Forgotten advantages of the European Union – the European civil society

By Christina Forsbach | 9 May 2013

To quote this document: Christina Forsbach, “Forgotten advantages of the European Union – the European civil society ”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Thursday 9 May 2013,, displayed on 29 February 2020

Don’t ask what Europe can do for you but ask what you can do for Europe!” In his speech given in February, the German president Gauck makes good use of this reference to Kennedy’s well-known inaugural address. Beyond resistance towards sometimes petty political decision-making, we need a stronger common civil society. Promising projects are under way.


Strengths and weaknesses of the civil society

Compared to the figures for national elections throughout the EU member states (about 67 percent in 2010), the turnout for the recent European parliament elections in 2009 only amounted to 43 percent (c.f. Eurostat, 2013). This poor outcome is probably due to the fact that citizens claim to not have enough information on election candidates, their affiliation to a political party and the overall way in which EU legislation is influencing daily life in the Member States (c.f. European commission, 2013). Especially considering the recent challenges of the Euro crisis, it is no wonder that opposition towards the European integration and the idea of relinquishing nation-state sovereignty is rising – and that citizens forget, as Gauck puts it, to ask what they can do for Europe. Besides participating in European elections, there are numerous ways to make a difference yourself, while at the same time developing cross-cultural understanding and standing up for common values. From grants to scholarships, from volunteer services to city partnerships, the spectrum is vast and should not pass unnoticed.

Examples of programs

An example would be the European Voluntary Service (EVS) offered through the Youth in Action program which enables motivated young people aged 18 to 30 to volunteer in projects all across Europe dealing with social, cultural or environmental issues. From religious dialogue to post-conflict rehabilitation, the projects take up various interests, making it easy to spend from two months up to a year in another European country, volunteer and help shape a young civil society that puts the ideas of mutual understanding and tolerance into action. The whole program is almost free of cost for the participants since the cost for board and lodging, insurance and allowance, as well as most of the travel costs are funded.

While programs like the EVS or the much acclaimed ERASMUS study abroad program aim at young people to help foster their sense of social cohesion, it is important to not forget the contribution of older people in our society. To critically reflect on solidarity between generations, participation in society and questions of employment and ageing of the older generation, the year 2012 has been proclaimed the “European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations”. Initiatives include conferences and public debates, workshops, training and lessons in the fields of new media, art or in the work field all across the continent. The goal is to promote lifelong learning and exchange between generations as well as to involve a diverse public.

It is important that these initiatives are acknowledged by a wider public, not only by the well-educated. Schools should raise awareness for programs such as the EVS, local clubs can apply for funding of own projects linked with the European idea. 2013 has been proclaimed the “European year of Citizens”. All these efforts should not go unnoticed, and advantages of a joint market, the Schengen zone and cross-cultural cooperation should not be taken for granted – they must be brought to life. We need this developing civil society even if the participants’ commitment to European values of freedom and diversity is not directly linked to a higher interest in politics itself.

To go further:

On Nouvelle Europe

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Photo source: European movement Ireland.


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