Pro-EU platform calls for citizen engagement, debate, to respond to populism

Pro-EU protesters demonstrate during a rally outside parliament. London, 25 March. [Andy Rain/EPA]

While Eurosceptic populists team up ahead of the European elections in attempt to turn them into a referendum over the EU’s very existence, civil society is now calling on progressive forces to come together to defend the bloc.

Millions of European citizens will go to the polls in less than a year amid fears far-right anti-EU political parties will increase their standing. Some of them are already in office, or were close to, in several member states including Italy, Poland, Hungary and Austria.

Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini has revealed he intends to build a ‘League of leagues’ as an umbrella for far-right parties, just as Donald Trump’s former advisor, Steve Bannon, announced he will help to boost those forces in Europe through a foundation.

As a response to these national-populist movements, organisations such as CIVICO Europa and Pulse of Europe have appealed to European civic movements, opinion leaders, politicians and citizens, to form a coalition under the name of Alliance Europa, to debate and redesign tomorrow’s Europe.

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“We want to listen and give a voice to citizens on how to improve the open and progressive European Union societies,” representatives of the organisations said.

They will organise Citizen Conventions in the upcoming months and the process will culminate in a ‘European Renewal Congress’ in January next year as preparation for the May elections.

“Selfish national coalitions lead to war. We want to unite European citizens; we will not sacrifice (again) our future on the altar of nationalism,” supporters of Alliance Europa insisted.

The next European elections “might not be, for the first time maybe, referenda on national governments, but might be fought on major issues having the power to shape the Union’s lasting future.” Hence citizens should have a word to say on EU’s destiny as they “can help renew the EU’s legitimacy and perhaps modernise the party landscape.”

Although they find inspiration in French President Emmanuel Macron’s‘En Marche’ platform, he has his own ideas for the upcoming elections.

Macron is working on his own pro-European project, together with Ciudadanos’ Spanish rising party leader, Albert Rivera, and other like-minded political leaders such as former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi or Germany’s Free Democratic Party chief, Christian Lindner.

This move, however, could jeopardise the existence of the current liberal bloc in the European Parliament, the Guy Verhofstadt-led Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, one of the most pro-European groups in the chamber.

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The lack of a European ‘demos’ is seen as one of the obstacles for the EU project’s road to progress. But a pan-European discourse has finally taken hold on the continent, paradoxically not to take the European dream forward but to dismantle it once and for all.

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