State of Europe 2019: Younger generation stresses climate urgency

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Citizens' Europe

Friends of Europe’s annual State of Europe roundtable gathered over 200 influential figures to brainstorm on the future of Europe. This year, however, the pace of debate was not set by any of the political, business or civil society leaders attending, but by three Finnish schoolchildren.

“My biggest concern is climate change,” Jere Viinamäki, aged 12, told the conference. “Try to do the best to change things as quickly as possible.”

Jere and his fellow students Iina Loukusa, 17, and Joonas Veijola, 15 are among school children from the town of Ii, Finland, the leading municipality in the transition to renewable energy and climate action.

They had a clear message: the need for action by the adults in the room. “We believe and trust that you really care about us and you want to all you can for a sustainable future for all of us,” said Iina. “Please be worthy of our trust.”

Taking up the children’s appeal, several speakers urged a renewed push by Europe to tackle climate change.

“If our priority No. 1 is not just growth but clean growth … we have to direct our minds to how we can address this decarbonisation challenge through innovation,” Pascal Lamy, President Emeritus of the Notre Europe Jacques Delors Institute and former European commissioner for trade and WTO director-general.

Climate technologies was one field where Europe had to take the lead having the advantage of a stronger political will in support of such policies, than in the United States or China, said John Collison, Co-Founder and President of tech company Stripe and a member of Friends of Europe’s European Young Leader (EYL40) programme.

“It would be ridiculous for Europe not to be the leader in that very quickly emerging field which is going to be presumably massive as an economic force,” he said.

Some participants likened the effort needed to fight climate change to the Allied war effort in the 1940s or the US race to put a man on the Moon in the 1960s. “The European version of the Moon shot is an Earth shot,” said Sebastien de Halleux, COO at Saildrone and another European Young Leader.

Dalia Grybauskaite, former president of Lithuania and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, insisted Europe does not need new structures or instruments to bring about change. “No matter what topic it is about,” she said. “Everything is about the political will to make it happen. It’s all up to political leaders, countries to decide.”

Other issues raised during the morning debates ranged from the growth of artificial intelligence and other technologies in the fight for better healthcare, to fighting inequality, rebuilding trust between citizens and politicians, engaging young people in politics, and empowering local authorities.

“This coming five years may be our final chance to reclaim the narrative of the European project and restore trust in the European project,” said Anna König Jerlmyr, Mayor of Stockholm and President of EUROCITIES, who called for a “new European localism” to give cities a “real seat at the table”.

In a discussion on reappraising Europe’s foreign policy and security role, former president of the Republic of Liberia and Nobel Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Africa had developed the means to renegotiate and change its historically “uneven, unequal, and inequitable” relationship with Europe.

“Security has to come to the forefront of this relationship,” she said. “The best security in this relationship is for Africa to assume the primary responsibility for its own security. There’s no two ways about that.”

As part of this event, Friends of Europe commissioned a survey from Dalia Research to gather public opinion about the European Union. Click here to read the results.

State of Europe 2019 • Palais d'Egmont, October 17, Brussels.

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