The year of all crossroads

EPA/MARTIN SCHUTT

Participants march with banners and placards during the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party rally tittled 'protect borders, provide social security', in Erfurt, Germany, 21 September 2016.

The year of all crossroads


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This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2017

Belgium -Brussels  “Il faut laisser du temps au temps” (Let’s give time time). Former French President François Mitterand famously gave this Cervantes’ maxim a second youth. It carries scents of wisdom, patience, sensibility. Yet, I am not sure that in 2017 we will have the luxury to give time time: the vital issues that are facing us show little patience. I believe we will even have to hurry time…

Climate change and populism have two things in common: first, if left unaddressed they both create havoc in the long-term; second, to tackle them requires working on their root causes and then acting fast.

Take climate for instance: these last years’ achievements – COP 21 and 22, Sustainable Development Goals, HABITAT III, helped the world agree on measures to fight the rise of sea levels, increased desertification and global warming in general. The “climate crossroads” in 2017 will be whether we are able to go “beyond speeches”: 2017 will be about implementing, taking measures to defeat climate change in the long run! The clock is ticking, we cannot afford to give time time anymore.

Then the “populism crossroads” in 2017. These last years have seen the rise of politicians feeding negative slogans to voters in order to feed from voters’ reactions to those same slogans. The economic crisis, desperate Syrian refugees knocking at our door, violence from terror groups all combine to convince many voters that they are better off following those who shout loudest, those claiming that the solution to all problems is to pull-up the drawbridge and erect watchtowers! Though history shows that no country has ever made any sort of progress by retreating in its shell, the perception is there. Therefore we must address it. In 2017. We cannot give more time to time…

The biggest crossroads in 2017 will be on countering those whose programme limits itself to a handful of punchy slogans. And here communication will be the key. Institutions, including traditional media, have been slow to react to the technological and societal revolution that has engulfed the world. Yesterday, the average citizens had to rely on politicians’ statements and journalists’ editorial choices to find the information; today, and even more so in 2017, voters become direct producers and consumers of information through the rise of social media.

Europe is good news, however it is not always perceived as such. The conclusion is therefore that we are failing to share the good news with Europeans. This is the communication crossroads ahead of us in 2017.

Less reliance on traditional ways to communicate such as press releases and press conferences, more direct contact with Europeans via social media, but as importantly: more meaningful  communication with half a billion Europeans. Less protocol (“I had a meeting with someone”), more relevant messages (“we agreed to simplify the rules”).

The way I see it, in 2017 the famous aphorism ” Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” should be reworded in “Not only must the European Union work for 500 million Europeans, it must also be seen to work”.

Thus, 2017 must be the year to empower all those who benefit from regional policy to make their voice heard, from cities and regions to small and medium enterprises, universities, NGOs, young people, hospitals… And this both in net beneficiaries member states who need regional policy’s investments and in net contributors member states who benefit from regional policy via access to more customers in other states for instance.

At a time when the private sector’s trust in national budgets is low, the EU budget – and more specifically regional policy, is seen as a guarantee of sound investment for all.

Convincing our fellow Europeans of this must be our priority in 2017. By securing a solid, efficient regional policy for all in the post 2020 financial period, by simplifying access to EU funds, by making it more flexible and thus readier to react to unforeseeable events, but above all by communicating better with European citizens.

A stronger regional policy means a stronger Europe.

And a stronger Europe means less populism, fewer short-sighted nationalist reflexes.

If we succeed on this, we will have successfully negotiated 2017, the year of all crossroads.

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