Together with a team of 5 people plus bus driver, Hans Mund the project’s manager wants to go through all 28 EU Member States in an old English Routemaster between October 14th and May 16th 2014:
Why does he do that?
- to discuss Europe with the citizens on the local level,
- to discuss why the European Parliament elections are important for the future of Europe,
- to promote the idea of taking part in the elections,
- to give the citizens a chance to send out their message to the candidates running for office in 2014.
Let’s read what Hans has to say about the project and its targets.
Tell us, how and where did it all start?
The idea for the Rock the Union tour came up on June 9th this year. I was quite frustrated after long talks about what some of the EU institutions are going to do in order to raise awareness about the upcoming European Parliament elections. On the other hand I still had the idea of travelling through Europe to see what is actually going on, you know, living in Brussels you lose the connection to the real world outside of the so called Eurobubble quite fast; to all this came the long forgotten idea to buy an English Routemaster, the London bus, to use it as a mobile platform for parties or similar. Back in 2004 London had to get rid of the old busses because they we not handicap-friendly and I was about to buy one but due to the lack of a parking space in Trier, where I studied, I didn’t.
So it went. Frustrated with the state of affairs that there was no idea, longing to learn in Europe what was going on and the old idea of a party bus. It all came together just like this. Within one hour I knew how to start it. The next day I contacted the first people.
How do you start a project like this without money? In short, how do you manage to carry on and pay rent?
If you always just wait for someone to pay for the ideas you have you will never start something which makes a difference. I didn’t have the money in fact I still do not have all the money needed for the tour. But I knew I didn’t want EU money. This is tax payer’s money. Doing a pro-European tour this would just make the whole project a target for Euro-sceptics to say we are wasting money of the European citizens. I did not want this. To answer the second part of your question, I am a communication consultant. I work in Germany and in Brussels, depending on where there is more work to be done. Like everyone else who starts such a project I need to work while organizing the tour. There is no funding in the back, even if I would love to have it, but rent has to be paid through work.
Where does the name come from? Why “rock” the union?
The name came to me. There was no long search for it. “Rock” the Union comes from “rocking”. The idea behind this is to shake the foundations of this European Union. We hear & read a lot our days about the alienation of citizens from this overarching political system called the European Union, about the democratic deficit and all this. There are thousands of people, who try to change this, but all are nice, neat and calm or they are loud, imprecise and spreading lies. Both don’t help.
Rock the Union is pro-European but explicitly open to everyone who is against it and not afraid of discussing in critical arguments the state of affairs. I do not say that there is everything fine and we all are happy in the European Union. We are one step away from losing our future. If we are not speaking up, if we do not finally start to become interested in the system we are living in, we – this means the generation around and below 30 – give up our right to take part in the decision making process about our future.
Rock the Union is not just critical towards the EU and its governments in the current situation but also towards the people who constitute this European Union by being citizens of the 28 Member States.
Are you aware of the “Citizens’ Dialogues?” What do you think about this initiative by the European Commission?
The “Citizens’ Dialogues” is a step in the right direction. Though I must say and I did before, there is a huge problem in the communication. First of all, the attitude to “listen to the citizens” is from my perspective an awful bad misunderstanding of the current situation in Europe. We do not need someone who listens but someone who acts upon what has been said. Second why are there a number of high-level EU official coming to one place but not to the other? Why did and does President Barroso come to some events but not to all? Are there cities which are more important? I wouldn’t say so and neither would the European Commission, but what happens is that some cities have a huge lot of high-level officials coming while others have just one. This is a problem in communication in the picture it transports. Third it is a nice thing that the European Commission is interested in what the citizens have to say, but the frustrating point about all this is that it doesn’t change anything in EU politics. Decisions are not taken by the European Commission but by the Council and sometimes with the EP. It is a nice thing to show that high-level officials are “touchable” but as long as the whole European Commission is not elected by the citizens of the European Union this is just a treat of symptoms of what is called democratic deficit, but without any chance for cure.
What do you think about the effort that the EU institutions are making to approach the citizens? Do you think more could be done? If so, how?
There are different things which are going on and some of them can without problem be called successes. First there is the European Parliament’s online communication. The current team which is in place for the last two years is really doing a great job. The communication on social media, like Facebook, Twitter but also on professional network media like Linkedin is really something where a lot of effort is put in and where people are doing a great job. The Facebook chat with MEPs might not always work out fine, but it is a start and it reaches out towards especially young Europeans. Then you have the efforts of the European Commission in the “Youth in Action” and the “Youth on the Move” programmes. These programmes are not static they are made to not only to communicate in one direction but to support young people who want to live in Europe as Europeans. The events especially for the Youth in Action projects are taking place all over the European Union and they too reach out. Looking further there are a lot of contests every year which motivate people to show their point of view, like the EESC Video Challenge. Even though they sometimes seem to be a bit too euro-nerdy because their contents tend to be naïve they send out an important message: Your voice counts.
