Europe? Come on, take your time!

by Thomas Baumgartner

Thomas Baumgartner

Last month four FutureLabbers – together with around 50 students from Universities in and around Berlin – were invited to participate in a discussion with German Federal President Joachim Gauck at Schloss Bellevue in Berlin. Titled “Europa – Mehr Mut bei allen” (roughly translated “Europe – More courage from everyone) the discussion was part of the “Bellevue Forum” series, which was kick-started by Gauck’s famous speech on Europe in February 2013 (for those who haven’t read the speech yet, do it now: http://www.bundespraesident.de/SharedDocs/Reden/EN/JoachimGauck/Reden/2013/130222-Europe.html). Since then Gauck initiated several talks on European issues within the frame of “Bellevue Forum”, trying to develop new and fresh ideas that could move Europe forward.
Bundespräsidialamt / Sebastian Bolesch

How did he do that? Let’s talk a bit about the format of last month’s discussion. Right after entering the room Gauck made one thing very clear: He is “just” a simple President, he has no executive powers like e.g. the Chancellor (is that what you call understatement?). The only thing that he can offer is a platform where citizens have the possibility to exchange their views and ideas on Europe. He can act as a host or moderator, maybe even as a multiplier, but the real multipliers are sitting in the audience: normal, common citizens, just like you and me. And for the next two hours Gauck mostly did one thing: Listen. Listen to what people have to say about Europe, the crisis, the fear that Europe is drifting apart and how we could fix all this mess that we are in.

Without going into detail about the content of the discussion I found one thing most fascinating: That the President of the Federal Republic of Germany is able to dedicate two hours of his schedule (+ one hour for the reception afterwards) to a quite informal discussion with approximately 60 students about Europe. When was the last time that your local mayor, a member of the regional parliament / government or even a representative from the national level dedicated three hours of his schedule to Europe? Or even you?

We may not have solved Europe’s crisis within these three hours, but we raised awareness for the complex interdependencies that underlie the current status quo; we listened to each others, took our time to exchange different opinions and points of view and came to the conclusion that talking, talking, talking about Europe is a prerequisite to generate support and understanding for our common project. What else do we need in times of mistrust and a lack of solidarity? Yes, three hours at fancy Schloss Bellevue are not nearly enough for that, but that’s what citizens are for – acting as multipliers, spreading the word and feeling responsible for Europe. Not enough time for that? Well, when the President can, why can’t you?

P.S.: If you are interested, here’s a record of the event on YouTube:

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About Thomas Baumgartner

Thomas Baumgartner (Austria) is working at the University of Innsbruck, where he is the Assistant to the Rector. Previously he has been working as a Project Manager at the European Forum Alpbach in Vienna. Thomas has completed Ph.D. studies in Political Science / European Integration and spent time abroad in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.

2 thoughts on “Europe? Come on, take your time!

  1. Disagree: I think that it is normal and I expect it from politicians that they spend three hours talking about Europe with young people. This is the principal idea of democracy and I am as a citizen of a country with a democratic constitution where the power belongs to the people not thankful at all for these three hours. Being thankful would mean for me not feeling equal to Joachim Gauck and I think everyone in Germany should feel at least a bit of that equality. We all have many things to do, full calendars. It’s everyone’s choice for what she/he chooses to spent time on. And a FEDERAL PRESIDENT OF GERMANY who claims to represent all his citizens should definitely reserve a big space in the calendar for discussions, informal exchanges of opinions with those citizens.
    By the way especially in local politics and during campaigns politicians and representatives spend a lot of time getting people involved at discussions, local festivities etc.

  2. I think it was great President Joachim Gauck spared 3hours of is busy schedule with you!! In particular I think that’s one of the biggest problems our democracoes have to face nowadays: that often our representatives do not dedicate enough time to listen to citoyens’ worries, let alone to talk to them. I hope many other politicians follow his example and specially regarding european topics!