A Shrinking Space for Civil Society? A Conference on Civil Society and Europe‘s Political Culture Wrocław, Poland, October 2016.

Europe Bottom Up-Nr.15 | A Shrinking Space for Civil Society? A Conference on Civil Society and Europe‘s Political Culture Wrocław, Poland, October 2016.

DIALOGUE ON EUROPE – Rebuilding Trust and Redefining Europe in Tough Times

By Philipp Sälhoff and Maria Skóra

Due to the emergence of populist movements in many European countries, a sudden refugee influx, and North-South division arising from the economic and financial crisis, Europe has to cope with serious challenges, otherwise facing a threat of further disintegration. DIALOGUE ON EUROPE, a project implemented by Das Progressive Zentrum with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, aims at countering those developments by bringing together representatives of the European civil society to work on visionary policy recommendations and foster trans-European cooperation.

The European Union has found itself in an unexpected identity crisis. Recent disintegrative developments have taken their toll on the concept of European integration and revealed a deep misunderstanding of what core European values are. Firstly, the economic crisis weakened the belief in the Community as a strong, united market player. The consequences of financial turmoil turned out to be a tangible memento of persisting inequalities between and within European societies. The Greek crisis, with its political, economic and sociocultural consequences, was a sad example of a growing alienation and detachment of the Member States.

Not much later, the migration challenge proved it even worse. Unprecedented in its numbers, the influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East challenged not only European solidarity towards the “gateway” countries, like Greece and Italy, but also revealed how fragile liberal democracies can be. Anti-immigrant discourse brought about the rise of populist right-wing parties, like UKIP or Alternative für Deutschland. Direct political effects reached beyond the Visegrád Group vetoing refugee relocation quotas proposed by the European Commission and breaking the idea of solidaristic Europe. To a great extent, the political crisis of the EU added fuel to the fire during the Brexit-referendum. It seems that when neglected, the challenges ahead of Europe piled up and are now too profound to be ad-dressed by highranking politicians attending closed-door summits only. There is a rising lack of trust and belief in Europe within the societies, also among the youngest generations. Reviving civic engagement, meaningful interest in politics and the feeling of European ownership is urgently needed. Sustainable solutions can best be achieved with the support of a strong and well-connected European civil society.