According to the Spinelli group, the real problem of the EU is not the democratic deficit but the absence of an accountable and effective  government, which leads to citizens’ distrust. Mr. Duff declared: “What we really need is a parliamentary government of the EU”! In order to reach such goal, the group suggests to reform the institutions and to transform the Commission into a real government.

2014 will be a critical year for two main reasons: the euro crisis will have to be settled and European elections conducted. In addition, the Parliament will insist on holding a Convention for federalist solutions. Questioned on his confidence regarding the drawing-up of a Convention, Mr. Duff explained that the Treaty gives the Parliament the right to insist upon one. Moreover, the trigger can be pulled by a majority of Member States and not necessarily all of them.

It would be a place and a time for citizens’ platforms to be assertive and active in promoting their proposals to improve the politics of a post-national Europe. A Convention would be a democratic ferment of reflexion and debate. The previous Conventions lacked in participation and interaction with the public. For the upcoming one, the civil society should engage itself. However, the problem with many NGO’s is that they are obsessed with their cause. It is important for the next Convention that the NGO understand that there is a bigger picture, a wider story to be written.

Tony Venables, ECAS’ Outgoing Director, agreed with Mr. Duff  in regards to the NGOs. According to him,  they often tend to ignore the broader agenda. That is why, civic participation should collaborate with an open administration.

Mr. Venables raised a crucial question: how has the European Union responded to the financial crisis in terms of its consultation process with its outside groups? Over the last five years, people have become far better informed and the awareness has increased. Nevertheless, there is a great opacity on what is going on with the number one issue. The financial crisis has been handled with a very low level of civic participation. Fortunately, the idea of citizens’ participation has become a pillar of the Commission objectives even if it is very difficult to implement. According to Mr. Venables, “We are in a situation where it is difficult to see the way forward. That’s the sense of this meeting, think about the agenda which could work”.

The right to be heard civicpart2

Yvla Tiveus, Director of the Citizens’ Directorate, DG COMM, is responsible for the European Year of Citizens. This programme was designed to create a European debate. Over 50 dialogues were organised across Europe to tackle different subjects, collect thoughts and create a direct exchange between the EU and its citizens. They worked closely with large NGOs and raised questions on specific issues. It is now crucial to make sure the process doesn’t stop at the end of the year. In order to avoid this from happening, Ms. Tiveus asserted they were waiting for recommendations from NGOs. If a Convention is going to be held, things will have to be handled differently than in the past. To be more precise, people will have to be consulted before and not after the decision has been taken. The Citizens’ Dialogue perfectly personalises this specific goal which can be defined as upstreaming consultation. According to Ms. Tiveus, many approaches are currently being developed to hear citizens’ voices at the EU level. Nowadays, only one third of the population feels informed and very few feel heard. Nevertheless, one must not lose hope when reading these statistics as citizens have expressed their willingness to stay up to date with European affairs.

 

The right to know

 Fergal O’Regan, Head of Unit at European Ombudsman, explained how the work accomplished by the European Ombudsman greatly relies on the huge efforts carried out by civil society and NGOs. The Ombudsman is very unique, it can enter into a dialogue with the institutions and have significant long-term impact on the way they act.

According to Mr. O’Regan, transparency and civil society participation could be improved. However, the issue does not lie there. Member States benefit from a blind trust from their citizens which the EU does not possess and must try to gain. The right to know can thus be understood as a mean to achieve the right to be heard and to participate but also as an end in itself. Information is crucial to build trust.

Transparency should also be proactive and not only reactive. To be more precise, institutions should identify the information citizens are looking for and make it available to them. In addition, the information should be shared in a comprehensible and accessible way, which is not always the case.


Onno Brouwer
, Partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, went forward with the debate on transparency.civicpart3 In his opinion, ministries and institutions have justified and understandable reasons to keep sensitive documents secret. The real issue is that matters which do not need to be secret are hidden from citizens. In this case, it is essential for the EU to be more transparent in order to increase its legitimacy. Even though great progress has been made, access to documents hasn’t reached the suitable level of transparency, especially when it comes to international relations. Consequently, this has led to a lack of room for public debates.

The real problem is that agencies are not sanctioned when they don’t reply in time, which subsequently undermines the goal of transparency. In order to reach greater transparency, the procedure should be made easier and more accessible.

