Throughout the last year, we have heard over and over again that the European Union is more than an economic project. We have also repeatedly been told that the EU is bigger than a great institution in Brussels. But the truly important thing is that, as of today, we are aware that the European Union is its citizens, its cities and its regions.
So, the European project is not just built within the great spheres of power, but the foundations lie in each suburb, school and city council within the Union.
Nevertheless, bringing the EU closer to the people is still today, a complicated task, because of the distance from its institutions, because of the magnitude of the European project and, on occasion, because of the disinterest, typical of its citizens. To achieve this arduous task, different intitiatives are being carried out throughout the EU with the aim of making the Union a project in which everyone feels included. One of these initiatives to bring the EU closer is that of the debate forums in which both such civil society and local governments have a presence and a voice. One of these forums took place at the Sevilla city council with the day-long initiative entitled "Reflecting on Europe", promoted by the Committee of the Regions, who are fully aware of the importance and need to involve civil society and local and regional institutions - those that are closest to the people - in the debate on the future of the European Union.
The session was opened by the Mayor of Sevilla, Juan Espadas, the President of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, and the president of the Andalusian Parliament, Juan Pablo Durán. The first part of the conference was focused on a round-table to discuss "The role of Local and Regional Governments on the new European stage". This round of initial debate was moderated by the Director of the European Documention Centre of the University of Sevilla and of the information service Europe Direct Sevilla, teacher Marycruz Arcos, and in it they could share and compare experiences, opinions and points of view voiced by all levels of political institutions: european, regional and local.
Those responsible for breaking the ice were Karl-Heinz Lambertz and Juan Espadas, who in every moment seemed grateful for the event, organised by the Comittee of the Regions, which for that day, the 13th September, turned Sevilla and its population into a central axis for debate about the future of the EU. Next to participate in the conference was Ángel Luis Sánchez, Secretary General of Action Exterior of the Autonomous Government of Andalusia; followed by Gabriel Cruz, mayor of Huelva; and Francisco Javier Márquez, mayor of Jaén, who brought to the fore the relevance of raising people's awareness that, from now on, every decision and need of our day to day lives has some type of link with the European Union, with its institutions and its legislation, therefore it's important that the Andalusian society is aware of it and involved with it.
For his part, the mayor of Sevilla defended the prominence that local governments and civil society must have as a whole in order to drive the European Union forward against the current breakaway movements, eurosceptics and populists who threaten to destabilise it and who, to this day, are spread over much of the Old continent. In this respect, Lambertz recognised that Europe is suffering a "serious identity crisis", which favours the appearance of these populisms that "are playing with the emotions of society and make it difficult to distinguish between true and false".
Likewise, Juan Espadas added that it is possible to inspire the people's trust in this "common, unifying" project if, between us all, we are able to channel participation into decisions that are adopted by community institutions and we ensure that the debate reaches all of the strata of a society which, ultimately, will see its daily routine affected by the decisions made by the great european pillars of power. Furthermore, the mayor of Sevilla underlined the importance of alleviating budgetary constraints, which sometimes limit investments, in order to be able to better care for the needs and demands of the people. In this respect, his counterpart in Jaén, Francisco Javier Márquez, agreed with the analysis and claimed that "you see economic benefits, but nothing has been done for the european identity".
The mayor of Huelva, Gabriel Cruz, reiterated the need to provide local entities with greater capacity in what has to do with financing. "In the last year we have contributed some 0.65% of the GDP which has made it possible to meet the European stability objectives, and yet we are constrained by the established expenditure limit. We do not make decisions. We are, fundamentally, recipients of european programmes and projects. We, therefore, need our own decisive space". It is unequivocal proof that not only does civil society have to understand the importance of the EU also residing in local and regional entities, but that the Union itself has to understand the importance of providing a space for debate, for the people, which allows them to be part of decisions on the european project.
The second part of the conference "How to best integrate the concerns of the people into the priorities of european politics" was moderated by the President of the Sevilla Press Association, Rafael Rodríguez and in it participated Diego J. Liñán Nogueras, Professor of International Public Law and International Relations at the University of Granada; Isabel Araque Lucena, Confederal Secretary of the UGT [General Workers' Union of Spain]; Manuel Mariscal, Vice President of the The European Confederation of Cooperatives Active in Industry and Services, CECOP; Manuel Sánchez Montero, Territorial Manager of Andalusia, Ceuta and Melilla ACCEM [Associate Catholic Spanish Commission for Migration]; Antonio Montero, Secretary General of the Confederation for Business Owners of Sevilla (CES); and Luis Delgado Sancho, Director of the JRC in Sevilla. During this section they reflected upon the importance of including all organisations and associations that respresent and channel the sense of society in European Union decisions, in order for them to be able to respond in a more efficient way to the main concerns of European citizens who, ultimately, are the heart of this project with more than sixty years of history.
You can access the complete video of the conference from the 13th September at Sevilla City Council by clicking aquí [here].