transform’s migration working group participated in the first European Civic Academy: Here we present the workshops, main outcomes of the meeting and a few reflections about left strategy in Europe.
The first European Civic Academy, organized by the European Civic Forum, La Ligue de l’Enseignement, SOLIDAR Foundation, ARCI, AEDH (European Association for the Defense of Human Rights) and Ligue des droits de l’Homme, took place in La Rochelle, France, on 8 and 9 October and gathered around 200 representatives of civil society (social, human rights’, cultural and environmental organizations). The title of this first Academy “Democracy in Europe: missing links (disenchantment, expectation and practice)” summarized the main issues of the meeting (see programme).
The structure of the Academy’s sessions around concrete questions, the encounters of civil society organizations with activists and academics like Saskia Sassen, but also the opportunity to interchange opinions and information in a more informal way in the hospitable residence-club La Fayette, were important elements that contributed to the success of the meeting.
During the opening plenary session regarding democracy in times of crisis the discussion was focused on the following axes: “how to react to the idea that rights have to be secured for some by denying them to the weakest; how to prove to our people that an alternative to TINA really exists; how to react to the belief that people’s expression of democracy can actually destroy democracy, rights and our ability to live together; how to save our democratic and rights-based Europe”. The discussions in the workshops tried to shed light on selected aspects of the “missing links” around democracy that affect the activities of organized civil society: strengths and limitations of e-democracy, the role of NGOs in system change in society, the decline of democracy and the fight against loneliness and fragmentation, precariousness and social exclusion, the erosion of freedom of movement and its impact on citizenship and democracy, the new European politics on migration and the challenges of reception and integration, building inclusive and cohesive societies through education.
In the workshop about migration organized by ARCI (Italy) and BBE (National Network for Civic Engagement, Germany), where transform! was invited, there was an interesting comparison of the situation on reception and integration in Greece, Italy and Germany; differences and similarities between the three countries were discussed and were complemented by the experiences in other regions, including the issue of xenophobic reactions and possible responses. Parallely, the particular situation of migrant women and other vulnerable groups was presented. Important topics in the debate were also the EU migration policy, the externalization of borders and the shortening of migrants by nationality against international law, as well as the need to establish legal channels for migration. The absence of the migrants’ perspective in relevant initiatives and proposals was also highlighted.
The programme of the Academy was enriched by testimonies of activists from Poland, Romania and Hungary, where fundamental rights and civil society organizations’ activities are being undermined, especially in the latter which represents a clear case of an illiberal democracy. During the closing plenary session about (re)building democratic legitimacy through citizen action the following questions were posed: “can our daily actions bring us together and address fragmentation, how do civic associations and movements built legitimacy vis-à-vis citizens and institutions, how can a European framework help to construct the struggle for equality, solidarity and inclusion, what is the role for the civil society organizations in democratic (re)construction?”
During the sessions, it was acknowledged that civic organizations are growing worldwide and it is important to reinforce the role of civil society for a democratic and rights-based Europe. Of course, as it was mentioned, not all mobilizations are moving towards that positive direction, in other words, there is a dark side in the civil society. The concepts of “common good”, “rule of law” and “illiberal democracy” acquired a central position in the discussions. The defense of rule of law gains particular importance in the struggle against nationalisms, extreme right and states of emergency, although it was acknowledged that conflicts appear where the rule of law is changed by illiberal democratic states. Nevertheless, one of the main conclusions of the Academy was that the coordination of initiatives, the escalation of mobilizations and the empowerment of the voice of civil society and movements in the media are needed for the defense of the common good in Europe.
We could argue that the Left and all the progressive powers should take into consideration what seems to be a radicalization of various NGOs in comparison with other actors in the European context and try to plan a strategy of broader alliances on migration and democracy in Europe. Parallely, in the struggle against extreme right and antidemocratic actions, logical argumentation should be complemented with the understanding of the power of emotions and experiences that construct opinions and practices.