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On this “Europe Day” let’s look for the hero inside ourselves

The search is on. We’re all on a quest to find a European hero ‒ a man or woman who will re-energise Europe, give us a sense of purpose and direction. Someone to make Europeans feel confident and proud again

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, May 08, 2018

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by Shada Islam* 

Here’s the problem: There is no shortage of villains but heroes are few and far between. Europe’s landscape appears to be littered with bad guys (and some bad girls). It is the Eurosceptics, illiberals, populists and autocrats who get the visibility, media attention, and the votes. Good guys come last. 

Or at least, that’s what it looked like before Emmanuel Macron burst on the scene. The French President, now one year into his term, is widely recognised as the European reformer, the man with a vision for Europe’s future and the capacity to make it come true. 

In recent weeks, Macron has vowed the European Parliament and EU-wallahs across Europe with a three-hour long intervention packed with punch and passion. There were sound-bites galore and plenty of ambition. 

His much-publicised “bromance” with US President Donald Trump kept us amused for a few weeks. Yes, the French President faces a summer of discontent at home. But he is likely to wear the mantle of “Europe’s saviour” for a while. The Charlemagne Prize Macron will get on May 10 is therefore well deserved.

Europe will only thrive and flourish when the European body politic becomes truly inclusive

It’s certainly reassuring to hear Macron’s ambition and aspirations for Europe. His narrative strikes a chord with the Brussels institutions but also with many disenchanted and distracted European citizens. 

The complex task of rebuilding Europe, however, cannot be left to just one person.

So on this ‘Europe Day’, here’s a short and incomplete list of the “other heroes” who need to be involved in crafting a more powerful European narrative:

First, in a world of “fake news”, algorithms and “bots”, it’s easy to forget the importance of a free, independent, honest and credible press. It used to be the case that journalists were murdered, abducted and censored only in countries ruled by dictators and autocrats. Or, as illustrated by the brutal killing of 10 journalists in Afghanistan last week, media came under attack in countries wracked by war. 

Journalism is still a perilous profession in many parts of the world. As highlighted by the 2018 World Press Freedom Index and the recent murders of investigative journalists in Slovakia and Malta, working as a reporter is also becoming increasingly risky in Europe. 

Following on the heels of US President Donald Trump, his friends and fans in Europe and elsewhere have also started calling reporters “enemies of the people”. By doing so they are endangering democracy and undermining the concept of public debate based on facts, not propaganda.

Second, to revive Europe, let’s look at the many heroic and extraordinary ways in which the non-political leaders and “ordinary” people are engaging on European issues. Across Europe, peoples’ networks are being established as civil society becomes increasingly involved in debates on Europe. New formats for public civil dialogue are cropping up across the EU.

Recommendations issued by the European Movement Germany, which includes industry, youth, consumers and civil service representatives, point out that such conversations must come from the grassroots, be transparent and there must be clear objectives and feedback on the results. Above all, traditional politicians must participate in the conversations, listen carefully to what is being said – and take appropriate follow-up actions. 

The complex task of rebuilding Europe, however, cannot be left to just one person

Third, Europe will only thrive and flourish when the European body politic becomes truly inclusive through the active participation of women, youth, migrants and ethnic minorities. Navigating today’s complex and rapidly-changing world requires a new definition of power, new skill sets and fresh approaches. Diversity in politics is not just about “political correctness”, it’s about ensuring Europe’s ability to adapt, survive and thrive – and tackle both current and upcoming challenges. 

Fourth, Europe is not just about “member states”. The real heroes of the 21st Century are not national politicians but local ones ‒ those working in Europe’s provinces, villages, towns and cities and dealing with the day-to-day problems of citizens. In Europe, America and elsewhere, it’s mayors and local authorities who are standing up for immigration, fighting climate change and working in myriad ways to improve the lives of people. Global networks give added power to such initiatives. 

To ensure that more people vote in the European Parliament elections next May, Europe’s politicians need to change mind sets, become more humble and recognise that, in the 21st Century, rebuilding Europe cannot be a top-down affair, something that “leaders” craft in Brussels and then offer to citizens. 

And the rest of us? Instead of waiting for a messiah to arrive, as the British band “M People” sang many years ago, let’s start looking for the “hero inside ourselves”.

*Director of Europe & Geopolitics at Friends of Europe
*First published in friendsofeurope.org

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