ith less than a few months to go until the European Parliament elections and major upheavals in the EU institutions, urgent questions are arising about the direction of the European project. The “40 UNDER 40” – European Young Leaders programme, led by EuropaNova and Friends of Europe, gathers 40 of Europe’s most accomplished citizens from across countries and sectors, all under the age of 40, in order to meet, discuss, and create a network of European opinion leaders. The first meeting of the 2014 European Young Leaders selection was held in Brussels on 30 January - 1 February 2014.
As voter turnout for the upcoming elections in the European Parliament is expected to be quite low, the sense is that the presence of populist political parties will increase. For pro-EU parties, the challenge is how to confront this populist tendency, noted Young Leader Daniela Ott, COO, Kering Luxury Division, and CEO of Tomas Maier Brand. “Populist politicians attract voters because they keep their message clear and simple,” she said. “At the end of the day, mainstream parties need to do the same.”
“It is true that we need clear and simple messages,” stressed Monica Frassoni, Co-chair of the European Green Party and candidate in the Green Primary, “However, life is not clear and simple, nor are the solutions to the challenges facing the EU. To confront the populist tendency in the EU, we have to demonstrate that turning back the EU project is not really an option.”
Building up the EU narrative is the key to keeping public interest strong, indicated Tomáš Sedláček, Chief Macroeconomic Strategist at CSOB, and Author. “There is much self-doubt in the EU, especially since the economic crisis” he said. “The narrative is that the EU is more than the sum of its economies. The EU is a role model for the rest of the world in terms of fundamental values. Values that we do not even notice in the way that outsiders do.”
Politics in Europe, particularly on the European level, need to work to get the message out through a greater recognition and use of grassroots politics. The spread of social media and technological advances in Europe can be used to much greater effect to reach and interact with constituents on many levels, the participants agreed.
While online and information technology are improving campaigns and community interaction, noted young leader Guillaume Liegey, Co-founder, Liegey Muller Pons, there is a growing awareness of the need to knock on doors and speak face-to-face with constituents. “When humans discuss politics with other humans, it is very effective at increasing voter turnout and community participation in the democratic process,” he said.
Full report of the seminar will be available here soon