"Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity." – Schuman Declaration, 1950

Held on the 9th May, Europe Day is a day to celebrate peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the 70th anniversary of a historic speech given in Paris in 1950, a time when the nations of Europe were still struggling with the aftermath of WWII. French foreign minister Robert Schuman shared his vision for a new form of political cooperation in Europe that would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable. A first step towards a more united Europe, and the beginning of what is now the European Union.

“As we mark this anniversary, our thoughts are with those before us whose dream for Europe has become a reality.” - Whitepaper on the Future of Europe, 2017.

Seventy years on, Europe Day 2020 pays tribute to “the many Europeans who, in a spirit of solidarity, are helping our Union get through the coronavirus crisis”. As the current pandemic echoes a moment of crisis and uncertainty felt in Europe in the 1950s, it seems we are once again at a pivotal moment in time, in which the future of Europe stands to be reshaped.

The White Paper on the Future of Europe released by the European Commission in 2017 explored a wide range of scenarios for the EU by 2025, yet the underlying message was clear: change may be inevitable, but the European values of democracy and solidarity, the continued freedom of speech and press, and a Union where all citizens should be treated equally, remain the same. “These values and aspirations will continue to bind Europeans and are worth fighting for.” 

Conference on the Future of Europe

The recognition that citizens need a stronger role in the EU decision-making process and priority setting has been central to the discussion around the Future of Europe. Today was set to mark the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe, an ambitious two-year process proposing “a bottom-up approach to shape the future of Europe together with citizens of all backgrounds and age”, and promising the meaningful inclusion of citizens and youth through multiple thematic open forum discussions.

While the formal launch has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, with such a major opportunity for democratic and civil renewal in Europe on the horizon, we must ask ourselves, how can we best equip European citizens to participate in these discussions?

Transformative Education

For this process to result in meaningful engagement, citizens must be willing and able to participate as active players. Bridge 47 believe transformative education is crucial to ensure such agency.

Transformative education is one which fosters engaged, active and critical learners and builds constructive and democratic approaches to difference. SDG target 4.7 describes education as transformative when it is value-based and designed to promote global citizenship, sustainable development, human rights, gender equality, peace and appreciation of cultural diversity.

Bridge 47 envisages the implementation of transformative education as a life-long learning process and a public good: promoting change and the necessary development of individuals, communities and systems. It will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out in the 2030 Agenda, which include meaningful participatory democracy for all European citizens.

Citizens Take Over Europe

What could active participation look like? One great example is Citizens Take Over Europe Day, a citizen and civil society led event, which will also take place on Europe Day 2020 with a full programme of online events. And their message is strong. They intend to re-centre citizens and residents in the conversation about the future of Europe, driven by the belief that “it is crucial for people in Europe to self-organise across borders to realise the Europe we want: a Europe that cares and is taken care of.”

A Global European Citizen

A sustainable future that upholds European values of freedom, democracy, equality and human rights will require active and empowered citizens who are critical and reflexive. Citizens who are able to celebrate Europe without being Eurocentric. To take pride in a European way of life without prejudice to others. To recognise that in an increasingly globalised world, we exist in a global network in which we are all connected, and our actions have impacts and consequences.

Dirk Van Damme, Senior Counsellor in the Directorate for Education and Skills at the OECD, touched on this issue at a recent webinar hosted by GENE and Enabel. Van Damme outlined the OECD’s perspective on the key transformative competencies needed to approach what he described as a growing rejection of the so-called “globalist agenda” including the ability to reconcile dilemmas, shoulder responsibility and embrace different perspectives and uncertainties. The COVID-19 crisis has seen a decrease in trust between countries which jeopardises progress towards the SDGs. Van Damme reflected the need to enhance global competence and understand “otherness” does not preclude debate but rather encourages discursive action to reach common ground. He argued that equipping learners with an awareness firstly of their own cultural identities – the biases, the contradictions – was a crucial first step before fully connecting with others.

The Future

As a new story of Europe’s future is written, we must expand what it means to look, feel and be European, in a way that is inclusive and reflective of modern society while continuing to uphold the competencies we value most.

Bridge 47 are committed to building a better future, and have created a Roadmap that outlines transformative education’s key competencies and how these can be implemented within Europe. If the EU is truly committed to building a Europe from the shared vision, hopes and dreams of its citizens, it should invest in the transformative power of education to equip citizens with the tools to engage with the Future of Europe process and access their systemic rights.