Allianz Summer Academy: Europe in search of answers, Europe in need of dialogue

At this time of deep uncertainty in and unpredictability of continued European integration, the expectations raised by the 2015 Munich Allianz Summer Academy (ASA), called together under the title “Europe at a turning point: economic crisis, social disintegration, political change”, could not have been higher. Looking back at the outcomes of these extremely intense five days, indeed they were fulfilled—our participants, fellow academics and select social and political actors from diverse backgrounds confronted and fruitfully discussed the papers representing our participants’ year-long endeavours at their home universities.

The political future of the European continent shows now more than ever a plethora of shadows and dramatic challenges attracting the interest—and even passion—of younger generations eager to change European public debate. In his speech entitled “The European Union in turbulent times”, keynote speaker Jarosław Pietras, director
general at the Council of the European Union for Environment, Education, Transport and Energy and former Polish minister of European affairs, gave a profound analysis of the tensions within the eurozone and many of its members, currently endangering the stability of the currency and inhibiting convergence of its economies. Pietras pointed out that stagnation and economic decline have revealed tensions within and between EU member states and created problems for the economic cohesion of the EU. This crisis, while initially external, has exposed deep-rooted and extant weaknesses of the EU.

On the one hand, the eurozone is undergoing a long period of virtual economic stagnation responsible for multiple symptoms of social malaise, including anxiety over the short and medium term employment perspectives of so many youths now trapped in a negative spiral of closed job markets and poorly paid, uncertain positions. On the other hand, conviction in and reliance upon austerity policies is slowly dissolving in the face of evidence that budgetary restrictions and public adjustments are actually increasing inequality and exacerbating fragmentation and polarisation in our societies without fostering economic growth, employment or prosperity. The appearance of new political parties and social movements in most EU member states attempting to answer, albeit often radically and incompletely, citizens’ demands, together with the influx of growing instability in neighbouring regions round up a dramatic scenario for Europe—one vividly recalled and analysed in the results presented by our 2015 ASA participants in this issue.

The ASA, one of the lighthouse projects of the Allianz Cultural Foundation (ACF), enters its 12th year of existence and, in an attempt to broaden the dialogue between academia and civil society at European level, has gone another step further on its new path to fostering dialogue with civil society.

In 2015, students from Università Bocconi in Milan, Italy, Uppsala Universitet in Uppsala, Sweden, Central European University in Budapest, Hungary and Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich, Germany, together with their transatlantic colleagues from Princeton University in New Jersey, USA, presented the results of their policy reports. The expertise of the participating students covered a wide range of academic subjects, from economics, international relations and diplomacy to European studies, international law, politics and sociology, representing a valuable and diverse panoply of research approaches and experiences. In this issue, you’ll find their diagnoses of and solutions to the current alienation between the EU and its citizens, the risks and incoherencies of EU asylum policy, the causes and consequences of the European financial crisis, the future of the EU social agenda and the challenges ahead for European youth policy and youth dynamics.

The 2015 academy marked the first time that students presented and actively debated their work with representatives from a wide spectrum of European NGOs working in their respective fields: Citizens for Europe, European Alternatives, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the New Economics Foundation and Bridging Europe Greece. The interaction and dialogue between young scholars from prestigious universities and practitioners from civil society proved both mutually enriching and thought-provoking.

The thematic framework of this year’s academy was identified by ACF in cooperation with the five participating universities. It soon became obvious to all participants that the current deadlock in European political and economic debate necessitated close assessment of its social dimension. The academy’s process of open dialogue and mutual learning led to the creation of cross-national workshops/discussion groups, attempting to answer challenging questions like how far EU integration could and should go and how much diversity the EU can handle or tackling issues from new populist and eurosceptic political actors, to new communications strategies required at EU and national levels allowing effective citizen participation in the public sphere, to the impact of neighbourhood instability on EU-wide security and border control policies.

The EU’s ambivalence towards the growing number of refugees stimulated a particularly intense and controversial discussion. The German government’s lack of solidarity during Greek debt crises and draconian Hungarian measures to seal off the country from refugees were highly criticised by almost all participants. Representatives of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, invited at the suggestion of the CEU students, demonstrated concretely that the Hungarian government has continually violated the “indivisible and universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity” defined by the Reform Treaty signed by all EU member states in Lisbon in 2007.

Each ASA creates its own atmosphere and dynamic, and this year’s dealt with the level and complexity of the challenges ahead particularly well. Once again it must be stated that the academy’s focus is not only on producing concrete results, but above all on the process itself—not unlike the European experience of commonly shaping and formulating public policy, arising from diverse cultural and academic traditions and resulting in a unique (European) culture of active dialogue.

In the words of one participant: “I leave this place with an enhanced trust in the European project … It fuelled my conviction of the need for deeper integration and solidarity”.

Felipe Basabe Llorens
(External ASA Coordinator)

Michael M. Thoss
(Managing Director, Allianz Kulturstiftung)

Tags: ,