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Increase european civic engagement to increase european election turnout!

Every five years, there is an european debate on how to increase turnout in european elections, which have historically low participation. A lot has been done, many students in europe learn about the EU in school which is vital for them to understand this organization and know how to participate; also the spitzenkandidaten process gives more transparency to the whole election process. However there is a lot to be done; european elections still have a low participation, european citizens feel distant and national politicians continue to neglect these elections. One of the errors in adressing this problem is exactly the overfocus on the european elections. Make no mistake, participation in the european election is vital for our institutions, but we can’t expect a high turnout if we have only the debate about democratic participation from 5 to 5 years. Democracy shoulnd’t be a quinquennial voting event. European institutions should make na effort to promote democratic participation in the dailylife of european citizens. If so, the interest about european matters will increase, european election turnout will be higher! The idea of citizen’s conventions is interesting. I think it would be important to bring together national policy makers, european leaders to discuss the future of Europe with ordinary citizens. Some fear that these public debates will give euroscpetics a platform to preach the gospel against an United Europe. That’s indeed a risk. But if it’s there is a need to discuss why the european union makes sense it is better to do so in these popular conventions than let fake news accounts in social media to the job. Another important idea would be EU participatory budgets – A process in which citizens decide where to spend part of the public budget. This would make civil society discuss and engage much more with the EU. In my city, Lisbon, participatory budgets were such sucess in terms of civic engagement that the national government is doing 2 nationwide participatory budgets, one just for young people and other for everyone. A special attention needs to be paid to disenfranchised and marginalized communities like city suburbs or rural areas. These communities normally don’t vote in european elections and if they do that, they vote for candidates that blame the EU for state of their lives. The EU needs to work with national governments to improve it’s presence and representation in these areas. Social media ads are very important but it’s more effective to contact directly with ordinary people, make them know about the advantages of the EU and why they should participate in the european democracy. If it’s done, i have no doubt people would be more willing to turnout and participate in the european decision making.
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As a Member of European Parliament and VP of Socialists and Democrats, responsible for Communication, I strongly believe that our engagement with the citizens is of crucial importance. We need to communicate Europe better, change our rigid Brussels language, make our policies more tangible and make our citizens believe that what we do is changing their life for the better. And we can only do that if we actively engage with them. We have to start to listen to one another. Brussels is too often percieved as a closed circle of political elites and business lobbyists. We need to break with these practices where ever they exists in order to improve the image of “weak European policies and distant European parliamentarians”. I believe I belong to a generation of progressive, modern politicians that are close to young and “revolutionary” voices, but I also have respect for criticism and experience of those who have lived through crisis, poverty and despair. As a former journalist, I often say that politicans and journalists have something in common. People in both professions need to be experts on how to communicate with the public. They also need to have the knowledge and be able to deliver the content. So my question is: How to engage our citizens more actively in the European project and how to increase the participation in the election processes? First of all, by being someone that our people can trust. I don’t want to live in a Slovenia where I do not have any decent opportunities for an education or a job. I don’t want to live in a Europe where I have to be afraid of nationalism, intolerance, hate speech or xenophobia. I want a Europe for the people. Current discussions about the Spitzenkandidat and the transnational lists are important for engaging all Europeans in the discussions about the future of Europe. We find ourselves at the crossroad of what kind of integration we want. It is crucial we discuss this together. Perhaps it has never been as important as today that our citizens voice their opinion. For an alternative Europe, for a Europe that brings back trust and strength to our citizens. Chosing the Spitzenkandidat can be one of the tools to create a single European electorat which strengthens our European identity. The decision on transnational lists will demand more fine tuning, but it can also be a step in the right direction to give our citizens a truly European choice. Though one can not be so naïve that the election proceedures themselves will bring a greater number of voters to the polls. I believe that confidence is what really matters. The confidence that our chosen leaders will work with the people for the people’s interests and put citizens back in the heart of their politics. This is what I stand for. As someone who strongly believes that we need each other, I think we need to share and promote ideas that create a better life for everyone, a decent and dignified life with equal rights and equal opportunities, for a just and social Europe that promotes peace, stability, tolerance and openess. For a modern and strong European Union in which each and everyone will feel safe and be proud to say: ”I am a European!”

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