The Job of “Pulse of Europe” Is Not Done

Pro European demonstrationPulse of Europe
Andreas Schwarzkopf

“Europe should be fun again. In our view, these emotions have gotten lost in recent years.” EU activist Daniel Röder initiated the "Pulse of Europe" movement in late 2016. Here, he talks about the future of this pro-European citizens' initiative and why he is fighting for a more positive image of Europe.

In 2016, you and your organization “Pulse of Europe” began to organize weekly pro-Europe rallies. In your view, how has the EU developed since then?

Daniel Röder: Many citizens thought that Europe had been saved after the election of President Macron in France. After that, many participants in our rallies rolled up their banners, thinking "Great, we did our job. Mission accomplished!" However, when you look at the elections that came afterwards – in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, and also in Germany – we see the phenomenon of a gradually growing anti-Europeanism. The big bang hasn’t come, but the anti-Europeans are gaining ground. This gradual process is something new, just like the fact that this anti-European attitude is creeping into mainstream politics. We see this in Austria, for example, where Chancellor Kurz and his coalition partner Strache, the head of the right-wing populist FPÖ, are politically not that far apart.

Daniel RöderPulse of Europe

Daniel Röder

Daniel Röder, a Frankfurt-based lawyer, initiated “Pulse of Europe” in late 2016. The “Pulse of Europe” movement is a pro-European citizens’ initiative aimed at countering euroscepticism. Daniel Röder studied law in Marburg and Hamburg and earned his PhD from Friedrich Schiller University Jena. He has taught law at Goethe University Frankfurt since 2009 and at Justus Liebig University Gießen since 2016. In 2018, he received the “Mensch des Respekts” (Person of Respect) award from the Hessian State Minister for European Affairs and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) from the German Federal President.

What does this mean for your work?

Daniel Röder: It means that we will continue. It’s obvious that our job is not done and that it takes a strong European civil society that fights for an open and liberal Europe guided by rule of law.

But “Pulse of Europe” was already less visible before the German elections in the fall of 2017 ...

Daniel Röder: We changed the frequency of the rallies and went from the original weekly rhythm to a monthly rhythm. You can’t march every week forever. For the organizers, too, it’s sheer torture to organize weekly rallies. Plus, such a format also exhausts itself over time. You can only do this during perceived moments of crises. Finally, we are also challenged to expand our format portfolio and to offer the citizens something other than rallies. We are, in fact, in the process of doing that.

So you are saying that you need to change to continue to exist?

Daniel Röder: Exactly.

And how does “Pulse of Europe” want to change concretely?

Daniel Röder: We are doing a number of different things. This ranges from information booths in pedestrian zones to engage citizens in discussions about Europe to projects with school groups to what we call “Hausparlamente” (house parliaments). The latter is a new format, which we will introduce in the summer. It is a totally new form of citizen participation. The political discourse in Europe needs to be extended beyond a relatively small circle that talks about these things – for example, at events such as the European Table. This is the key task for the near future.

Can you explain how these "house parliaments" will work?

Daniel Röder: The idea is that, in various European cities, small groups will deal with a specific political question. This could be, for example, a legislative process at the EU level. Every small group will discuss the topic and in the end reach a decision as though it was a legislative body. These decisions will be collected and the results will be communicated to the politicians in, let's say, the EU Parliament. And the politicians volunteer to explain why their course is different from the results of these house parliaments - if that is the case. We thus want to get a dialogue going.

Isn’t participation in these parliaments a bit time-consuming?

Daniel Röder: We will establish an online platform for the house parliaments and ideally also have an easy-to-use app. Via this platform, people will be briefed on each topic and can report the result of the small groups. This really should be very easy and invite participation.

You succeeded in a relatively short time to mobilize hundreds of thousands of citizens to take to the streets and march for Europe. How do you explain this success?

Daniel Röder: I believe we spoke to the zeitgeist and to people’s need to voice their opinions. In late 2016, many people were very worried, and the general atmosphere after the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump was very bleak. At the time, many Europeans looked very skeptically at the elections in the Netherlands and France. We intuitively worked this momentum, I think.

Munich European ForumEurope

Munich European Forum

Daniel Röder will join the Munich European Forum as a participant and speaker on October 25-26, 2018. Entitled "Building a Strong Europe for Citizens," the Forum concludes and puts into a larger perspective the results and ideas of the first cycle of a dialogue process conducted over the last 18 months: Three BMW Foundation European Tables dealt with key issues related to Europe’s economy, security, and identity. Through the Munich European Forum, the BMW Foundation is taking a clear stance for the principles and goals of a united Europe.

Did you propagate a European populism of sorts?

Daniel Röder: I wouldn’t call it that, for it was not about seizing power but an initiative by citizens for citizens. Just because you are taking an emotional approach to a topic does not mean you are a populist.

But emotions matter to you?

Daniel Röder: Very much so. It was important to us to convey a positive image of Europe. Europe should be fun again. In our view, these emotions have gotten lost in recent years. They have been replaced – just look at those long, all-night negotiations about the Greek bailout package and the euro crisis. In the media, this was a very bleak topic. That’s why we wanted to set a counterpoint.

In your opinion, why did the political sector not succeed in sending a positive signal for Europe and to appeal to citizens’ emotions?

Daniel Röder: I think this is a political failure. Politicians thought that the topic of Europe would not bring people out of the woodworks. The fact that they did not have the courage to actively pursue a pro-European policy was a serious mistake. What we need are politicians like Macron who sometimes, though not all the time, take an emotional approach – and who link their political fate to Europe’s future. That’s the kind of courage we need.

One thing that “Pulse of Europe” has been accused of is that the rally participants are people who benefit from Europe’s status quo and that those who are left behind and who move further and further to the right do not feel represented.

Daniel Röder: Obviously, we cannot force those who do not feel represented to come to our rallies. Still, I believe that, over time, a lot of people have come to our rallies who do not take a clear, unequivocal stance for a liberal, open European democracy. It is obvious that we have not reached everyone. But reaching the skeptics is a challenge for all individuals or groups who work socially and politically. Maybe we can achieve this through the house parliaments – but only if we have the courage to move outside our own circles and to invite people who we know have voted for the AfD (and this latter group includes not just people who are left behind).

Is the European election in 2019 the next big goal you are working towards?

Daniel Röder: Yes, for us the election is a milestone, for it has a strong symbolic significance. If there will be a move to the right, this will also have an impact on the political culture within the European Union.

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