Two years ago the European Union (EU) abandoned one of their best popular projects for democracy and sustainability – the so-called Community Initiatives. They had been the most successful and most popular direct contacts between the EU institutions and citizens in their local communities. Using less than 1 percent of the EU annual budget the money had been an outstandingly profitable investment. The EU mobilized European citizens in order to bring them together and discover sustainable practices elsewhere, while getting involved in decision-making at home. It opened doors to similar initiatives in Member states and accession countries and made Europe tangible at home.
Programs like LEADER have mobilized millions of people in rural areas and helped citizens’ action groups, small businesses and local communities to create a new spirit of partnership. This has perhaps been the best return on public spending the EU has ever seen. People involved discovered their own strengths and weaknesses, experienced the enormous potential of innovation and solidarity and took responsibility for their own communities by mobilizing their own additional private funds. Europe was not discovered just by taking holidays in other countries, but through day to day networking and exchanging good and bad experiences and by supporting each other in making progress on a local level.
National and regional authorities were not always happy about this bottom-up growth of public awareness, especially when it included a critical appraisal of their own performance. EU Community Initiatives have therefore lost their strength over time since governments were keen to regain control over planning, decision-making and the allocation of EU budget money being invested in local projects.
The EU should invest substantially into local initiatives and bottom-up support again in order to bring Europe closer to its people. From the perspective of civil society organizations like Forum Synergies, PREPARE and the CURE Network, (all working towards more participatory decision-making and sustainable practices and lifestyles across Europe), the EU should re-launch the direct connection between the European Institutions and European Citizens through new Community Initiatives. These initiatives should support citizens in finding their specific answer to the key challenges of our time: How to make our local economies in rural and urban regions work again without destroying and wasting our resources; how to adopt a new lifestyle which allows for more sustainable production and consumption patterns; how to prevent climate change and the loss of clean water, fertile soil and biodiversity; how to prevent growing social exclusion, marginalization and poverty; and how to preserve the cultural diversity of European regions while acting closer together as Europeans.Author : Challenge for Europe