[BSF] Second Plenary Panel: Is populism a threat or an opportunity for Europe?

Second Plenary Panel; Photo: Flickr/Belgrade Security Forum

BELGRADE – In light of the new challenges that face the European Union, such as climate change, migration, and the rise of populism, the question of how to reinvent the EU to adapt to them has come up. This, among other pressing issues regarding the future of the Union, was the topic discussed by BSF’s second plenary panel, “Reinventing the Union”.

Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of the CEP Governing Board, European Policy Centre and the moderator of the discussion, summarised that in answering this question, working together towards common interests are crucial.

Emanuela C. Del Re, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, explained how the crises that are currently facing the EU are an opportunity for change. Expressing an alternative view to the European mainstream, she describes how populism is actually an asset because it gives back a voice to population that has not previously been heard.

“Populism in Italy is a way of channeling of all the uneasiness of the citizens and to approach the citizens. This is one of the reasons Italy doesn’t have problem with far-right extremism”, she said.

Regarding migration, Del Re discussed how, while it must be managed, it is a “natural aspiration of human beings.” Furthermore, we need to make de facto solidarity into a real, internalised one. We can “internalise the principles which the EU has been founded and practice it within everyday life,” she stated.

In response to the main tasks that facing the panel, David Konecký, Assistant Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy Director MFA of the Czech Republic, created a distinction: the EU is not “reinventing itself, but the EU is rediscovering itself.”

Regarding the question of security challenges of the future for the EU, Konecký explained that “the original distinction between internal and external security is visibly gone.” This creates a more complex environment to work with.

“You can not solve the challenges of today by armed force. Lot of instruments should be build around to get a successful outcome of conflict solving”, emphasised Konecký, adding that there are more limitations, but also more willingness nowadays.

Guillaume Klossa, Emeritus president of EuropaNova and president of Civico EUROPA, explained that Europe is not something static. “From the beginning, it is a continuous process, and we constantly adapt to new areas,” he stated.

Klossa described that we are in a global shift, where all the traditional paradigms have disappeared. “Do we want the status quo, or to take advantage of this rediscovery to be relevant in globalisation?”, he asked.

Also viewing the challenges with optimism, he stated that this is a wonderful period in which we can define our future together. The positive perspective we create for the future, he continued, “should not be designed by diplomats, but by the citizens.”

Nadiia Koval, Head of the Centre for International Studies at the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine, brought to the discussion a perspective of a country which is not in the EU but aspires to be. She explained that, despite the criticisms, Ukrainians have a very romantic vision of Europe, and the “EU should not underestimate its attraction.” Another important point she provided is that one problem that must be tackled for the EU is that there exists an asymmetry of perception.

“Ukraine and other Eastern partnership countries are, sadly, usually absent from debate on the future of Europe”, Koval underlined.

Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European Studies, University of Gratz, responded to the possible threat to the EU by the rise in populist movements by expressing that actually, we are just buying into the populist narrative. The idea of Europe is popular, he states, and “what we are dealing with is a crisis of confidence.”

“I belong to the 2% of people in the Union who identify themselves as Europeans first. But 2% of Europe is basically a country the size of Greece. Europe has gained popularity, it hasn’t dropped”, Bieber stressed.

Responding to the relations between the EU and the Balkans, Bieber argued that those in the Balkans should not simply wait for a law, but can join the European project today by thinking about the norms of Europeans now.

A further point he made is that there must be more penalties for those who do not follow the values of the EU. “The laws of the EU are drafted by a democratic process,” Bieber states, “and if we do not fight for that, then we should not fight for the European Union at all.”

“EU is a union of laws, which are not drawn by the dictators, but by the people”, concluded Bieber.