In the five years that I have worked as a European Commissioner, I have experienced that European politics have become much more like national politics. Years ago, they were perhaps seen as dull, and citizens did not feel the need to support European ideas. Now, debates are exciting and conflict is sharp.
Commissioner Tibor Navracsics
About 120 citizens from Linz, but also students from all over the EU and even beyond, attended a Citizens’ Dialogue with Commissioner Navracsics on 13 June in the grand hall of the Bruckner University of Music and Arts.
The Commissioner’s stage partner was Franz WELSER-MÖST, a top orchestra conductor working internationally, who hails from Linz.
For a good hour and a half, citizens engaged in a lively debate with the Commissioner and Maestro WELSER-MÖST that was centred on cultural and youth policy, but also about the future of Europe in general.
After a short performance by students on human rights and words of welcome by the university rector and the deputy governor of Upper Austria, the Citizens’ Dialogue got underway with Commissioner Navracsics giving a short overview of the main developments and achievements at EU level in the fields of education, culture, youth, and sport.
He notably mentioned the doubling of the budget for Erasmus+ to 30 billion euros 2021 onwards, the European Solidarity Corps, and multilingualism.
Mr WELSER-MÖST declared himself to be a passionate European and a citizen of the world. He pleaded for more courage to take risk in the field of culture. He quoted Gustav MAHLER, who had said that “tradition is sloppiness”.
A poll via Slido on “What are your hopes for the future?” showed that peace, climate protection, equal rights, art, and theatres were most important to participants.
Reacting to the poll, Mr WELSER-MÖST cautioned that things are happening on the Internet that endanger democracy. The freedom to express one’s opinion had been developed before there was such a thing as the Internet, when it was known to everyone who was talking. This is no longer the case, with anonymous postings. Denunciation is a tool used by dictatorships, now it is common in Internet fora, he said.
Commissioner Navracsics underlined that climate change issues cannot be solved at national level. We need strong instruments for the EU institutions to push the member states to take the necessary measures.
Asked about recognition of diplomas, the Commissioner reported that work in this field has been going on for ten years. Progress depends very much on member states, and it would seem that recognition is sometimes not granted in order to protect their education system, and also their labour markets.
And yet, recognition of diplomas and even credits is at the heart of Erasmus. Without such recognition, studying abroad might still be a great social and cultural experience, but one would have to repeat all the exams at home.
He explained that EU funds are not only used to redistribute wealth, but also to create opportunities. E.g. Erasmus is now a huge socially-oriented programme that also helps communities.
Mr WELSER-MÖST expressed doubts about subsidy programmes, as some things go wrong. He would prefer to work in smaller entities, there should be a new definition of who is responsible for what – the EU or its member states individually. The Commissioner pointed out that under the next multiannual financial framework, the focus will be more on small-scale projects.
Commissioner Navracsics expressed his opinion that there will never be a United States of Europe, nor just a loose Europe of Nations. We need somewhere in the middle, with asymmetrical integration: While some areas can be under a federalist system, others should be managed in a confederate way.
There were two more Slido polls, on “What would you like Europe to do for you?” and “What can you do for Europe?” respectively. Participating in elections featured very prominently in the answers to the latter, with Mr WELSER-MÖST saying that who does not vote, loses the right to have his say.
The Commissioner agreed that voting is fundamental and pointed to the significantly increased voter turnout in the recent EP elections, 10% up from the previous ones EU-wide. There is still room for improvement, of course.