Summary of the ‘We are Europe’ series of events
In autumn 2021 and at the start of 2022, Finnish ministers toured Finland to listen to people’s ideas and hopes for the future of Europe. The series of 19 discussion events held around the country was part of the EU-wide Conference on the Future of Europe. The citizens’ messages will be passed on as part of an EU-level debate on what kind of Europe we want to build.
- Summary report on the ‘We are Europe’ series of events
- Report on the final outcome of the conference of the future of Europe | europa.eu
Topics that sparked the most discussion
As expected, the citizens’ dialogues raised a wide variety of different opinions and perspectives. The nature and themes of the events and the number and activeness of participants also varied, which makes it difficult to draw very far-reaching conclusions. That said, there were a few common threads in the discussions:
The theme that came up most often was climate change. The discussions emphasised the need for a coherent, ambitious climate policy that cuts across different policy sectors both within the EU and globally. Participants in the discussions expressed their hope that the EU would lead the way in climate issues on the international stage. Several discussions highlighted the anxiety caused by climate change, especially among young people. The security impacts of climate change also came up in the debate. On the other hand, participants also expressed their faith in our ability to curb global warming by working together and implementing ambitious policies.
Economic perspectives and industrial policy were often linked to the issue of climate change. Participants in the discussions wanted to see climate change mitigation turned into an opportunity by directing EU funding to research, new technologies and innovations. They also raised the importance of investments in human capital and broad-based welfare policy. On the other hand, several discussions stressed the need to take into account the impacts of climate actions on local livelihoods. One issue that came up in particular was the use of forests. Citizens also hoped that climate actions would take into account the differences in conditions from region to region. For example, reducing the use of cars is much more difficult in sparsely populated areas with long distances than in cities.
Finns want the EU to provide more security and be more resilient to crises. Particularly at the Futures Day event for the extended EU sub-committees, a common thread in the discussion was the need for comprehensive work to strengthen the EU’s preparedness for and resilience to crises. The COVID-19 pandemic has also underlined the importance of resilience. Traditional security and defence cooperation in the EU also emerged as key themes, especially in the preliminary surveys conducted before the tour. The discussions emphasised security as a broad concept, including various kinds of hybrid and cyber threats. On the other hand, participants felt that the tense global political situation highlighted the importance of developing traditional hard security and defence cooperation.
The common values of the EU, such as democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights, equality and minority rights, featured prominently in many of the discussions. The discussions emphasised the role of the EU as a community built on shared values and stressed that it must actively promote and defend these values both within its borders and in external relations. Solutions to the challenges we face today (such as climate change, digitalisation, migration and security) must be in line with the values of the EU. Work must be done to strengthen the position of minorities and ensure that their voices are heard in EU affairs. Examples raised in the discussions included sexual minorities and the Sámi.
Several discussions highlighted the need for a common EU migration and asylum policy. Discussions also stressed the importance of legal immigration for the EU’s competitiveness and to reduce the shortage of labour and skills.
Finns consider it important for citizens to have a wide range of opportunities to be heard in EU affairs and a variety of influencing channels through which they can express their thoughts and ideas. It is important to raise awareness about the existing tools for participating and exerting influence and to further lower the threshold for participation. Young people in particular felt that they were willing to exert influence and hoped that their natural channels and means of participation could be better utilised to communicate their messages. Work should be done to improve people’s understanding of the EU and its decision-making by increasing transparency and promoting clearer communications by EU institutions. The importance of democracy education was also highlighted.
The opportunities provided by the EU for young people to study and work in the Union were considered very important. Participants felt that the new ALMA scheme, which targets disadvantaged young people, would improve equality when it comes to exploiting these opportunities. Many young people raised the topic of mental health and expressed the need for improvements in access to mental health services, also because of the increased anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences.
The participants also hoped for more consideration on what matters should be decided on at the national level (e.g. forest policy) and which areas would benefit from deeper EU cooperation. In the healthcare sector, for instance, EU measures cannot replace national preparedness, but they can support it. Discussions also drew attention to the equality of the Member States when it comes to EU decision-making. Participants pointed out that integration and the direction of its development should be discussed more openly and strategically.
The themes raised at the events and in the surveys carried out during the tour largely reflect the latest results of the Eurobarometer surveys. Although economic themes were not predominant on this tour, it should be noted that the EU’s recovery package and the related borrowing were the subject of very lively and critical public debate in Finland in 2020 and 2021. In the Eurobarometer surveys, Finns have been more worried than other Europeans about the public debt of the Member States, and Finns consider it important for every Member State to take responsibility for its finances and debt. Finns have also considered it important that EU funds are used transparently and monitored effectively, and that Member States receiving EU funding respect the rule of law, fundamental rights, human rights and democracy.
Institutional questions garnered no particular interest during the tour. According to the spring 2021 Eurobarometer survey, 57 per cent of Finns do not support the idea of supranational candidate lists in European Parliament elections.
What is the ‘We are Europe’ series of events?
As of February 2022, 19 discussion events have been held in different parts of Finland as part of the series of events. Each event has been attended by a minister. The events have been organised in cooperation with a variety of partners, including educational institutions, the Timeout Foundation, the European Movement in Finland, Europe information, the Finnish Office of the European Parliament, the Finnish Office of the European Commission, and Finnish Parliament.
The events have been open to the public, and they have been marketed through cooperation partners and in traditional and social media. The aim has been to put citizens and their views at the centre of the events.
The atmosphere of the discussion events was positive. Many attendees welcomed the opportunity to participate in the discussion on the future of the EU. That said, reaching out to citizens and encouraging them to attend EU-related events was challenging at times. The pandemic may also have contributed to the fact that responding to surveys felt more natural for some people than attending actual events.
At some events, the Timeout method was used to encourage participation in the discussion. Some of the events focused on a specific theme, but citizens always had the opportunity to raise other topics. Some of the events were bilingual (held in Finnish and Swedish). At the northernmost EU event in Utsjoki, the discussion took place in Finnish and Sámi. Some of the discussions during the tour were also interpreted into sign language. Most of the events were also streamed live online.
A summary of all events in the series has been published on the conference’s Multilingual Digital Platform and on the website of the series of events.
What is the Conference on the Future of Europe?
The Conference on the Future of Europe, launched in May 2021, aims to put citizens at the heart of the discussion on the future of the European Union. In addition to the European citizens’ panels organised at the EU level, a wide variety of citizens’ dialogues have been held in the Member States. The implementation of the discussions has varied based on the cultural and other characteristics of the different Member States. Citizens have also had the opportunity to share their ideas and submit their proposals on the conference’s Multilingual Digital Platform.
The Plenary and Co-Chairs of the conference are expected to publish a report on the themes discussed and the ideas presented by citizens on Europe Day, 9 May 2022. After this, the EU Member States, the European Parliament and the European Commission will explore concrete further measures to develop the activities of the EU.