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“I’ve Devoted All My Life to the European Project”

by Bettina Melzer

The European elections take place at the end of May. We spoke to Francesca Ratti, former Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament and co-founder of WeEuropeans. Find out what makes this poll so special and why she considers Angela Merkel to be one of the most important Europeans

Why is it so important to cast a vote – especially in these times?

This is essential for all elections, and particularly for these European elections, which look quite difficult as abstentions would help parties that are not pro-European. And we have a high abstention rate in the Union. In 1979, the year of the first European elections with direct, universal suffrage, Europeans largely participated in the vote. Since then, with each election, the participation has progressively decreased until the last elections in 2014, which did not even reach 50% participation rate. And amongst the abstainers, women and young people are the most relevant numbers.

How do you think you can mobilize people to vote?

By listening to them and debating with them. People must feel that their votes count, that politicians are taking their requests on board. And that is exactly the aim of the WeEuropeans project: to create a European public space of dialogue where citizens can exchange ideas and proposals, knowing that their voices will be heard by decision makers and politicians who will engage in giving concrete answers to them. It’s not an easy task but, for me, is the only way to motivate and mobilize people around politics and around the European project.

What are the biggest challenges?

Despite all the differences, problems are almost the same all over Europe: climate change, social justice, financial policies, education, jobs, security, migration, respect of fundamental rights… The civil society wants to be informed and associated in finding solutions. It’s in our leaders’ hands to create a positive dynamic able to reverse the present fragmentation and division inside the Union.

You are one of the co-founders of the European Citizens’ Initiative WeEuropeans. What do you want to accomplish with this commitment?

Citizens feel very far from Europe. They feel that institutions and politicians are not really answering the needs and worries they have in their daily lives. This lack of trust, paired with the lack of knowledge on how the Union works and what it does for all of us, have produced a progressive remoteness from Europe. With the WeEuropeans project we want to put the citizens back at the center of the European Project: they must be actors and also recipients of the European strategies and actions.

WeEuropeans has launched the largest online survey in the history of Europe. Please tell us a little of the results.

The results are excellent: 38 million citizens affected, almost 2 million voted, and 30,000 concrete proposals presented. An unprecedented event aiming to give a new impetus to the European democracy. We had two main objectives: to involve the largest possible number of citizens and to develop a debate around the elements that Europeans have in common and in doing so, to create a consensus around the different proposals. The 10 most supported proposals at the European level have been presented by their authors to a large spectrum of civic organizations, NGOs, foundations, representatives of the academic world, as well as of political leaders and parties. The WeEuropeans Congress was held on the 22nd of March at the European Parliament, the House of the Citizens.

What happens to the Citizens’ Agenda now?

We are disseminating the Agenda and getting more and more support. We are also pressing European political parties and candidates to take a stance on the 10 proposals constituting the Agenda. In fact, we will launch next week, on our website, a ‘helping to vote’ system where citizens will find how the parties have reacted to their proposals and what they will concretely do to implement them.

You employ digital tools in your work. Why is digitalization one of the most important issues for modern Europe?

Digitalization or digital transformation permeates our whole life, radically changing it. It’s changing our economic models, our working systems and environments, our education information and relationships. To make such a revolution a success, we must take into account not only its technological innovations but notably its strategic and human dimension. And the Union is working hard on it, on maximizing the use and facilitating affordable access for all.

How do citizens profit from digitalization?

In many ways. One of the most important is the positive input that could be given to democracy. The way representative democracy is organized today doesn’t work anymore, it has led to diminishing trust and a progressive removal from active participation. Digitalization could constitute an extraordinary tool to strengthen it via the development of participative democracy. It would allow those disconnected from public life to be involved again. I think notably of women who are more and more absent as indicated by their level of abstention from voting in national and European elections. I think that only through the involvement of people in the public life – both at national and European level –  it would be possible to create, jointly with opinion and political leaders, a shared vision of the future.

You were deputy secretary general for many years. How do you look back on this time?
I have devoted all my life to the European Project. I started very young, collaborating with Altiero Spinelli, one of the founding fathers of the European project. And I had the chance and the privilege to transform one of my most important ideals into my daily work. I experienced years of fundamental achievements in terms of growth, progress, strengthening of our fundamental values of democracy, solidarity, and peace. As a high official, I had the privilege and the honor of participating in and contributing to all these processes that have brought so much to the whole of Europe.  

Your prognosis: how will Europe develop in the coming years?

It depends on us. European leaders and citizens have to decide what they want. I think that because of, and despite Brexit, we can exclude a possible disintegration of the Union. And we can also exclude the maintaining of the status quo; Europe must be reformed to better answer to the needs of its citizens and the global challenges ahead. If civil society, opinion leaders, politicians, institution representatives will mobilize and jointly elaborate a common vision and strategy for a new, up-todate project, Europe will be a powerful model of stability, democracy, social justice, culture, innovation, and progress, not only for the members States but also on the international scene. We have big potentiala fantastic young generation, great universities and researchers, a huge and innovative industrial capacity, and our fundamental values of democracy, respect, and solidarity.

Who do you think the most important European women are?

Angela Merkel is one. I hope she will continue to play an important role in Europe. She is one of the only real leaders we have had, and she is a woman. The second one is Federica Mogherini, who is leading the External Action service, the foreign policy of the Union. She is doing an excellent job; very discrete, very efficient, and very strong, always defending Europe and the principles that are guiding our external action. The third is Margrethe Vestager. I like her very much. She is responsible for the competition policy, which she leads with efficiency and courage.

About

Francesca Ratti was born 1950 in Naples. In 1975 she met Altiero Spinelli, one of the founding fathers and author of the Manifesto of Ventotene, and started to work for him. In 1979, after the first universal direct European elections, Spinelli was elected a member of the European Parliament and asked Francesca Ratti to come to Brussels to help him organize his own staff. In the Parliament, she worked in different sectors of the administration, in the cabinet of President Enrique Baron Crespo, as well as in the Secretary General’s. Before being nominated Deputy Secretary General in 2009, she was Director General of Communication, Director General of DG Presidency and Director General of the Security. In December 2018 Francesca Ratti co-founded WeEuropeans in association with Civico Europa, realized jointly with the French Civic Tech Make.org. 

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