With the European Elections fast approaching, SOLIDAR hosted a roundtable on “How to mobilise critical voting for building a social Europe”, held in the European Parliament on 11 April 2019. The aim of this event was to raise the bar in the progressive debate for the upcoming elections in order to build common strategies and new narratives to contribute to building a social Europe.
Now is the time to mobilise people to vote and determine the future of the European Union, so we invited high level speakers to discuss what can be done to make sure that people cast their vote in favour of a sustainable social Europe and how we can reach bigger audiences, and reflect on the role of civil society, think tanks, academics, policy-makers, social partners and media.
Elisa Gambardella, political advisor at SOLIDAR, presented the SOLIDAR EP campaign “Behind Nationalism” and our work to counter far right arguments against the EU. SOLIDAR’s campaign has two aims: firstly to mobilise people to vote and secondly to unveil the dangers behind the populist discourse to promote a progressive vote.
The speakers on the roundtable, chaired by Conny Reuter, SOLIDAR Secretary General, were Goksen Caliskan, Senior Manager from Euractiv; Claire Dheret, Head of Social Europe & Well-being Programme from the European Policy Centre; Lorenzo Repetti, Advisor at the ETUC; Elisa Gambardella, Political advisor at SOLIDAR; Zuzana Schreiberova, Executive Director of the Multicultural Center Prague and SOLIDAR board member and the Austrian MEP Josef Weidenholzer.
In his opening presentation Conny Reuter highlighted the importance of partnerships between progressive media and civil society to promote social justice around Europe. We need to build a new narrative and develop clear messages: “We know that it is not the quality of the argument that determines its success, it is how we present it that guarantees the success of it,” he concluded.
“We live in a time where anyone with a phone or a computer can be a journalist, so it is necessary to stabilise trust in journalists and make sure traditional media are recognised as reliable sources with practices like fact checking,” said Goksen Caliskan of Euractiv. Another problem is that many quality newspapers are starting to charge for accessing their content so it is difficult to access free reliable sources. “Written news is not enough these days which is why Euractiv is also developing videos, documentaries, infographics that are easy to access and share on social media,” Caliskan continued.
Zuzana Schreiberova, Director of MKC, presented the situation in Czech Republic, and the work of content analysis of fake news and propaganda information shared on Czech social media. She stressed the fact that we need to act fast: “We do not have a lot of time as we have overslept”. Zuzana also stressed the fact that fake news and propaganda are shared mainly via email and are regarded as reliable because at that point the information comes from friends considered generally as reliable sources. Schreiberova concluded that the work of civil society to create a counter narrative based on facts is fundamental to countering the spread of fake news.
Lorenzo Repetti opened his speech by pointing out that, as we are exiting the economic crisis and the European Union has started changing direction, it is crucial to communicate this widely, reaching workers not only in capital cities but in other areas. This is why ETUC, in addition to developing a common message for the Election Campaign, is also organising several initiatives at the local level in different countries to reach workers in every corner of the EU. “We think that the EU is in a position to lead change to deliver a Social Europe, but as a social partner we need to collaborate to communicate it.”
Claire Dheret, EPC, focused on the importance of politicising the debate for the European Parliament and highlighting the achievements of MEPs and political groups in their work in the field of Social Europe in the European Parliament. “We do not only have to target emotions with our campaigns, but also make clear the possible costs of not having a Social Europe. Studies show that when people are informed we have unexpected results,” she continued. This is why it is important to create an attractive narrative.
Josef Weidenholzer underlined that the success of propaganda and fake news is due to the fact that every citizen is afraid of something and these messages build on fears. “Civil society is the way that can activate citizens’ participation in the political process”. He continued saying that we need to bring the problems back to the people using their language in order to communicate the real efforts being made by the European Union, and to explain for example that the “European Pillar of Social Rights is only a compass, like a walking stick used by elderly people, on which we can build a real Social Europe”.
SOLIDAR’s roundtable was an occasion to continue the debate and find ways among the different actors to join forces to counter the rise of Eurosceptic voices and populist movements and to boost the vote of those European citizens concerned about and possibly affected by disinformation campaigns, data breaches and cyber-attacks interfering with electoral processes, also addressing the new critical young mass taking to the streets of Europe to ask for immediate actions to stop climate change.
For the legitimacy of our European democracy it is essential that citizens use their right to vote, critically and based on facts.