EWL News

Citizens and civil society are driving force for alternatives towards rights, democracy and justice

[Brussels, 25 September 2014] More than 200 citizens and members of civil society organisations gathered on 22 and 23 September in Brussels, in front of the European Parliament, to take part to the second edition of the European Citizens Summit. Entitled “Beyond Europe’s Growth Obsession: Rights, Justice and Democracy for All”, the European Citizens Summit aimed at channeling voices and concerns of citizens and NGOs, through an interactive and participative two-day event. The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) has been part of the co-organisers, as a member of the Civil Society Contact Group, who initiated the European Citizens Summit in 2013.

Discussion amongst the participants was fueled by inspiring contributions of keynote speakers, both in plenary and in workshops. Vincent Liegey (spokesperson of the French Degrowth Movement) presented the degrowth thinking and movement and its potential for transition towards more democratic and equal societies. Susan George (social activist and chairperson of the Transnational Institute) raised the alarm on the TTIP (Transnational Trade and Investment Partnership) and its impact on Europe’s health, food, work and environment. “This Citizens Summit is an arena both of resistance and of renewed commitment to build a different Europe—inclusive, fair, green and democratic.” The fishbowl discussion with participants and representatives of the NGOs focused on linking the structures and powers endangering the planet, and proposing ideas for change. “You cannot expect solutions from the model which created the problems”, as one of the participants said.

Many ideas came out of the four workshops proposed on Tuesday afternoon, on the four areas identified by the Civil Society Contact Group: Wealth and distribution, Power and democracy, Common public goods, Values and ideology. The EWL co-hosted this latter workshop together with Culture Action Europe, and invited Rahila Gupta (freelance journalist, writer and activist, member of the Southall Black Sisters) to deliver an inspiring speech: she scrutinised the diverse strategies of the neoliberal system, which depoliticises gender inequality, divides civil society and marketises the voluntary sector, fosters the ‘fetishism of choice’ and encourages the development of a permanent underclass (Clare Chambers). She brought some ideas of actions, including bringing European immigration laws in line with its human rights obligations, scrutinise all policies through an equality proof process, implement the gender-sensitive asylum system provided in the Istanbul Convention. Then, participants were asked to reflect on the implementation of our shared values in their everyday life: they came up with the same assessment that we are all interlinked and interdependent, and with the same values of respect, democracy, equal access to quality public services, solidarity. Patriarchy and fundamentalism were identified as strong obstacles for the implementation of our shared values, as well as the current system which conveys individualistic values instead of a sense of common identity. Alternatives start to exist, but it requires efforts from each person, and we don’t have enough information about these alternatives.

A whole session of the European Citizens Summit was dedicated to dialogues with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs): 8 MEPs came to the Summit’s tent, on the Esplanade of the European Parliament, and had a discussion with participants, on many issues, including their vision for Europe and their priorities for the new term. Malin Björk (GUE/NGL), Jean Lambert (Greens), Julie Ward (S&D), Philippe Lamberts (Greens), Bart Staes (Greens), Sven Giegold (Greens), Hans-Olaf Henkel (ECR) and Benedek Javor (Greens) answered to the invitation.

The Summit was close on a positive and engaging note: it demonstrated that civil society organisations can come together and break the silos between them to develop a common strong message about the Europe we want. The commitment of participants and the fruitful discussions show that a global citizens’ movement is taking shape with great potential for change. “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” (John Lennon) The European Citizens Summit is one step forward in the journey towards an alternative Europe.

Find out more:

Website of the European Citizens Summit

Press release of the Civil Society Contact Group

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