Good afternoon - It is a privilege to address you today as one of the directors of European Alternatives, who organised this conference with the support of the Heinrich Boell Foundation. Thank you to Christian Schwöbel and Christine Pütz and the foundation to hosting this conference with us!
I speak for European Alternatives today which is a civil society organisation that is devoted to exploring and promoting transnational politics and cultures by means of campaigns, artistic projects, our yearly transeuropa Festival and conferences! We believe that today democratic participation, social equality and cultural innovation are undermined by the nation states in Europe and that transnational forms of collectivity must be fostered to promote these values.
I don’t want to waste that chance, or your time, so you will forgive me for being direct.
I am very concerned that Europe is missing large parts of the opportunity. I am worried that Europe will continue to stagnate, by that, i don't mean economically but in terms of solidarity and as an alternative vision and political emancipatory project. I am worried that we will look at success stories and possibilities to change things for the better, but we let them pass by.
One of the starting points would be the outbreak of the financial crises 7 ago. Why? Because since then you have a picture of how many opportunities have been wasted. Plenty.
We are loosing ground. Constantly. Every Day. Why do I say that? I look a around, I see countries - illiberal countries, surveillance, TTIP, people still dying to reach European soil, rising inequality ... Europe once led the world in human rights, living standards, ideas … but today we don’t. We are not leading in climate change, alternatives energies, new ways of collaborating, … And then we are confronted with the statistics. For every new Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, we have a Hungary… I ask myself why did Europe stop making progress, great progress?
But then I remember that we cannot say that the whole continent has failed. No, there is a different problem. We have a problem today of two Europes: a forwardthinking critical Europe and an backwardthinking Europe. Of social/crosscontinent mind-sets and anti-social/nationalistic mind-sets. These are two Europes that rarely talk to each other. Two Europes that hold back all of Europe because they are not in sync.
There is a Europe that is full of initiative and new ideas. We see demonstrations with ten-thousands of people in Spain, we see resistance to troika politics and neo-liberal policies. We have a young generation that fights for refugee rights, for net neutrality, for alternative economies, for commons, and against the erosion of civil rights! … they dare to try something new. This Europe is open and critical. This Europe hates mental barriers and looks for new opportunities.
But there is a second Europe. It is a Europe that is afraid of it's future. They worry about where the new middle class jobs will come from. They don’t want to jump off what they see as a European cliff. They like the comforting idea of putting up walls and to many people it makes sense to restrict other people. And protect against their way of living.
Political leaders have a choice about how to lead people to the more realistic and hopeful side of those debates. They have a choice about how to approach their responsibility to lead. Is Europe’s leadership class willing to be excited about forwardthinking? Or is Europe going to be exhausted by using up its energy, safeguarding vested interests, and holding up ancient barriers?
I don’t know how Europe will answer. I believe change is possible, but in my mind there are too many leaders still refusing to take up their responsibility. But I wouldn't be standing here if I would believe you can shape this world only from the top-down. The crisis has shown the limits of state power and national politicians and it reaffirms need to collaborate, the search for alternative econonomic models. We have many solutions on the table we need to get down to making them happen. Europe is not going to prosper if our conversations are about the next year instead of the next generation. If our conversations are ignoring fundamental power structures and we are repeating the same mistakes again, we will fail. If our conversations ignore the grassroots efforts of civil society, in favour of old parties and stakeholders, we will fail. Those grassroots efforts are real. Just look at netneutrality, data-retention, the water ECI, occupy movement…
There are ways to engage people: if we at European Atlternatvies failed to reach 1 million people, we still mobilised over 200 thousand people across Europe to stand up for media pluralism and press freedom. We have to collaborate around new tools that enable individual citizens to pressure politicians and decision makers. Or to rephrase it in the words of our key note speaker: we need to return to making our citizenship, instead of just being consumers of it.
This is why we organised the campus and why we are here today to discuss these questions: the question of our agency for change in a neoliberal system that seduces too many of us to conformity, economises almost all aspect of our lives, that fails our fundamental freedoms and creates staggering levels of inequality. But before I hand over to Saskia Sassen, I want to end by saying that inspite of these difficult questions that I constantly pose myself as an activist I believe we can change even the fundamental wrongs in our society. We have in fact just come back - most participants are in this room - from a 3-days campus where we spend intense days to discuss in depth both the issues that concern us - mostly young people - in Europe today and how we believe we can tackle them creatively and effectively. This campus has given me enourmous inspiration, strength and hope.
This is the Europe that isn’t waiting for leaders to solve the burning problems. This Europe is just out there fixing the problem themselves, with very little help from Europe’s leadership class. That is one of the two Europes – optimistic and active and building a better Europe. We need more of that. We need to bring that critical mindset across Europe. It is fundamental for defending our democratic system and to stand up agains the great risk that Europe let’s itself be sucked into a negative, can’t-do attitude and passivity.
Overcoming these divisions cannot be left to attacking the mal functioning institutions, it lies in our hands and we can start with everyone in this room. We agree on more than we disagree on. We are part of something bigger than our own opinions, our own country. We are part of one Europe – and it is time to drag the other Europe along to our side - and lets build the alternatives together.
Europe is here methaper for the whole world, a blue dot.
And you are leading.
Let me now give the floor to Saskia Sassen who I think I dont need to introduce to this audience. We are extremely honoured to have you with us today coming directly from New York last night where you were still teaching yesterday.
You are one of the most prominent critical voices by whom a lot of activists around the globe feel inspired by, so thank you very very much for speaking to us today.
Inspired by Ryan Heath/Neelie Kroes Two Europe or One Europe? and Walter Palmetshofer