Dear President Macron, rEUnaissance is the way to go

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Luca Jahier, president of the European Economic and Social Committee, addresses the event 'civil Society for rEUnaissance' in Brussels on 21 February, 2019.. [EESC]

Who can contradict President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European Renaissance? Europe has achieved so much in 60 years of peace, but we cannot take it for granted any longer and must do the utmost to preserve it, writes Luca Jahier.

Luca Jahier is the president of the European Economic and Social Committee.

No one can disagree with the fact that such a long, uninterrupted period of peace on our continent has not happened for centuries. Likewise, our Single Market, despite economic ups and downs (the oil crisis of the 1970s and the extremely serious and long-lasting crisis of 2007), has generated economic growth and prosperity.

The cost of non-Europe is clear. The last figures released by the European Parliament in 2017 show that without Europe a total amount of €1,750 billion would be lost, equivalent to 12% of GDP in the 28 member states.

Those who fail to acknowledge it are either misguided or manipulative authoritarians. Surely, more must be done to build social peace and social cohesion, by eradicating the inequality brought about by the economic and financial crisis.

More must be done to strengthen peace, by reconciling memories from east and west, and thus enabling a form of peace – as Karol Wojtyła said – that can breathe using both lungs.

So, I fully agree with President Macron and give my full support to his call to build a new European Renaissance, as indeed “the status quo and resignation must be avoided at all cost.”

Macron’s ideas are perfectly in line with the Rome declaration for the 60th Anniversary of the EU. That agenda for the future of Europe was signed by the leaders of the 27 members states on 25 March 2017, but many of them seem to have forgotten it.

Launching my presidency last April, I called for a rEUnaissance to create a sustainable Europe, proposing an agenda for change, incorporating the SDGs, peace and culture. I think Macron’s three pillars – freedom, protection and progress – are a very good structure for an implementation action plan.

In the 15th century, the Renaissance was a powerful and vast humanistic revolution which re-established the real dimension of culture in its concrete relation with science, the art of government and the organisation of economic and social life, through the main economic players of the time, and founded the modern transformation of Europe.

Today, we need a new Renaissance.

The best way to face those who oppose the European project without proposing anything concrete, like the Brexiteers who proposed a Brexit without having a clear plan, is to strongly affirm that Europe does have a clear strategy for the next decade.

It is the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, based on Article 3 the Treaty of the European Union. And if this strategy is firmly embraced by all member states and by European civil society, it will allow us to embark on a virtuous economic, social, environmental and institutional path of renewal for sustainable growth and society.

The Agenda 2030 could constitute the Social and Economic Contract for the 21st century, aimed at eradicating poverty, ensuring decent living and working conditions for all and reducing social inequalities, guaranteeing the sustainability of the planet and above all starting a new season of innovation, investment, sustainable competition and growth in every field, for a Europe of true progress, open to the world.

Macron’s call for a conference for Europe is most welcome. Our democracies have proven to be more resilient when we involve civil society as a whole. We should not leave an empty space between the individual and the state, which is easily filled by the manipulative use of social media.

The governments have to trust and build up organised civil society. We need the filter and the dialogue of intermediate bodies, as it has been well said by Alexis de Tocqueville. We still have in Europe vibrant societies full of initiatives.

They are best fit to evacuate the lies and fake news undermining our democracies, but they need to be properly engaged and listened to in designing policy, in implementing actions, in evaluating results and reorienting strategies.

This is why, with the President of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lamberts, I have called for an EU permanent mechanism for structured consultations and dialogues with citizens, representatives of organised civil society and local authorities, which can boost the democratic dimension of the EU.

Macron’s consultations have been a good initiative, now we need to develop a full-fledged system.

In view of the Sibiu Summit on 9 May, when EU leaders are expected to set the tone for the next EU elections and the new legislature, I launch four challenges to President Macron:

  • Make Agenda 2030 the strategic and overarching plan for the next Commission, the next EU budget and the EU semester;
  • On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death in 2019, put culture and science at the core of the European project to inject more creativity and emotional intelligence in all new initiatives;
  • Properly engage intermediary bodies, such as organised civil society and local authorities organisations to launch a great alliance for structured dialogues and consultations with citizens;
  • Relaunch a new partnership with Africa for joint sustainable progress and make it the leading goal of the next Commission’s foreign and global strategy.

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