Brussels, 9 February 2016
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here and to launch a new series of debates under the "New Narrative" project with you. Some of you may wonder what exactly this is about. What is the "New Narrative"?
To a large extent, this will be up to you – and the many other Europeans we want to involve in the debate, right across the EU. What does Europe mean to you? What are your visions for Europe? That is what we want to hear from you.
Indeed, what Europe stands for today and what it should stand for tomorrow is a question that is all around us. The fact that we had to cancel the original launch of this series of debates after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November is a sad reminder of only one of the enormous challenges facing Europe today.
Challenges that risk undermining our values and the very foundations of the European project. The ideal and meaning of European integration seem to be losing their appeal to European citizens.
We must not let this happen.
That is why I am launching this EU-wide debate on our vision for Europe. And I count on you to join me.
I want to work for a Europe where citizens, all of them, feel at home and able to succeed. And I want to hear your ideas about how to make Europe a better place in which to live, work and prosper. This is just the start – I hope to hear many more voices in the months to come.
Before I explain in more detail what we are going to do, let me recall the first phase of the "New Narrative for Europe". Personalities from the creative, cultural and scientific sectors set out their views on what Europe is to them and where it should go. Their declaration entitled "The Mind and Body of Europe" was intended as a catalyst for inspiring more contributions on the many narratives on Europe.
We just heard from Dr Benedict Schofield that the responses to the social media campaign during this first phase – both positive and critical – all had one thing in common: citizens want a greater say on Europe.
I want to help give them a voice, and to foster a greater sense of belonging. But we cannot understand what citizens expect from the EU from inner-circle discussions in Brussels alone. That is why, for this second phase of the "New Narrative", I decided to broaden the debate, and to take it out of Brussels.
I want to know about people's dreams and ideas about Europe – as well as their grudges – wherever they live in the EU. I will therefore create more opportunities to question, contest and discuss Europe. And I will put young Europeans at the heart of this debate.
Why? Because, although youth is the future of Europe, the future of youth is more uncertain than ever.
Young Europeans have been hit disproportionately hard by the economic crisis. This young generation is on the whole more highly educated, better informed and connected than any before it. But many young people struggle to find their place in the job market and in society.
And those who cannot find work, who are at risk of poverty or live at the margins of society, do not associate Europe with hope or opportunity. In fact, to them it can feel like a cold place.
We see this reflected in young people's declining involvement in democracy. They vote less, and fewer join political parties. This trend is particularly strong among those with the least opportunities: unemployed, inactive and marginalised young people.
This is not just apathy. Young people have opinions, and are eager to share them, but in their own ways. For instance through social media. We need to reconnect Europe with its young citizens.
They are essential in deciding what the Europe of tomorrow should look like. Their dynamism and creativity enable them to look at Europe and its current problems with fresh eyes.
That is why asking them to share their vision of the future is my guiding idea for the "New Narrative for Europe".
I am happy to see many young people here today. I am happy to welcome many Erasmus students. And I invite all of you to join us in a stimulating debate at schools and universities.
I am also pleased to see many of our Commission and European Parliament Trainees. You are our direct link to young people. I know that you have already started to debate about Europe and I look forward to hearing your views. I count on you to act as a sounding board, revealing our shortcomings to us. Be frank and tell us what you want to see changed.
In the coming months, together with the European Youth Forum, I will promote a series of debates to be held in different European cities. In parallel, we will involve a larger number of participants via social media.
All these discussions will bring together young people from different backgrounds – Erasmus students, EU trainees, young people not in education or employment – to discuss Europe, our diverse cultures, our shared values, and our common challenges. I look forward to hearing what they think about issues like "What should be the EU's role? What can Member States do better? And what can young people do for Europe"?
At the end of the year the contributions will be published on a dedicated website which will remain open for all those interestend to add their views.
Aside from these debates, I also want to deepen our understanding of what ties us together, what are the values underpinning the European project.
I have appointed Ambassadors for the "New Narrative" – some of them are here today. You were selected on the basis of your expertise in the fields of culture, education and youth, to spearhead the discussions. I look forward to your findings.
I invite you all to reflect on the many cultures, traditions, religions and values – the foundations of Europe – which are as varied as the people who live here. How do they matter today? How do they bind us together? How can we preserve them against the backdrop of global challenges, economic realities, security threats and a changing European population?
Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe in Europe. Our shared European values have not lost their meaning. Freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights are our starting point, but we need a fresh impetus to re-discover their unchanged relevance.
I am counting on you in this venture.