 

The right to participate

According to Gerald Hafner, MEP, democracy is ‘the core question of every political system’. The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) gives citizens the opportunity to bring their ideas, proposals and preoccupations at the EU level. The procedure still requires some improvements, i.e. more user-friendly ECIs, uniformized verification of signatures, etc. In addition, no time is counted to prepare the campaign and the deadline starts running from the moment the Commission gives its agreement. We are, however, moving forward a more participative EU. In Mr. Hafner’s opinion, what we need is an ECI which would  further on lead to a European referendum.

Mario Tenreiro, Head Unit at the General Institutional Issues Secretariat-General of the European Commission, shared his thoughts on the ECI. The way he sees it, the ECI is not a perfect instrument but a good start. The negotiation of the ECI took place in a complex context characterised by result-orientated pressure and fear. The original proposal of the Commission was simpler. In 2015 an evaluation of  the ECI will be processed and, hopefully, necessary improvements will be made.

Assya Kavrakova closed the event by drawing a conclusion on the key issues brought up during the seminar. The EPN team was pleased to attend this very interesting and interactive debate on a subject which, we hope, will continue to be developed and attract people’s attention.

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EPN Report on EuCDN: Empowered Communities / Active EU Citizens

EPN Report: EuCDN Final Conference of Project

Empowered Communities Active EU Citizens

EPN Team was pleased to take part in the EuCDN Final Conference on Community Development on November 20th, 2013. Representatives of European organizations and practitioners in the field of community development from various European countries were present for this event hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee.

Presentation: A European Framework for Community Development

The European Community Development Network (EuCDN) is a non-governmental European umbrella organisation created at the end of the 80’s with the aim of fighting exclusion and promoting participation and democracy through sustainable community development. Community development can be defined as the mobilisation and involvement of citizens in taking collective actions in order to strengthen and improve the living conditions of their community and empower its members.

Since September 2012, EuCDN members have been working together to build a common European framework for Community Development. The purpose of the project is to establish a common definition of Community Development, its goals, values, methods and outcomes in order to create a comprehensive understanding of what it involves for people working in this specific field.

Thanks to the support and funding from the European citizen programme, EuCDN launched a process of national conversations which further on led to an international one in which national results were shared and a final statement issued. The final step will consist of disseminating the findings of the statement in the different participating countries. The members agreed on many aspects of community development, the most important one being that collective action for collective outcomes is a fundamental process in which community development happens.  

Concrete examples of community development

After the explanation of the framework, several concrete examples such as the Rainbow Neighbourhood  or the Community development and Active Citizenship were presented to illustrate the project.

The people of Leopoldowo – located in a Polish neighbourhood – were facing unemployment, alcoholism, poverty and lack of perspectives. In order to overcome these difficulties, the Rainbow Neighbourhood association provided their help to improve the residents’ living conditions. To reach this goal, the Polish association organised meetings where people could express their opinion regarding the problems arising in their community. The residents quickly started to support and mobilise each other to actions. In fact, the people themselves proposed initiatives, such as repainting old buildings, in order to improve their life conditions. Rainbow Neighbourhood provided the materials so as to facilitate the process. The idea was to promote a potential oriented approach and not a problem oriented one and to let the people of the community lead themselves the process. The outcome of the initiative was quite successful. The neighbourhood was physically, socially and psychologically transformed.

The second example illustrated takes place in Belgium. Community development and Active Citizenship is a local service focused on the help provided to isolated people – older people, marginalised families and children – in rural areas. The project consists of visiting people and helping them with small tasks such as transportation for elderly people or homework for children. The volunteers then detect the main problems encountered and report them to the network coordinator of regular social services. The initiative was experimented in three communities and around 430 volunteers provided their help and support. The lessons learned could be summed up in two main points: the importance of communication among a community and the need to create a network to prevent exclusion.

Community Development: Current issues

The last part of the conference outlined the necessity of establishing a policy that can serve everyone. It is essential to create something sustainable with the citizens and the local authorities in order to tackle the problems communities are facing.Community development is increasingly required to address crucial issues such as local development, environment, poverty and inequality. Many challenges still have to be overcome. Among them the hegemony of neoliberalism, the complexity of expectations, unreasonable requirements and ideological contestation.

Throughout the day, a graphic summary of the experiences and opinions shared was conscientiously drawn, visually representing the opinions and arguments put forward by the panel of speakers who took the floor.

 EPN was thrilled to attend this very interesting seminar and to have an insight on this issue which many people are nowadays not necessarily aware of. The panel of speakers presented their projects in a very clear way and defended their opinions in animated discussions.

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