The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body of the European Union, that provides members of society from the Member States the opportunity to voice their views at higher levels of European politics. Given the results of the recent European Parliament elections, President Henri Malosse and Communications Vice-President Jane Morrice from the EESC weighed in on why they think European citizens are fed up at being kept at arms length by the Brussels Eurobubble.
I was invited for an informal meeting with President Henri Malosse at the EESC, alongside a colleague of mine from ThinkYoung and a multinational party of around 12 bloggers and communication officers from various Brussels based organisations. The EESC wanted to discuss the eurosceptic ‘win’ in the recent European Parliament elections with ‘citizen reporters’ – people who like me have some sort of voice and an appreciable amount of internet followers that want to listen.
The EESC deems it important that the voices of citizens are heard once again, and that the main European institutions actually listen to them. During this meeting, we were also lucky to have the EESC’s Vice President of Communications Jane Morrice joining in, so the encounter was relatively interactive and quite fruitful. The main topics discussed included Brussels’ inept ability at engaging with the European electorate, immigration and youth unemployment.
“Foreign, Faceless and too far away” – Why ‘Brussels’ needs to change
Discussion was kicked off by President Malosse, who in his introductory talk stated that he is not at all surprised by the results of this election, and that the outcome could have been worse. Since his election as EESC Presicent over a year ago, Malosse says that he visited around half of the Member States, and apart from the general meetings with Heads of State, Trade Unions, and so on, he also takes time to speak to the general public. He believes that they feel disappointed by the EU and that their concerns and needs are not being addressed properly, especially when you consider how disengaged EU citizens are from what happens in Brussels.
In fact, Malosse feels that Brussels should not focus on the fact that pro-European parties still have retained the majority in Parliament. Instead, it should focus on the fact that the eurosceptics have made a massive leap forward and we should accept the reality that the 2019 EP elections could very well the the last.
However, despite the fact that results in France and the UK were catastrophic, the results in other countries have been positive and it shows that the electorate trusts in their polticians, such as Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi – well at least for now Malosse quips in reference to Renzi.
Malosse also admits that the top EU brass need to be held more accountable on certain issues and that he personally feels responsible for being too diplomatic with Jose Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy and Martin Schulz during the past year.
A member of the group asked Malosse what he thinks should change in the coming years to address this issue. In his reply, Malosse indicated that several issues stem from the EU’s style of governance, which should be more citizen friendly and needs to shift from the current technocratic style to a true democracy in which institutions listen to the people through a top-up approach.
Malosse gives an example of the flaws which Brussels has by the saying how around 95% of all documentation pubslihed by the EU is not understood by citizens, but only by internal users in Brussels, lobbyists and so on. Such a situation is unfeasible as the citizen is further alienated from the democratic process.
At this point, Jane Morrice interjects on the topic and she simply describes Brussels as being “Foreign, Faceless and too far away”. She said that it desperately needs to get back to its grassroots and start speaking the citizens’ language and doing things that they appreciate. Malosse follows up by expressing his outrage at how the European Commission completely disregarded a citizen’s initiative on pro-life. He argued that when 1.8 million EU citizens have something to say, they need to be respected and not treated in such a manner. To this, Malosse added how members of EU institutions are “privileged to be here in Brussels and we need to honour that privilege by listening to the people”.
At this point in the meeting, the floor was opened for a Q&A. I used this opportunity to ask the following question in relation to illegal immigration:
“As many of you know, the issue of illegal immigration is a burning one and I think that many people voted for populist parties in this election as a sign of protest. This was also the case in Malta, where a party in question doubled their votes from 2009, which is alarming even though they did not elect any candidates. Do you think that the EU should finally address this issue in light of the rise of Neo-Nazi and extremist parties in the European Parliament?”
After scanning the room to observe the other bloggers’ interested glances and nods of approval, my attention turned to Malosse. He personally thinks that illegal immigration creates a situation where the locals in a country clash with national governments who in turn clash with the EU. The reality is that it is an instinct for people to feel that they need protection against what they perceive as threats and enemies. However, it is wrong of them to feel that immigrants are a threat as human lives are at stake.
At this point, a Danish national interjected and indicated how he thinks that the EU is doing what it can on the issue of immigration and instead focus on improving the economy to encourage growth. I found this comment to be quite pompous, a sentiment that was reciprocated by Italian citizens present at this meeting.
To my surprise (and delight), President Malosse answered this remark by saying how “Immigrants will end up coming to Malta but they would really want to go to Denmark instead”. He added that the reality is that the biggest burden occurs at the South of Europe, and people from the North don’t want to help them or allocate more funds to Frontex for example. Illegal immigration is definitely not a domestic problem, but it is a European wide problem and should be addressed as such.
Malosse ended this part of the meeting by saying how eurosceptism takes on different forms in different parts of Europe. In the south, it is fuelled by a lack of solidarity as a result of issues of immigration and austerity. On the other hand, the north is fuelled by the fact that there is too much regulation, such as the UK wanting to absorb more power from the EU. He thinks that there is too much regulation, and that the next few years should serve as a means to review these, and also find a compromise on issues such as immigration.
Education and Youth Unemployment
Malosse mentioned how in a recent meeting with young people in an EU member state, he asked them what priorities the EU should be focusing on. The overwhelming majority listed lack of jobs and unemployment as areas where the EU needs to work on. Malosse agrees with this, and he thinks that not enough consideration is given to young people today. Too many recruiters focus on the experience of life when screening applications, and since most young people lack this they do not get a job. This is a very typical practice in the European job market and I completely disagree with it. Experience should not become a discriminatory barrier for young people.
Malosse indicated that good educational training would enable Europe to overcome high youth unemployment. However, the current system is not working to achieve this. As an example, Malosse said how the Erasmus programme is too elite, as it only hits the top 1% of citizens. This is inherently counter productive, as the most affected young people in the EU come from lower income families. As such, the EU should start focusing on formulating a vocational Erasmus programme, to equip less privileged youths with the necessary skills to seek employment.
It is also important for the EU to invest more in SMEs and Start Ups – at the moment regulation makes it difficult for young people to become entrepreneurs and start their own companies. Ultimately, new businesses and companies would fuel the necessary job creation needed by young people in Europe.
In his final remarks, Malosse indicated how “Not everyone in Brussels is concerned with the necessity of change”. Despite what has happened in Europe over the past years, not everyone in the ‘Eurobubble’ is convinced that the current operating system needs to be revamped. Malosse hopes that the EP election outcome and the general pessimistic demeanour of the public will wake up the conscience of the people in Brussels.
One the whole, this was one of the most enthralling discussions on current affairs I have had in a long time. Both President Malosse and VP Morrice were very engaging and interested in what we had to say. They also answered questions candidly and honestly, which I think is a much needed breath of fresh air in the stagnant climate of the Brussels Eurobubble.
I would like to extend my gratitude towards the EESC and Sacchi Consulting for organising and hosting this event.