My wife meets nine other retirees at the Odder Tennis Club a couple of times a week. When tennis is followed by a cup of coffee and some cake, Europe is rarely the topic of conversation.
Things like forehands, backhands, grandchildren are at the front of their minds. Exercise, food, books, cultural experiences and right now, of course, corona.
The same is probably true for pensioners in Germany, France, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, and Croatia.
Meanwhile, there is a lot going on.
On May 9, 2020, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration - the declaration that started the EU.
The launch of a conference on "The Future of Europe" had been scheduled for that same day. Because of Covid-19 the European Commission had to postpone it to September.
This conference, one of the main priorities of the Von der Leyen Commission, will run for two years.
It's a great initiative, but will it excite the retirees at the Odder Tennis Club?
More than 20 leaders of civil society networks in the EU are sceptical. They believe that more is needed.
So, alongside the “Future of Europe" conference, they will organise a festival of independent events - the "Europe Future Fringe".
The aim is to engage EU citizens, so the question of Europe's future becomes a natural part of after tennis conversation.
We can mobilize Europe’s creative forces by offering events like workshops, lectures, cultural events and literary and music festivals.
The initiative must go beyond the borders of the EU, so that citizens in places like the UK, Ukraine and Russia can participate in the talks about Europe’s future.
All of this is coordinated on the platform www.europefuturefringe.com.
So this is what is happening on the European scene. But what about the citizens of Hundslund? How do they engage with Europe's future?
Today, being a citizen of Hundslund is hard work.
To build a life for yourself in Odder you have to remember to shop at the local grocery store, you have to negotiate a thousand parking spaces, and there is the new city park.
And then there's Copenhagen - can the city get both the European Cup and the Tour de France at around the same time?
And Margrethe Vestager in Brussels fighting with Google and Apple, not to mention Xi Jinping in Beijing and the increased surveillance tracking of Chinese citizens, and of course Trump in Washington.
That's a lot on chew on.
On the other hand, we are clearly connected - part of a community with one destiny.
Viruses know no bounds. The economy knows no bounds.
If we can’t sell our products to Europe and to the world in general, our unemployment will go up. Closed borders cause massive problems for business, not least of which, tourism.
It would be nice if we could fix these problems on our own - but we can’t.
So what can we do?
We can build the foundation for Europe, as a healthy, green and dynamic continent for all, on basic values such as democracy, freedom of expression, legal certainty, equality and justice.
That should be our focus.
It will give us something in common to fight for. Decision-makers at all levels will be able to explain the benefits, necessity, and challenge of collaboration in a way that people can understand.
We know clear communication catches on. On all levels. Between citizen and politician. Between management and employee. Between teacher and student.
Living, curious citizens mingling. Nationally and internationally.
For example, to start with: Mette Frederiksen could have said in one of his press meetings:
"I regret that in the first phase of the corona crisis I talked a little too much about Denmark and the Danes.
I really feel the deepest empathy for what is going on around Europe - in the European family.
Let it be set in stone -
Europe can always count on Denmark as a strong family member. We consistently work, 100 percent, for the good of the community – you can see that.
And so, today, it is an honour to inspire others, while taking in all the expertise, experience and wealth we are presented with from the rest of Europe.
We can do so much more together".
And the mayor of the Municipality of Odder - Uffe Jensen - could always remind the citizens:
"We must remember that Odder is part of Europe, which most people agree is a very exciting continent.
We must now put every effort into creating a new Europe where we focus on health, climate, environment, and European social minds.
We will start with ourselves here in Odder - the individual family, the individual workplace, the individual school.
We will show the way - and of course let ourselves be inspired by local communities all over Europe.
Let me use a picture that football lovers will relate to.
It is wonderful to be part of the European Football Championship - but equally inspiring to play a local match in the junior series ".
And all Danish business executives and business owners would be justified in reminding their employees that:
" We are a small, open economy. We are deeply dependent on the others in the European economy. If it goes bad with them, it goes bad here.
Think about how great it is that we can achieve so much more in a simple and painless way, than we could in the old days.
And remember, we have so much to give and so much to learn.
We must take the lead in shaping Europe's future. That’s both very interesting and super exciting."
The challenge is clear. Most of the citizens of Hundslund think Brussels is far away.
And it probably is farther from Hundslund to Brussels, than it is from Hundslund to Copenhagen, or to Odder for that matter, but it is definitely much further to Washington and Beijing.
And frankly, it is COMPLETELY UNBELIEVABLE that Europe, with its great economic, technological, and democratic potential, is being forced into a situation where we have to choose between the poles of a bipolar world.
If we can make up our minds in Europe, we have everything we need to act as an independent entity that can serve as a global role model.
Right now, the obvious question is: What have we learned from the Corona crisis?
How do we move on?
What do we need now - individually and together - in terms of health, economics, technology, education, citizenship, and external relations?
And how do we deal with the general feeling of people - that we need more Europe, less Brussels. Fewer numbers and statistics, more soul and heart. Less talk, more action.
The "Future of Europe" conference and the "Europe Future Fringe" set the stage for new talks on the future of Europe.
The intention is to involve as many European citizens as possible in conversations that inspire, engage and delight.
And if we can meet across cultures with a twinkle in the eye, a good measure of self-respect and genuine respect for the others, then Europe has a brilliant future ahead.
About the author
Povl Christian Henningsen is the owner of the strategic personal communication consulting company - Henningsen Global. He is a specialist in international leadership communication, cross-cultural communication and team building, building bridges across differences and personal impact across cultures. Povl is also a board member of New Europeans.
Republished by kind permission from Århus Stifstidende