However there is a lot that could be done in order to motivate people to be more interested. One thing is the need to work closer together with civil society when it comes to communicating Europe. From my point of view the European institutions lack credibility when they promote the European idea. It’s like a politician who promotes the ideas of his or her own party. Of course he or she cannot be critical and of course he or she says that the idea is great and there are even greater efforts to create the future, but this is all so obvious. Who, in our days, does still believe in such words? I therefore think that communicating Europe should much more be facilitated in collaboration with civil society. As civil society actors we are there to criticise the European Union for what is done wrong, for mismanagement and for actions we think are not sustainable, this true, but on the other hand we have the oath to inform about the EU and the actions taken. No-one wants to listen to someone who always just says this is all bad. So what should be done is to facilitate a real collaboration with civil society organizations, but not just with the big ones but especially the smaller and younger ones.
Have you received support or congratulations from any EU body or MEP?
The Rock the Union project is non-partisan. I did not ask for any support from any Member of the European Parliament. However, some of the MEPs are members of civil society organizations and as such supporting the project. Namely this is to the date the Member of the European Parliament and President of the European Movement International Jo Leinen. When it comes to EU institutions I asked for support to all of the big ones. There I got the support of the President of the European Economic and Social Committee, Henri Malosse. Both were really enthusiastic when responding to my request for patronage.
When it comes to support, I receive a lot of support from people all over the hierarchies in all institutions. There are a lot of people who are of the opinion that the Rock the Union tour is a great project which needs to have organisational support. Besides I received the official support from the Head of the Representation of the European Commission to Belgium in a tweet and with the consent of supporting this project in organisational matters like contacting other European Commission offices in Europe.
Do you think the President of the Commission, Parliament and Council should be elected directly by European citizens?
We have to be really careful when it comes to electing Presidents of the EU institutions. The European Commission is until now an administrative body. To elect the European Commission’s President directly would mean to level up his status towards the Council and the European Parliament. This would give the European Commission’s President the power to speak in the name of the citizens of the European Union. If this would be the case I wonder what we would need the President of the European Parliament for who in fact is speaking in the name of the citizens of the European Union since this President is presiding European Parliament, which is elected by the citizens of the European Union. When we would go there the next question would be what are we supposed to do with the Council and its President? The European Council is right now the only European institutional body which has concrete power, while being the most undemocratic European institution of the whole Union. It is composed of 28 directly or indirectly elected heads of governments who act as if they were all together elected by the European citizens but in fact were each elected by parts of the European electorate. The European Union until today is a Union of 28 more or less democratic states who are working together under a framework of agreed legal texts. The President of the Council has an administrative function, he is presiding an institutional body with the function of a Secretary General without any power to decide anything. Having him directly elected would mean to jeopardize the democratic legitimation of each of the 28 heads of governments and the legitimization of the President of the European Parliament.
I think it is a step in the right direction having the President of the European Commission elected by the European Parliament. However as long as the European Parliament stays in its current legal status, which is to be elected by the European citizens while not having the power to decide about anything in the European Union which is relevant to the governance of the European Union, electing the European Commission’s President by the European Parliament looks good, sounds even better but in fact is political farce which insults the European citizens.
Recent polls suggest that people in the biggest EU Member States are becoming less confident about the EU. However, the average of trust by all Member States is actually going up. What do you think is the cause of this discrepancy?
As said before the European Union is made of 28 more or less democratic states. This being said the degree of democratic governance in the member states differs and of course the perception of this governance differs as well. While we have states, like the big EU Member States where the perception of democratic governance is strong and most citizens feel represented by their representatives there are other states where this is not or not as much the case. Especially in states in which governments are limiting or even cutting the access to democratic rights the European Union becomes an example of positive perception. The sadder it is if the European Union governed by the European Council is not acting in order to not interfere with some of its members in the Council and the European Parliament only condemns the acts which has no consequence and in some cases motivates the governments in question to strengthen their efforts to limit democratic rights.
In which Member States do you think your job will be the hardest?
I am not sure if there will be any state where my job will be hard or easy. I think it really depends much upon the perception we will have in the places we will visit and the current situation in this places. I am calling for critical discussion and the constructive argument about the European idea. I can imagine that we will be surprised in many cities but I do not think that there will be any place where it will be harder than in others.