European luminaries warn about new phase of EU ‘lethargy’

Visitors queue to enter the European Commission's Berlaymont building during an 'Open Day' for the public to visit the EU Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 5 May 2018. [EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

In an open letter, a number of well-known European public figures have asked EU leaders to come up with a clear plan for a “revival of the European Union”, saying they feared “a new phase of lethargy” that could encourage a rise of populist parties in the European elections in May 2019.

Among the signatories are former Commissioner László Andor, former Prime Ministers Alain Juppé and Felipe Gonzalez, MEPs Elmar Brok and Maria João Rodrigues,  Daniel Cohn-Bendit, former president of the Greens group, but also the German film director Wim Wenders and the Italian writer Roberto Saviano.

The signatories have offered an online platform, civico.eu, as a tool to achieve a higher participation of citizens in EU institutions.

The website aims to create a dialogue between citizens and the EU, thus allowing them to make concrete proposals and be a part of European decision making.

“Therefore, on this 9 May, this European day, we call for a new revival from our leaders as well as from all citizens, opinion influencers, trade unions, and business organisations around the continent,” the letter said.

“We deem it indispensable for the June European Council to commit to a clear plan for the revival of the Union, made of concrete actions having a positive impact on citizens’ short and long-term prospects, and to a precise agenda for its implementation”.

Exactly two years ago, a month before British citizens voted to leave the EU, a similar appeal was launched by the signatories in order to prevent the European project from falling apart. The UK is set to leave the bloc in March 2019.

But things are not improving, the letter said, pointing to the latest electoral results, which “showcase a continuous rise of populist movements. Making matters worse, respect for the rule of law and the fundamental values, notably media pluralism and freedom of speech, appear to never have been this endangered within the Union”.

Yet, the Union “is passively entering a new phase of lethargy”, it said.

On a positive note, the letter said a number of specific recommendations made two years ago have been implemented.

It cited the citizen consultations that have started in some member states, “the progress in defence research and development, the priority given to artificial intelligence by the European Commission, the improvement of information quality, the modernisation of the European social model, and the Erasmus in Schools project”.

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