To reassert European values, civil society needs to become their main promoter in times when liberal democracy is endangered

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For its 12th Civil Society Media Seminar on "Reasserting Europe's values", held in Athens from 22 to 23 November, the EESC featured 12 speakers – journalists and academics - from 12 different EU countries.

EESC President Luca Jahier reminded the audience of the importance of Europe's values for ordinary citizens – employers or employees, young or elderly, jobless or people with special needs, migrants or other minorities. "What is clear to me is that Europe's values must prevail against illiberalism, and any erosive factors, since it is because of our values that we have made Europe a better place". For its presidency, Mr Jahier has chosen the slogan "rEUnaissance", because "we need to dare Europe - there is no better solution than working together for a sustainable and prosperous Europe," he concluded.

EESC Vice-president for Communication Isabel Cano, who hosted the event, referred to Europe's values, which are enshrined in the Treaties, stating: The Union's aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples. But we need to ask ourselves if we have taken these obligations seriously enough. Are we doing enough for social and European cohesion?  Are we doing enough to promote equality, give prospects to our youth and make people's daily lives easier? Is our solidarity between Member States strong enough? Since most of the questions cannot be answered with a clear yes, we also need to ask ourselves if we are always aware and mindful of these values in our political deliberations and decisions. EESC Vice-President is convinced that civil society is mobilised to reassert European values.

Representatives of the three groups at the European Economic and Social Committee introduced the three panels.

Adam Rogalewski (workers group), who introduced the first panel on Europe's values vs extreme ideologies, warned against the decline of these values which can already be seen in the retrograde nationalist policies of some Member States, where hard-conquered equality rights, particularly those of minority groups, are coming under attack. While current populist movements pretend to be the advocates of ordinary people, they are in fact increasingly oppressing their rights, he concluded.

Jolanta Jelić (employers group) presented the second panel, which dealt with growing moves towards illiberal democracies. In her speech, Ms Jelić saw a lack of leadership at European level. Instead of being united in diversity, EU leaders have often conveyed a picture of a diverse and de-solidarized group meeting once a month in Brussel in order to disagree on many issues on the agenda. This is why people started to believe those who had simple answers, but strong views, while the EU as such lost credit in people's eyes. 

Arno Metzler (diversity Europe's President), whose speech focused on the role of civil society in defending a value-based Europe, warned that democracy and civil society rights are already endangered in some EU Member States. No democrat, no citizen and particularly no civil society organisation can keep silent in the face of such developments, Mr Metzler said. It is important to show people a better way and remind them of the many benefits of European integration for the single citizen, particularly peace for more than 60 years, improvement in people's rights and consumer rights, a better environment and many more.

Minister Katrougalos, Greek Foreign Minister for European Affairs, opened the event and referred to migrants who had become the modern scapegoats for demagogues looking to distract attention from the real problems of today's European societies, namely austerity policies and increasing inequality, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The highest tax rate in the 1960s for incomes of EUR 1 million was 60%, whereas now it is 30%. This is a blow to the welfare state's ability to maintain its social structures, said Katrougalos.

A report on the main findings will be published in the next weeks and made available on the EESC's website.