“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

 

This is from Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty. The same article also explicitly states that “these values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” Without doubt, these are the core values of progressives across Europe and across the world: Freedom, Solidarity, Equality and Justice for all. Our modern Europe is built upon these values, values which have been brought forward by progressives since the French revolution and the foundations of a newly built Europe after two world wars.

Europe has to be truly social and more democratic; it has to go back to its initial, progressive promises to avoid the rise of populist movements and so-called “illiberal democracies”.

So why are these values being questioned today?

We are facing upheavals caused by geopolitical events, leading to migrations flows, by a technological revolution and fast-paced economic and societal changes. Now, the future of the EU and the stability of the entire continent will depend on Europe’s ability to be at one.

So far, these upheavals have not yet led to disaster. But, we are in the 10th consecutive year of an ongoing crisis, touching every layer of our society and our citizens have a continuous and deep mistrust towards the European Union, towards us politicians. This is one of the main questions we need to address. While 70% of EU citizens support their country’s membership in the EU, less than 30% agree with the statement that the EU is moving in the right direction.

Europe has to be truly social and more democratic; it has to go back to its initial, progressive promises to avoid the rise of populist movements and so-called “illiberal democracies”. Many people, among them many young people, are unemployed.

Where should we start to tackle this multitude of challenges?

We need to support our citizens and regain their confidence. We need to find common solutions involving every level of governance and the citizens themselves. We need to make democratic decisions taking into account of the needs of everybody.

For this, interacting with citizens is crucial. As part of the German speaking community in Belgium, I experienced the benefits of the European Union in a very personal and concrete way, and not just because it is a border region. Living here allowed me to celebrate my regional identity in an open society. This is important: The European Union gives us the freedom and the space to promote our region’s defining characteristics, which are often rooted in histories much older than nation states. European regions show that there are more than 28 identities and are therefore the best examples to show that a diverse society does not have to rely on nationalist definitions of identity.

We need to find common solutions involving every level of governance and the citizens themselves.

At this regional and local level, progressive politicians can show our values and vision in the most convincing way. Integrating refugees in our societies is currently one of the best examples. Justice, a social democratic notion of freedom, ensures equal possibilities – no matter which background you have by providing the necessary means and education to everyone: This has to be placed higher on the agenda, starting at the local level. We have to stick fast to these values, as many politicians and citizens do every day all over the world. Part of this is to reach out to those who are not or underrepresented in our democracy: Fellow citizens that do not have the right to vote or who do not exercise their right to vote as they could.

If we show on a local level that solidarity, equality and justice are possible and can lead to a better life for everyone; the will to implement this will not stop at this level and be transcended from the regional to the European and maybe even to the global level.

The current debate on the future of Europe shows that we have to be careful that the discussion will not be dominated by populists, nationalists, neoliberals or eurosceptics.

We want to move forward, maybe also at a different pace. But we do not want to move in a different direction. The European Union will be stronger and more resilient through even greater unity and solidarity.