On a February day in the town of Kuopio, 50 Finns of all ages and from all walks of life came together, for a Citizens’ Dialogue with a difference. Using participatory methods — where every voice is heard — they shared their concerns, their questions, and their ideas for the Europe. First with each other, and then with Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen.
This event was part of the new format of Citizens’ Dialogues, where a Dialogue with a Commissioner or high official is preceded by a participatory workshop.
In this new kind of Dialogue, citizens are the heart of the exchange: the concerns that they bring into the room are what the group talks about, and these concerns are turned into concrete ideas for change.
Participants start the day with a general debate around the topics that matter most to them, before moving on to small group discussions on their vision of the future of Europe, and then finally discussing these ideas with a European Commissioner. This format allows for strong opinions and emotions to be expressed, but in a constructive manner.
Vice-President Katainen seamlessly integrated himself in the exchange with participants, sitting with them to listen and respond to their concerns, and their hopes for the future.
One participant asked what are the basic European principles and values that the EU wants to defend, that will shape its future course. Education and the participation of young people was another hot topic, with participants discussing how to guarantee equal quality of education in all EU countries, and how to get young people to participate in society and politics.
Looking outward, participants also wanted to learn more about what the EU can do to respond to emerging external threats, coming from the US, China or Russia.
The current vision of the EU that was painted by the participants was of the EU as an older brother, who protects and takes care, notably as a guarantor of human rights.
The informal nature of the event gave a sense of real access to a high-level decision-maker, and as a result all participants polled at the end of the Dialogue stated that they felt that the exchange had made a real difference.
Participants felt that the challenges and tasks ahead for the EU should be very much based on what its people expect the EU to take care of. Vice-President Katainen encouraged participants to determine what it is they want from the EU: “You do not need to be a fan of the EU, it is enough if you know what you expect from it, and what you want to do with it.”