This is not the first time that The Congress of The Hague commemoration is being held. Godelieve van Heteren, chair of the European Movement in the Netherlands, remembers the previous editions of 1998 and 2008 very well. We asked her some questions about them.
So what is this event about?
This is a 10 year commemoration of the famous 1948 Congress, where civic movements got together to underscore their commitment to establish peace and prosperity on the continent after two devastating world wars,. It is like ‘taking the temperature’ of Europe.
What is different this time compared to past editions?
In 1998, the commemoration was full of dignitaries and heads of state, almost like a summit. In 2008, the commemoration happened shortly after referenda in several member states in the EU at which citizens – including the Dutch – were saying ‘no’ to the constitutional treaty, which was meant to replace the treaty of Nice. This created an interesting debate on what form any ‘commemoration’ should take. Today, many of the people who were there in 1948 have passed away. And the commemoration takes place in the midst of the Brexit discussions with a quarter of European citizens voting for parties, which proclaim a retreat to nationalism. This year I’m also very happy to organise Sharing Europe with the City of The Hague, the Dutch Foreign office, The Liaison Bureau of the European Parliament in The Hague, and the European Commission and have to say it is very encouraging to see how much they value citizens’ initiatives.
Do you think we are stuck?
Not at all. Many are saying: ‘We should reconfigure Europe in light of global developments and make it a force for something good and socially just’. As European movements, we embrace this appeal. We acknowledge all the social and economic challenges that are there. We do not ignore the cultural anxieties that play up under all the rapid shifts in the world. We are active in all corners of Europe, link with many social movements and see that many people feel they are left behind, not benefiting from the changes, which occur. But we also are motivated to carry the torch of connecting to the alternatives of doom and gloom. Everywhere in Europe, there are more constructive alternatives in the making: in a huge number of civic initiatives and movements: that focus on the future of our planet; on new, more inclusive social arrangements; on honest ways of relating with people in other parts of the world; on new democracy; on security models that do not merely drive up military expenditure. It gives tremendous energy if you start to look from those initiatives and perspectives. As one of the oldest post-war European movements, we are in a great position to help to connect.”
Finally, why did you pick Sharing Europe as the motto of the 2018 Congress of the Hague commemoration?
It is for a good reason we call the 2018 commemoration of the Congress of The Hague Sharing Europe. It will put the spotlights firmly on constructive civic endeavours. As citizens, together, we have to start anew to draw out what is possible: like our forefathers and mothers on the ruins of Europe after the Second World War. Sharing Europe is an open invitation to all citizens who feel, that when linking smartly together and giving each other some breathing space, what unites us as humans is greater than what divides us. We are people who wish to build the future together.
Join us and Godelieve in The Hague on 24 and 25 May by registering here.