Franco-German broadcaster ARTE, pan-European rail-pass InterRail and a documentary on Turkey’s EU accession won recognition for fostering national debates on Europe during the Fondation EURACTIV Awards prize ceremony in the European Parliament yesterday (12 November).
The pan-European winners of the Fondation EURACTIV Awards for Debating Europe Nationally were announced at a prize ceremony yesterday, with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) leader Guy Verhofstadt both rewarded for their efforts to promote democracy and debate.
The jury gave the Special Award for European Democracy to Buzek, a former Polish prime minister, for his role in Poland’s transition towards a free and democratic country and as a sign of confidence that he will bring the Parliament closer to EU citizens.
Upon receiving the award, Buzek stressed that European democracy means more than holding European elections once every five years. “It is about engaging with national politics on a daily basis” and making the EU’s policies even more relevant to Europe’s citizens,” he said, promising to make parliamentary debates more lively under his mandate.
In the category of Politician or Political Organisation, Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, was recognised as “one of the most able politicians of his generation, a thinker and writer, a motivator and a doer highly focused on Europe and a real inspiration for future European leaders”.
Welcoming the Award, Verhofstadt stressed that while the EU needs to “go local” to communicate with Europeans, member states should not shy away from making difficult political decisions and blame everything on Brussels, as they often do. “This needs to change,” he said, hoping Europe will be used “more positively” in national political communication in the future.
Verhofstadt particularly underlined that the current economic crisis represents a great opportunity to bring Europe closer to citizens as the EU and its instruments, such as the single euro currency, are “the solution to the current crisis, not the problem”.
In the category of NGO Leader or Organisation, the 60-year-old European Movement Germany was recognised as a model for the other national chapters of the European Movement. “We are breaking EU policies down to national level and bringing relevant EU actors and stakeholders together with national administrations to bridge planet Brussels and planet Berlin,” said Christoph Linden, deputy secretary-general of the movement.
Linden explained that one of the movement’s most popular activities include regular ‘EU breakfast’ debriefings of Council meetings, held under Chatham house rules the day after ministerial meetings to speed up information flows from the EU to national stakeholders.
The EuroAtlantic Centre Slovakia was awarded the prize in the category of Academic Initiatives. The centre is an initiative of university students who wanted to contribute to foreign policy and do some “out-of-the-box thinking,” explained Michal Kovács, regional director and vice-president of the centre. It works to develop relations and fosters dialogue on EU and NATO accession between young people from the Balkans – Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Albania – as well as Ukraine.
Michal Polgar from the EuroAtlantic Centre stressed that their aim is to show that “young people can leave the history behind and start from a clean table,” despite potential attempts by some political parties to build political agendas based on historical resentments.
Franco-German bilingual broadcaster ARTE was recognised in the category of Media Professional or Organisation for its contribution to cross-border debate on Europe’s culture, heritage and future. Claire Poinsignon, responsible for European affairs at ARTE, welcomed the recognition of ARTE’s European dimension, and not only the Franco-German side of it.
Poinsignon stressed that one should not boil down European debates to mere “communication” between the EU and its citizens. “It is also about investigation, creativity and dreams,” she added, hoping there would be more place for culture and cultural initiatives in enabling debate on Europe in the future.
Pan-European rail pass InterRail was hailed as the winner of the category Services & Others for “enabling since 1972 millions of young European citizens to explore 30 European countries in a green and affordable manner with one single train pass”.
Welcoming the Award, InterRail representative Jeroen de Bruin said that many InterRail websites in local languages have been created in recent years and many young people “have re-started to explore Europe” as a result.
Coffee Futures, a Turkish documentary, was awarded the Special Award for Originality for weaving the fates of individual characters with the story of Turkey’s decades-long effort to join the EU. With 31 July 2009 marking the 50th year anniversary of Turkey’s original agreement with the EEC, “Coffee Futures renders the emotional texture of a society whose ‘Europeanness’ has long been debated nationally and internationally”, the jury said.
The director, Zeynep Devrim Gürsel, said she hoped the documentary will promote dialogue on Turkey and its EU accession “in the spirit of openness rather than suspicion and cynicism about political processes and pessimism about international relations – particularly among young people”.