Activate Europe. Online only?

Foto: Mirko LuxHow can young europeans collaborate better? Photo: Mirko Lux (Full album)

The digital age offers Europeans new opportunities to interact and connect on a transnational level. In Berlin young european initiatives exchanged ideas and spoke about their challenges. An overview on the 1nd Road Works Session of the European Democracy Lab.

A post by Redaktion (german version), translated by Miriam Bulbarelli

Remote, bureaucratic, undemocratic – EU policies often have a poor image. Already the EU flag paints a picture of a technocratic Brussels in the minds of the younger generation: old men in suits, abstruse texts, almost endless negotiations and barely readable directives as well as an army of lobbyists. There is a widespread feeling that we personally don’t have anything to do with EU-politics, let alone to be able to influence European democracy.

What it is often ignored: To a certain extent a “Europe of citizens” exists. A Europe that is active, engaged and networked beyond national borders. However, it is often difficult for the many (young) civil society initiatives to make their experiences, ideas and issues be heard in predominantly national shaped discourses. Therefore, the European Democracy Lab started the Road Works Sessions. The idea behind it is to create a platform where European initiatives exchange their missions and problems. In this way they can learn from each other, pool resources and support one another.

The first event in Berlin raised the question “Activate Europe. Online Only?”. Publixphere as cooperation partner moderated the evening with around 50 young European participants. Eleven different languages were represented – from Finnish to Greek. The first verdict was that we as a young generation have new possibilities. On the one hand, we all are able to communicate with each other in English - the majority of our parents doesn't have this opportunity – as a spontaneous survey among the participants revealed. On the other hand, digitalization gives us numerous tools, which we are already using in a successful way to network and engage transnationally.

We discussed our joint challenges in mixed groups formed around the following four represented projects.

Who, If Not Us? Which online-tools do we need?

With “Who, If Not Us?” authors from eleven different countries walked an unusual path. Their jointly written essay based on personal experiences attempts to show ways for young people to overcome fears and to become active as a European. What’s so special about it? Until now “Who, If Not Us?” is deliberately available as print version only and not in digital form. However, it is possible for the readers to note their contact information in their own copy and to pass it on to others (Let's all read it and pass it on!). This way every copy can go on an individual journey through Europe and connect people.

Yet, Vincent-Immanuel Herr and Martin Speer, the project’s initiators (Herr & Speer), asked the workshop participants whether other online tools besides a Facebook page would be needed.

Workshop’s findings:

  • The slightly romantic offline approach has its very own charm in times of digital overloading.
  • Nevertheless, online tools could pose helpful when readers want to connect with one another. In the group it was discussed among other things to create a closed Facebook group with a password (for instance: What’s the first word on page 43?) and an online feedback-channel for sharing own experiences. This could also help answering the question: “Thanks to this essay I am personally empowered as European – what now?”
  • To sum up this workshop makes one think about how we can contribute online to a sense of belongingness, build a community and personal relations instead of drowning in a sea full of contents.

OneEurope: Euro-Bubble vs. Mainstream

It has long been possible to follow European politics in a European way. In an exemplary manner OneEurope, a European non-profit community media, was founded in 2011 and is run on a voluntary basis by more than 200 authors and numerous editors, writing in English via Italy, Germany, Greece...

By publishing articles, info graphics and videos in English, OneEurope reaches out to the considerable amount of 50.000 people per month. But OneEurope co-founder Cherian Grundmann asks how to attract an even greater audience for a European view on things? How to generate a true widespread impact- beyond Europe-interested circles?

Workshop’s findings:

  • OneEurope’s website is visually and content-related well established. Especially graphs tell more than thousand words. However, a strategy for addressing different individual interests is still missing. Newsletters and social media would make sense for targeting group-specific communication.

  • The visual impact of the website has been long discussed. The name OneEurope lets one assume a “Europhile” or EU-enthusiastic attitude. However, Cherian Grundmann emphasises that here European topics are critically considered and debated. Would OneEurope have stated this openness towards euro-scepticism and EU-criticism in a clearer way, the website had appealed to a wider audience.

  • To sum up, it is important to reflect upon the image of European initiatives. Are they perceived as an extended arm of the European Institutions or do they manage to be independent and autonomous?

Civoracy- how do we finance projects?

Civil society initiatives consume a lot of time, work and resources. Many projects stand and fall regarding their financing (personnel, premises, infrastructure). Civocracy is a new platform for engaged political and social discourse of communities. Its aim is to bring together different stakeholders- business, government, organizations and citizens- and bridge the divide between them to collectively solve problems.

The project has taken the conscious decision to finance itself as a social enterprise and for example through consultancy and moderation skills. The attendees around co-founder Benjamin Snow discussed different financing models.

Workshop’s findings:

  • According to Benjamin Snow, the number of grants for new projects has actually been increasing in the last years, consequently the possibilities to receive funding are also rising. Of course, also the number of competitors is simultaneously growing, but the positive finding remains: There are good chances to receive money for innovative projects. The problem is that funding granted by foundations or similar organizations is usually temporary. This means that financing problems come up over and over again.

  • Having a business model is not always the best decision for all kinds of projects, but in the case of Civocracy, which aims at being sustainable, seemed to be the best option.

  • Generally, initiatives should be aware of this fact: seeking funding and financial sources must be done in a professional manner. Even though the actual mission seems to be always more important, project-funding needs to be a priority as well.

#newEurope- how to overcome language barriers?

Is it possible to mobilise Europeans across borders for the cause of precise political requests? Many civil society initiatives are facing this challenge. Five young initiators among them Victoria Kupsch (European Democracy Lab) are trying to overcome this challenge through the appeal "Europe: a new version is available" (#newEurope) which can be signed online and which is available in 12 languages. They are demanding transnational elections and a transnational social security system. Their main objective is a "Europe of the citizens". At the same time the initiators are questioning the translation's necessity. Shouldn't we be able to reach out to the national publics in Europe with texts written in English only?

Workshop's findings:

  • It was discussed whether language diversity in Europe can create a situation in which discourses are simply not understood because of language barriers.
  • Should we then talk even more English in order to network transnationally and to understand each other? The accusation then would be: Discourses in English exclude many people, for instance older ones and people from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The group found English as “common sense language” useful and not as something elitist, if at the same time the “own language” is mainteined.
  • For European Initiatives both the use of language for international communication as well as the communication with local partner organisations and the public is important.

To be continued...

Already our first session has shown that we - as European civil society - are often facing similar challenges but aren't lacking ideas.

The next session will take place on December 10 and will focus on the connection between politics and art. Special attention will be given to theatre and political activism. We are pleased to announce the appearance of three special and exciting guests: Tobias Schuster (chief dramaturge - Schauspielhaus Wien), Thomas Schweigen (Director of “Punk & Politik” - Schauspielhaus Wien and Ludwig Haugk (chief dramaturge - Maxim Gorki Theater).

The European Democracy Lab and Publixphere will keep you in the loop....

In case you want to network on an european level: representatives of following initiatives took part in the first session...


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