#EuropeTalks is an international platform for political dialogue. #EuropeTalks brings people together for a day of political dialogue. On December 13, 2020, thousands of participants from across the continent met for one-on-one conversations to discuss issues that matter to all Europeans.
Marie, a young German female (25) former Erasmus student in Lithuania, having lived in western Germany (Braunschweig) and in former Eastern Germany (Leipzig), now working in Osnabrück,
Christophe, an older French male (56), whose fiancée followed in 1987 the first Erasmus program in Germany (Pforzheim), who educated in Paris, lived in Italy (Rome) and now in the Netherlands (The Hague) for more than 20 years,
who both disagreed before hand on the following topics:
Should protecting people from the coronavirus be the first priority, even if the economy suffers? Should all European countries have to accept refugees?
Christophe was worried that people would suffer from a major economy crisis which has always lead in the history of Europe to populism and illiberal - not to say dictatorship - political regimes.
Marie was worried by conspiracy groups who deny the existence of the pandemic and therefore threaten life of others by their lack of discipline. As a matter of fact, it turns out that the opposition to the lockdown and measures to coop with the pandemic is a political statement of the far right and left extremists.
The discussion made clear that Marie and Christophe had the same worry in mind, i.e. populism. How to tackle the issue has no clear cut solution obviously. The people being tempted by populist and simplistic ideas are not badly intentioned people as such, instead they are one suffering from the globalisation - and Europe is seen as a form of globalisation - and they are suffering from the massive changes that have been badly hitting rural areas in Europe and in East Germany: massive emigration of the young people to find jobs elsewhere, closure of schools, closure of public transportation and services. The people staying behind in this areas, feel abandoned and are frightened by the end of their world and principles.
Their worries and fears also project on the immigration issue. Although immigration is hardly to be seen in the rural areas, it is where it is most rejected. Immigrants, together with the measures against the pandemic, are seen as attempts to replace the local people, to shut down their voice and ultimately to terminate them. Moreover, immigrants are seen as a weaker group that can easily be blamed for problems and be the victims of the frustrations of the local population.
One should not ask immigrants to go and live in these areas where they will be exposed to hate. Moreover, the discussion showed that one cannot give lessons and impose measures to local people suffering economically and being psychological anxious about the evolution of their way of living.
This is where the discussion boiled down to the underlying issue: We are all strangers in our fast changing societies.
In the 70’s, people in the Western European countries were exposed to radical changes that were breaking their world apart: loss of life-long employment, raise of mass unemployment, equal rights for women and men in civil society and at work, couples divorcing, decrease of religious practices. That spurred strong arguments within the families themselves at the time. The societies were changing and the inhabitants were forced to leave their former world and move into another one, for the best and for the worse.
When Germany re-united in the 90’s, the East german people had to embrace a new society, some of them even had to leave their land for jobs and became somewhat immigrants into the West.
In the 2015’, the immigrants from the arabic countries left their lands, and would like to keep somehow their roots and customs inside the new host country, which creates arguments with locals asking them to adapt and embrace the local language and culture. On the one hand, Europeans should remember that their values are only 50 years old in their own societies. On the other hand, immigrants should realise that their former societies were less progressive and they are now jumping into faster moving societies.
For both, no one can escape the historical and societal trends. Adapting together and shaping our European societies is our common challenge and what unites us.
Marie Hühne & Christophe Carreau December 2020