One click on the website’s “about us” menu heading, entitled “Euractiv Network”, is all it takes to gain a vivid and immediate impression of the diversity on offer here: България, Česká republika, Deutschland, España … In addition to the German and the international English-language editions of Euractiv, my work as an Eastern Europe correspondent regularly leads me to consult the Polish and Czech pages as well as skimming through the headlines from Bulgaria and Romania. Each time, I marvel at the effect of this shift in perspective and it does not take long until I find myself starting to view Europe through eastern spectacles.
For anyone who deals with the EU on a professional basis, the Euractiv portal is an exceptionally helpful tool. However, there is also a great deal of fascinating material for other users: news, thematic dossiers, opinion pieces, infographics and videos from virtually every European policy area. A question mark remains over the independence of the portal, which was founded in 1999 by media maker Christophe Leclercq 1999. According to its own statements, Euractiv is financed by corporate sponsorship, advertising and via participation in EU projects for which tenders have been invited and through membership fees of associations, NGOs and parties, who are allowed to use the channel for their press and PR work in return. This is borderline, though it does not affect the quality of the site.
The Franco-German TV station arte is building bridges to help us discover our similarities and differences. An especially impressive format in this respect is “Stadt, Land, Europa” (“Town, Country, Europe”). Five brief videos introduce us to residents of two small towns on either side of the Rhine – Naila in Upper Franconia and Commercy in Lorraine – and show their relationship with Europe. Two people, one from each town, tell us what they associate with Europe, what they like about it and what they hope for. They also tell us what they dislike about the EU, in what respects they take issue with Europe and which “Brussels speciality” creates problems for them.
We meet these people where they live and work. No make-up on, sweaty, stains on their shirts – this is just the way we might meet them if we went there in person. What they have to say to us and our Europe is their truth, irrespective of whether we find it pleasing or irksome. The focal point of each film is an encounter with ordinary everyday Europe and its diverse views, values and customs.
These authentic encounters help us understand the situations of our fellow EU citizens, making it easier for us to grasp why someone thinks the way they do. We realise we do not all have to have the same opinion. We are neighbours, which means we do not always have to agree on every single point. We do not all have to be friends either. But just as we might share a bus or a train compartment, so too we share the continent we call home. That includes the times when we might think, “I’d get a bit more peace in the car” or “I’d like to be left in peace in my own country” – travelling alone or living alone is costlier and riskier and does more damage to the environment.
Such an insight might or might not occur to us while watching the videos – or we might just find them interesting and well-made. In any case, the film series is just one small part of the broad and varied range of European programming on offer from arte. The website is well worth investigating!
Perhaps it is not really so surprising we cannot think of a lot of examples of what Europe has done for us. After all, the key strength of the EU lies in providing a general framework of rules. These will often be about the really important matters in life: family, work, consumer protection, civil rights, health and money. Naturally, each of these can also be broken down into tiny details. However, before you start thinking, “Here comes yet another regulation on the curvature of cucumbers”, that one was abolished in 2009. In any case, it was mostly fundamentally misunderstood.
If we take a close concrete look at everything involved, the process is all pretty confusing initially. The overall EU regulatory framework generates countless individual regulations – in fact, over 1,000 new regulations and laws are enacted each year. It is impossible to go through them all and laboriously indicate how we benefit from them on a daily basis.
That is why the website What Europe does for me was created. Here, set out neatly and clearly, you will find plenty of information telling you exactly what the EU has done for you. This is all nicely sorted into three sections: In my region, In my life and In focus.
Each of the three sections invites you to delve deeper. You can take a look at what the EU has accomplished in your own region or go through all of Europe’s regions. What has happened in my favourite holiday region? What about the country my EU neighbour hails from? If you would like to know what the EU is doing for you in concrete terms – whether you live in a city or in the country, whether you are a single parent or have just lost your job – see “In my life” for projects and information dealing with these and many other topics. Meanwhile, in the section entitled “In focus”, we discover what improvements the EU has already achieved in specific contexts, as well as learning in which others – such as the regulation of artificial intelligence and of tax havens – there is still plenty of work to be done.
You may well come away from the website in a state of some astonishment – because it turns out the EU has already done more for us than we generally realise.
This can be seen not only in the social networks but also on portals such as Meeting Halfway, an online magazine I would describe as one of the most successful of its kind. Well over 100 mostly young journalists, translators and devotees of Europe from every part of the continent work on this – without payment, carried by their enthusiasm and motivated by the opportunity to present their own work. The result is a mixed bag of commentary, portraits, interviews, columns, videos and quizzes taking in topics like art and culture and history and politics but also covering such issues as love or good food. The one thing no one should expect to find here is classic news journalism. There are translations in nearly 20 languages, including regional languages such as Galician and Catalan. For me, this in itself is one of the site’s highlights.
You might, of course, wonder whether an online magazine like this can really work in the era of Facebook and Instagram. However, I believe this is the wrong question. Meeting Halfway is not about clicks and likes or shares and followers – it is about discovery. It is about young stories from Europe. Above all, it is about getting involved: “We don’t want you to work for us, we want to work with you.” I would say this is Europe at its best.
Find out why Romanians regard Brussels with scepticism or how Sweden is countering the growing influence of Chinese investors.
The site offers dossiers on a variety of topics and can be accessed directly or by subscribing to the daily press review of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/bpb – www.bpb.de).
Content is not only available in German but also in English, French, Turkish and even Russian.
The portal provides access to a network of 90 cultural journals from 35 European countries. “These journals are part of a genuinely international debate, spreading political, philosophical, aesthetic, and cultural thought between languages,” declare the Eurozine portal’s creators, who are based in Vienna. This is true: for anyone interested in keeping up with intellectual debates in Europe, Eurozine is more or less indispensable, especially since editorial personnel from non-EU countries like Norway, Serbia and Belarus are also involved. Texts are published both in English and in their original language.
However, the site does restrict itself to the accepted definition of a political feuilleton. There is neither literature criticism nor music criticism to be found here. There are likewise no recommendations for exhibitions or theatrical productions. Such elements are not part of the Eurozine concept, which envisages text pieces “on the most pressing issues of our times” at the highest level. Nevertheless, I find this a pity because artistic creation is precisely how the European creativity evoked by Pope Francis is expressed.
To anyone inclined to counter that pan-European concert recommendations would achieve little more than encourage people to become frequent flyers, I must confess I cannot offer a full reassurance. However, more and more digital offerings are available, in ever-increasing quality, to allow users to appreciate artistic creativity in other ways. I will restrict myself to mentioning just the one worthy example: the excellent Digital Concert Hall provided by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The new season, incidentally, begins with an open-air concert at the Brandenburg Gate featuring Beethoven’s 9th symphony, complete with the European anthem.