'Europe needs take the positives from populism, not just fight it'

Europe needs to involve its citizens
Europe needs to involve its citizens
By Maria Irene Giuntella
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If citizens don't feel Europe is listening, they will turn away.


“Without citizens’ participation, Europe is in trouble. Democracy means citizens engagement in politics”. That’s what Yves Sintomer, a French sociologist from the Centre Marc Bloch said clearly during a debate at the Italian Institute of Culture in Brussels.

In an era of political disengagement and refusal of institutions, citizens are discovering a new dimension of activism and shared responsibility in society. Is Europe ready to listen to public views?

According to Sintomer it would be the only way for Europe to face its critical challenges. Political participation from the bottom up is essential to rebuild a sentiment toward European citizenship: 

“The mainstream anti-populism campaign is a failure, populism does not only have a negative meaning, it also comes from the voices of people which Europe should take into account. Populism becomes a danger when citizens do not feel heard and that grows into anger.”

At the event, organized by the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, in partnership with Fondazione Matera-Basilicata 2019, the sociologist told Euronews there is a need for a process to “democratize” the European Union institutional system by including a more active participation of citizens in the political decision-making procedure. 

He highlights the case of Ireland where in 2016 citizens drawn by lots formed an assembly to give their opinion on legislative power on critical issues such as abortion and climate change 

“We have to rethink democracy with a mixed system of deliberative, representative and direct democracy and assemblies of citizens drawn by lots”.

The role of political institutions is not under discussion 

“There is a risk in leaving the power to citizens without an intermediary democratic force. But we are not talking about that, we are saying that we need to give them a voice without diminishing the Institutions” said Andrea Felicetti, researcher of the Catholic University of Leuven. 

In the latest surveys by the European Parliament Matteo Salvini’s party, the Lega, seems very close to becoming the second largest national party at the next European elections in May, just after Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats 

“We don’t know what is going to happen by then, but worrying about the risk of some forces coming to the power now is a short-sighted attitude. There is a strong demand for solidarity from citizens, the EU should start to give a concrete answer to them” Felicetti said by mentioning the failure of Europe to face the Greek and economic crises from a citizen-focused perspective. 

At the same time the decline of trust in Europe also comes from the political propaganda of national governments who blame the European Union for every problematic issue to raise their electoral consensus, the French sociologist observes.

The Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and the Fondazione Matera-Basilicata 2019 have joined forces to organise debates around Europe on the need for citizens ‘engagement in their communities, to discuss how to include people who feel excluded from the decision-making process and to awaken a conscious citizenship.

“We applied for Matera as Capital of Culture not only for cultural purposes but thinking about what kind of society we want to build. We believe that a society has to be the result of all different views. We want to awaken all the different actors to rethink a more inclusive and democratic society”. That’s the joint message from Paolo Verri, Director of the Fondazione Matera Basilicata 2019 and Spartaco Puttini of the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

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