What citizens think about the EU and what they want from it

Friends of Europe kickstarted the election campaign with the Citizens' Mandate

Photo: Maria Koleva

As part of its flagship year-long initiative #EuropeMatters, the leading Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe kickstarted on 30 January in Brussels the election campaign with its own call to action: The Citizens' Mandate policy insight. The vibrant debate brought together business leaders, policymakers, civil society representatives, foresight experts and citizens, to co-design a Europe that still matters in 2030. The panellists were six politicians, five of them MEPs, from across the political spectrum.

They had to respond to the pressing questions with the aim to influence the new policy agenda for the incoming leadership, proposing strategies on how to improve security, increase prosperity and reduce the impact of climate change.

The organisers of the event explained that the objective is to mobilise a coalition of the willing united by their belief that #EuropeMatters and together ensure that Europe is better prepared to take strategic action to align the future we face with the future we want.

Grounds for shaping an EU citizens' “Mandate for change” was the call for action with 11 ideas for restoring the citizens' confidence in the EU, authored jointly by Pascal Lamy, Friends of Europe Trustee, and Dharmendra Kanani, Friends of Europe Director of Insights. The paper is based on the findings of a survey of 11,000 citizens. According to the results of this poll, commissioned by Friends of Europe and published last October, Europeans aren't sure the EU is working for them, showing trust and ownership as key issues. More than a third of Europeans are calling for more transparency in how the EU is spending money, and 41% wanting to vote on EU-wide policy decisions. The survey finds that under-35-year-olds are the Union's biggest supporters, with 41% thinking their life would be worse without it.

When asked to choose among four scenarios what the main purpose of the EU should be, 31% of the respondents chose 'Market Maker' - an EU that improves economic growth for EU Member States. The survey also indicates that 90% of EU citizens feel that the EU should be more than just a single market.

Europeans want the EU to focus on policies they care about, such as keeping peace, creating jobs and tackling climate change. The key conclusion of the poll was that without change and reform, the EU will remain irrelevant to a majority of its citizens.

During the debate, Lara Comi, vice-chair of the Group of the European People's Party in the European Parliament, put special accent on creating new jobs for young people and enhancing the support for the small and medium-sized enterprises. S&D MEP Ricardo Serrao Santos cited Bertolt Brecht's words: “Those who do not know the truth are idiots, but those who know the truth and call it a lie are criminals,” adding that “we shouldn't be lying to ourselves on climate change.”

According to Pavel Telicka, MEP, member of the Bureau of the Group of ALDE, reforms, consistency and renegotiating with the private sector will be crucial elements for the way forward.

Colombe Cahen-Salvador, co-founder and policy lead of VOLT, a new pan-European party, underlined that the problems lie in the gulf that separates the national level from the EU level. She also called for citizen involvement in budget making and Citizen Assemblies.

We need to make politics accessible from sofas, we need to bring politics to the people if citizen participation is to be enhanced, stressed Merja Kyllonen, member of the Bureau of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left. Citizens demand change, and citizens can be the change makers, Florent Marcellesi, MEP from the Greens Group opined.

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