For Godelieve van Heteren, President of the European Movement the Netherlands (Europese Beweging Nederland), the European Union requires motivated politicians who promote an inspiring approach towards the foundation, future goals and development of the European Union. Europe is more than the institutional ‘European Project’ and is full of developments which may encourage citizens to engage once more.
“The keyword is trust.” People need to believe again in this project to support it, so trust building is a fundamental aspect to address. Political elites should be more open and willing to enter into a permanent dialogue about EU’s affairs with citizens and invite them to engage with European issues to understand the European reality. For example, Ms. Van Heteren’s offered a story about the formation of the EU and its legal evolution that significantly differs from that in most textbooks. Instead of considering the European Union as a successful case, she defines the history of European integration as a “constant battle” of power where decisions on EU’s core elements, such as the signature of the Treaty of Maastricht and the introduction of the euro, have not been an easy task. She argued that more vital storytelling, drawing on real dilemmas, is much more likely to raise citizens’ interest and solidarity with the goals of the EU project. In Van Heteren’s opinion, the existing lack of communication between people and politicians is a major factor that is facilitating the economic crisis.
In sum, civic engagement on EU issues should be more closely observed by the political elites to promote EU’s legitimacy. Citizen activism will then find its way back into the European history and the society will feel more ownership on the European Project.
Godelieve van Heteren was a guest speaker in the fifth session of the Montesquieu Masterclass.