Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European section of United Cities and Local Governments

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Governance and citizenship

Future of Europe - 21.06.2017

Petros Fassoulas: "By collaborating with local governments, we can reach millions of citizens across Europe"
The loss of trust in the European Union or a lower turnout at European elections are some of the challenges that the EU is facing today. To contribute to a strong and united Europe, CEMR joined "ALL", a new alliance that is to campaign in favour of European cooperation and democracy in the run-up to the European Parliament elections in 2019. 

In order to understand what is at stake for European democracy and to learn more about this alliance, we interviewed ALL’s founder and secretary general of the European Movement International (EMI), Petros Fassoulas.

Why does Europe need an alliance for democracy? Is democracy in crisis?

Europe is facing a multitude of challenges, the very values on which Europe is built; democracy, human rights, freedom of movement and the rule of law, are being challenged. This, partnered with recent political events both within the EU and further afield, and the rise of fake news puts European democracy in an uncertain place. In light of this, we are calling for concerted action that overcomes our traditional divides and interests. There is an urgent need to revitalise European dialogue and cooperation to ensure the development of truly European proposals for solutions to the challenges we face.

In a time when Europe is divided and split between different visions for our common future, we need to engage Europe and its’ citizens in a dialogue about the future of European cooperation and democracy. This dialogue should encourage and mobilize Europeans in all member states so that trust in the European values and democracy is reinstalled.

Since the first European elections, turnout has consistently decreased. How do you explain this?

Since the first European elections in 1979, turnout has decreased from around 62% to 43% in 2014, with some member states seeing voting rates as low as 13%.

We think there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, trust in the EU has also been steadily declining over the past years. There are also those who have turned their backs on the European project because they do not believe that the EU can offer solutions to the problems they face, or they feel that the EU is an abstract entity in Brussels. 

Another issue that we can address is how campaigns around the European elections have been mostly centered on national issues; results often reflect the political climate of the individual member state. The disinterest in European elections, the declining voter turnout in many member states, and nationally-centered campaigns need to be countered through cooperation, no EU country can tackle these issues alone.

How can ALL break this trend?

We want to foster real debate all over Europe, within and between countries, about the things that matter to our fellow Europeans. We want to listen and understand their concerns and hope. We want to reach out and engage as many as we can, in honest, participative discussion beyond and above what might divide us. 

In September, we will be organising a Democracy Marathon. It will be a two-day brainstorm event which will gather a diverse mix of inspiring and creative Europeans to develop new and innovative proposals as to how we can re-energise democratic dialogue. 

We believe that if 100 bright and action-oriented believers of democracy will dedicate two days of their lives to European democracy, this will unleash a wave of new ideas and impetus for engaging the wider European public in the debate on the future of Europe. 
How can local government and partners such as CEMR contribute to this effort?

Europe’s strength is its diversity, and ALL’s strengths are the depth and breadth of our network. By working with partners like CEMR and local governments, we can reach millions of citizens across all European countries and regions. The aim of ALL isn’t to represent the European elite or the EU institutions here it Brussels, it is to work directly with our fellow people; the EU-convinced, the unconvinced and the undecided. In order to do this, local actions and events will be organised, where our partner CEMR, along with local governments will play a big role.

Let’s picture the day after the 2019 elections. What would you hope for?

Our ultimate goal is to engage Europeans. So we would be very happy to see an increase in voter turnout after the 2019 elections, 43% is not enough! Europe’s founding values, freedom of speech, rule of law and human rights, must be cherished and protected. We really want to highlight the importance of these values and we want Europeans to be reminded that in a fragmented world we have these values in common. We can only defend European values and democracy if we do it together. 
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