After an interesting discussion about the European Parliament elections in Aachen, we arrived in Mannheim – the third-largest city in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The uniqueness of this city was obvious from the start as there are no street names and instead letters of the alphabet are used to make the navigation easier. Locals call Mannheim “die Quadratestadt” (city of the squares) because its streets and avenues are laid out to make a grid. “You can never get lost in Mannheim” assured us one of the hosts. Another famous landmark is the 18th century Mannheim Palace, former residence of the prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire. Today this beautiful Baroque palace is home to the Mannheim University and it was our greatest pleasure to find out that the workshop on Europtimism will take place here.
Which one word would you associate the EU with?
One of the goals of the workshop we gave about “Europtimism” was to make participants think about the current perception of the people about the EU and which factors influence our vision of Brussels and the EU institutions. The initial task was to describe with one word what comes to your mind when you hear the word – EU. It was interesting to see a great variety of answers. Among more common bureaucracy, problems, borderless, there were few unexpected replies such as joy, new and network. It was clear that most participants associate the EU with something positive rather than negative. The discussion soon turned into trying to figure out why some people are more Eurosceptical than others. It was pointed out by Philipp that media plays a crucial role in this and not even a single participant could remember a newspaper article or a TV programme that would look at the important and often much needed projects that are initiated by the EU. It is important to raise journalistic standards and present both bad and good sides of the EU instead of just inclusively focusing on the negative, argued the participants.
When asked to guess the number of people who hold federalist ideas about the future of the EU, the answers ranged from 5%-25% and everyone was really surprised to find out that, according to the studies of the Republikon Institute, approximately 31% of the Europeans share federalist views. Stephanie expressed her doubts explaining that it is very unlikely that the responders actually knew what the federalist vision of the EU is about when they were asked to fill in the survey.
It was also insightful to hear participants discuss why some regions and some countries of the EU are more Europtimistic compared to the others. Why, for example, the Czech Republic is the most Euro-pessimistic country among all of the new member states that joined the EU in 2004? Daniel was quick to explain that pessimism of the Czechs comes not from the opposition to the EU and the EU institutions per se but for from the negative attitudes towards Euro. Czech Republic was planning to adopt common currency in 2012 just after Slovakia, however due to the current situation in the South and general mistrust and suspicion of the currency union the plans to convert to the Euro have been put on hold. Team Blue will be visiting Czech Republic on the 16-19 April and we are really looking forward to ask the locals if they agree with Daniel’s point of view.
The final half an hour of our workshop was dedicated to the group discussions during which participants could develop answers to the questions whether the EU should get more or less powers and if the Euroscepticism is doing Europe any good. After some heated debates the 4 teams presented their results to us. Surprisingly, the teams had a lot of similar points. They all agreed that there are certain areas where the EU should get more control and in others – less. EU should, for example, be able to control and check the financial expenses in order to minimize the chance of future crisis from occurring.
Euroscepticism might not be a very positive phenomenon to observe but the EU needs Eurosceptics as much as it needs Europtimists. Eurosceptics make us realize our mistakes and as a result we receive an opportunity to improve and become better. After our visit in Mannheim, we move to one of the centres of power in Europe, the German capital Berlin. In Berlin, we’ll visit some very interesting NGOs that work in the fields of democratization and political participation. Moreover, we’ll shed light on the current situation regarding youth employment; a pressing issue that concerns many young people in Europe.