EU-Funding 300.000.- Euro
Co-Funding by participating universities: 75.622,16.- Euro
Duration: 09.2020 – 08.2024
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Claudia Wiesner, Fulda University of Applied Sciences
Thomas Berger, Marcus Fessler (Institute inter.research e.V.);
Prof. Dr. Cecile Robert (Sciences Po Lyon),
Dr. Willy Beauvallet (Université de Lyon II),
Prof. Dr. Igor Vidačak; Prof. Dr. Ana Matan; Prof. Dr. Tonči Kursar (University of Zagreb);
Prof. Dr. Damjan Lajh; Prof. Dr. Danica Fink-Hafner; Prof. Dr. Meta Novak (University of Ljubljana)
Prof. Dr. Niilo Kauppi; Dr. Kim Zilliacus (University of Helsinki);
Prof. Dr. Ruzha Smilova (Centre for Liberal Strategies)
Keywords: democracy, participation, policy learning, communication, politicization, inclusivity, openness, accessibility, citizens’ political judgement
The purpose of debate in the network is twofold: By debating Europe in citizen focus groups, conferences, social media, and further publications and events the network aims on one hand at generating a dialogue and an enhanced understanding of the EU among citizens. On the other hand, the network aims at learning what citizens’ reasons are to be critical or distanced from the EU. The network activities will lead to fruitful exchanges between academics, especially young researchers, students, citizens, civil society activists and EU practitioners, i.e. EU officials, as well as EU and national politicians. The process of exchanging and debating enhances the legitimacy of the EU not only as a polity, but also as a policy-making process by regaining citizen’s trust in their ability to use political discussions to influence the policy-making process, including a wide range of actors.
These efforts are badly needed: Despite the activities of the EU and national institutions as well as intermediate institutions and actors, research as well as opinion surveys diagnose a growing gap between what has been termed “EU elites” and EU citizens . The EU has a legitimacy problem , support rates have been decreasing during the peak of the financial crisis  (see also the respective Eurobarometer data)  and despite the economic situation improving, votes for populist, extremist, anti-EU and anti-democrat parties and movements are on the rise throughout the EU . At the same time, the Europeanisation of politics and decision making continues to impact and transform the national democratic systems of the member states .
Our network takes stock of this situation. The primary aim is to open debate and get into a dialogue on the EU with citizens, students, academics and EU practitioners and debate on the problems of the EU.
The core of the network consists in citizen focus group discussions with EU Studies students that the network members will organise in their home countries – three focus group discussions per country and 18 altogether in three years, with six to eight participants. We conduct three series of focus groups with students in the six participating countries.
Discussing with EU Studies students means that we discuss with a group of citizens that is relatively well informed about the EU and, as according to quantitative findings, supposedly Europhile. This choice allows us to diagnose the problem of the EU as they are seen by a social group who is supposed to be a pro-EU avant-garde, and hence consists of key actors for EU development.
The country selection is particularly adequate for our task. We include network members from Croatia, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, and Slovenia, and hence, we will reach citizens in Eastern, Northern, Central and Southern EU member states, founding member states and nearly all of the following enlargements rounds, small, medium and large member states. Accordingly, the network will enhance an open debate on the EU with 120 students in six EU member states.
The network´s results will deliver well-based findings about the sources of contemporary EU-criticism and the character of the oft-cited gap between EU elites and citizens as it is seen and defined by students, i.e. a relatively well-informed and Europhile citizen group. Findings have a high representativity for the EU altogether as they come from a representative selection of EU countries. Research findings will be spread and further debated in conferences, network events, via a website and social media, and various publications. These activities will on one hand serve at promoting active EU citizenship and values, enhance awareness of the EU, and facilitate future engagement and people-to-people dialogue. They will also enhance understanding of debates on priority reforms of the EU as they just have been debated in the framework of the two-year Conference on the Future of Europe, where universities and research centers are also invited to support the Conference process. Altogether our project will enhance knowledge on citizen involvement and deliberations on the EU reforms at various levels .