by the EESC's Diversity Europe Group
I have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau several times, and each time have been overwhelmed by the horror and inhumanity that human beings are able to inflict on fellow humans. But there are also other feelings which change with each visit. Perhaps it was to be expected and indeed hoped for, that the visit of the EESC's enlarged presidency to the concentration camps on 12 June made us reflect not only on the past, but also very much on the present and the future.
Today, the populist and nationalist presence in Europe is looming. One has only to think of the recent elections in Hungary, Italy, Austria, Germany and Slovenia. The populist vote within EU Member States has increased from an average of 8.5% in the year 2000 to over 24% at its peak today. Without doubt, to counter this rising tide, the EU and its values must be put centre stage. However, the EU as an institution cannot provide all the answers. We also need European citizens and organised civil society to step up their action. To reach out to and engage in dialogue with those lured by extremism - to help re-balance our societies and political systems.
Within the Diversity Europe Group, we take this role very seriously. It is our responsibility and through our Group's expertise and creativity we will continue to contribute to a peaceful sustainable Europe, balancing socio-economic progress with poverty alleviation and respect for the environment. It is our farmers, environmentalists, SMEs, liberal professionals, consumers, organisations for the disabled and the elderly etc., who will 'speak' with and for European citizens. In the Committee's daily work, but also actively contributing to the draft EESC roadmap 'From Krakόw to Sibiu and beyond', which aims to outline civil society's vision of the Europe of tomorrow. Not forgetting our Group's conference in October in Austria, on the topic 'Can economic progress and social stability cure EU-scepticism?' For above all, Europe stands for mutual respect and the defence of diversity. A diversity which begins within our own Group, the Diversity Europe Group.
President of the Diversity Europe Group (Group III)