Let‘s be honest: The general discussion about Europe is misleading. Not just today, it has been a general problem for quite some time. A large part of the public is still complaining about “Brussels”, using it as a metaphor for Europe in general, turning it into a symbol for a lack of democracy, transparency and participation. However, these issues are not a problem of “Brussels” or European politics, it is a problem of our time, one that we are facing on all levels of the political landscape, be it regional, state or national.
For a person living in the district of Reinickendorf in Northern Berlin, the distance to Brussel’s Place du Luxembourg or Schuman is immense. With thousands of kilometres between yourself and the heart of the Union, it is easy to complain, since it is unlikely that you will be contradicted. If you criticise your local MP, you might very well be confronted, even vis-a-vis. On the European scale however, this is unlikely to occur, and surely not directly.
Moving closer through digitisation
Politics are similar on all levels, and they share the same deficiencies, with only the scale of impact growing larger as you move up the ranks. Politics is the art of negotiating and finding a compromise. This is not only hard work, it is also too often not as open and transparent as it could be and therefore far from perfect. If we want to create a turnaround in the acceptance of politics, we have to change the way we conduct it, not just in Brussels and Strasbourg, but everywhere.
To this end, my generation holds a special responsibility: To us, distance has become secondary. We grew up in a Schengen Europe without border controls. We earned our first income in Euros, not Deutsche Mark or French Francs. We are living the Erasmus life, studying abroad, speaking different languages and travelling across Europe to our heart’s content. Above all, it is digitisation that has brought us closer together and helped us reach across the globe, skyping with a friend in Mumbai, shopping vintage clothes in San Francisco or watching movies from Latin America in Spanish.
Cities as smallest entities of democracy
This way of thinking, of experiencing the world and our continent is growing rapidly. Brussels, to us, can feel as close as our home town, be it Berlin, Riga or Budapest. This loss of distance is helping us to identify problems more clearly, more neutral. For us, there is no need to demonise Brussels politics simply because they are far away and appear strange to us. Our information hubs are just one click away, right at our fingertips. Therefore, we can identify the best-practice examples in Europe to adopt for our own as well as put an end to misguided policies.
Be a part of this change! It is always easy to complain about something far, far away. But today, being a part of Europe, being a part of it, is just as easy! Learn from Polish forests, from bike lanes in Amsterdam or from tourist concepts in Catalonia. Make politics with the Parisians for clean air. Spread the word, bring it to your home town! As a local or regional politician, it is my duty to participate in the multi-level system that is the European Union, to be active in the discussions that arise. Most of the time, they revolve around the issues of our everyday life: about traffic, about school, about work. The challenges we face in Europe are the same everywhere. Let us try to solve them with ideas from all over Europe! That is our urban agenda. If we in the cities, the smallest entity of democracy, raise our voices, we can become the chorus of Europe!
Standing together for the European idea
Symptoms of a growing dissatisfaction with the European Union, such as the BREXIT vote, matters to us in Berlin as they do in Barcelona or Wrocław. The future of Europe is the debate of our time. We need to find our own, local solutions for everyday problems by embracing the idea put forth by the Cities of Europe project of cooperation between cities and urban areas all across the continent. And we need to stand together for an idea that has brought my generation an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity — the European idea.