One of the EU’s overarching objectives is to generate economic prosperity, which was expected to increase well-being and social cohesion, create quality employment, reduce poverty and advance environmental protection. The economic crisis and the subsequent response of fiscal consolidation have created a situation where fundamental rights are portrayed by some as a unaffordable luxury and “social” spending is being dramatically cut. This creates a schism between the ‘European project’ and the people who live in it which could prove fatal to the future of Europe

discussion telling a new story for Europe, the way it should be

The EUCS2013 assembly

24 and 25 June 2013, have seen a unique gathering of European citizens and NGO representatives from all major civil society sectors discussing how to create a fairer, more socially-focused and sustainable future for Europe. Organised by the Civil Society Contact Group (CSCG) and DEEEP, this assembly brought together the ultimate stakeholders of decision making, the citizens, just days before the European Council of Heads of State and Government met in Brussels.

The Summit brought together 400 leaders from our different sectors: civil society, partners, policymakers and journalists, young people and the media from across the European Union. The event draw upon the 'Open Space' and "Appreciative Inquiry' techniques to foster dialogue amongst participants with the aim to harness the creative and innovative potential of a diverse group of citizens. The summit brought together non-Brussels based participants to interact with those in the ‘Bubble’ to generate recommendations that are applicable and understandable to those working outside of the policymaking environment.

The event challenged the current state of play in Europe. Our social framework ‘mops up’ the inefficiencies and inequalities of our current economic model but what we urgently need is a new socio-economic model that works to deliver social, cultural and environmental objectives. We cannot afford to give up the gains achieved in freedoms, equality, including equality between women and men, life expectancy, education, solidarity with other countries and expression. We must look at the flaws and shortcomings in our public institutions, processes and ideologies that allowed us to reach this crisis point and exacerbated tensions between the different groups in society.

The event also addressed different questions to those taking place elsewhere in Brussels. Whereas the official European Summit will mainly focus on short-term solutions, the Citizens’ Summit will look at the long-term; where the prevailing economic and social model accepts inequality as an inevitable outcome of development, this event discussed moving to greater societal well-being, equality and equity.

Whereas current EU policy focusses on its 500 million consumers, the Summit will focus on its 500 million citizens, and the many non-citizens living within the EU borders. As the limits of competitiveness as a driving force for European development have been reached, this event will examine where the boundaries of the free market should lie; whereas the political focus is on cuts and growth, the event will focus on social cohesion, investment and development; finally where political debates skirt the issue of the growing anti-EU, anti-integration, anti-immigration sentiment, this event will tackle these issues directly and ask the question if not this EU, then what EU do we want and need?

  1. The event built on the political momentum of 3 processes and in response to the call of Commission President Barroso to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of EU citizens: the call of the European Parliament asking ‘the Commission to ask civil society and social partners to contribute an annual shadow report on the progress of the Member States regarding the headline targets and the implementation’, in its resolution of 1 December 2011 on the European Semester for Economic Policy Coordination (2011/2071(INI)),
  2. the European Commission recognition that the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy should be based on partnerships that extend to ‘EU committees, to national parliaments and national, local and regional authorities, to social partners and to stakeholders and civil society so that everyone is involved in delivering on the vision’, and
  3. the 2013 European Year for Citizens.

The first European Citizens’ Summit filled a democratic gap in European decision-making by adding a participatory, inclusive debate long neglected by European Summits. Citizens are becoming increasingly disillusioned - unhappy with politics and decision-makers. Yet, and as the Summit’s 400 attendees showcases, given the opportunity, people want to be involved in the processes that shape their lives.

Today only 33% of EU citizens trust the European institutions. This is a legitimacy crisis and a failure. It is time for European leaders to wake up to what matters to real people, and to ensure that their hopes, fears and priorities are put above Big Business and the language of unaccountable and faceless markets. “All across Europe our environment, our
health, our social protection, our gains in gender equality and human rights, our education and healthcare systems, our culture and our role as global citizens are being eroded in the name of economic crisis and austerity.
We believe this is a false dichotomy and urge our political leaders to stop it and listen. Re-connecting to citizens is about first listening to them, and acting to take on their priorities and defending their interests,“ said Monika Kosińska, spokesperson for the EU Civil Society Contact Group.

"This initiative was unique because it brought together organisations active in a variety of sectors such as social, environmental, developmental, gender, public health, education, human rights and culture. There is an urgent need to re-connect citizens with the European project. Brussels’ credibility does not only lie on its ability to address economic and financial challenges," pointed out Paul Dujardin, Director of the Bozar Center for Fine Arts.

Today’s counter Summit examined where the boundaries of the free market should lie. It reminded that one of the driving aspirations of the EU is to generate the type of economic prosperity capable of delivering well-being, social cohesion, and quality employment – within and beyond Europe’s borders - in a way that reduces poverty and advances environmental protection. “The EU is bound to look back at the peace-building project that brought it together right after the Second World War and start thinking of Europeans as 500 million citizens, not as 500 million consumers,” concluded Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology from the University of Columbia (US).

This Citizens’ Summit has, for the first time in the 60 years since the creation of the EU, managed to channel Europeans’ voices and concerns into concrete, urgent demands directed to EU leaders: minimum income; political and economic transparency; adequate public care; reduced inequalities and enhanced integration; real and lasting gender equality; higher levels of environmental protection; a fair and human-faced global trade; and the full respect of the citizen’s right to participate in the cultural life. Business as usual is not an option. Europe is heading down a dead-end street and citizen engagement is necessary for a much needed U-turn in the right direction. It is high time for Brussels to reconnect with people by reinforcing active citizenship, democracy and participation in decision-making.

“We keep losing our rights for the last 20 years!” With this sentence, Saskia Sassen started an engaging and political speech about citizenship and economy at the European Citizens Summit.

After Isabelle Durant' and Martin Schulz 's videos, it was time for the citizens to be in the center of the discussions. The event kic ked off with a plenary session from Saskia Sassen (University of Columbia). Her hobby: find all the elements in which citizens are losing their rights. “Defined usually as consumers, we don’t know how to be citizens”. She studied the microelements that alter the citizens from their political position. In terms of economy, she claimed for a local economy away from the current plutocracy managed by the financial bubble.

After the plenary session, parallel discussions will take place, using innovative methodologies. There will be one “open space” to discuss 10 selected topics and one “appreciated inquiry”, a place for personal experience as European citizen to be expressed and for a dream to come true: imagine Europe in 2020. The content and the methodology are far away from the EU Summit practices. At this summit, we want to be away from the European bubble in terms of process and content, “we want to be the 99%”, said the Civil Society Contact Group.

So many different topics are discussed right now at the European Citizens Summit... From transparency and participative democracy to human rights, gender or globalisation, participants are defining their own Europe, the one they dream for 2020 of.

The insights discussed the day before in each group were shared and highlighted. Radical thinking was the keyword, dreaming was the process. In only 3 hours, a new Europe was shaped! Participants highlighted a Europe based on shared values as equality, diversity and social justice. Even if the topics were different in each group, all dreamed about a Europe where citizens were empowered and politically included in the decision process.