Modern Germany has always been a nation of passionate protesters. Drawing the masses and prominent leader figures used to be the anti-nuclear and radical environmentalists in the eighties, from which the “Greens” emerged as a new and relevant political force. After reunification and since Germany became world-leading in environmental policy and its citizens muesli-munchers and recycling-nerds, this mass movement lost some momentum and demonstrations in general became less frequent and more localised. More recently though, the populist right-wing, anti-immigration movement of Pegida showed a more nasty face of protests – one that many Germans thought would never show itself again. And at the same time we’re seeing the rise of populism all over Europe.
Interestingly though, this rise does not only mean more populists. The number of those with a growing awareness that democracy, despite its clumsiness and shortcomings, might in the end be something worth standing up for has also been growing steadily.
40,000 people in blue and yellow
One recent Spring weekend, conditions were perfect: blazing sunshine across Germany and much of Europe. With the message that Europe as a union of people, common values, and for peace needs to be protected, around 40,000 Germans were out in the streets waving European flags. On Saturday, thousands gathered for the “March for Europe” which coincided with the celebrations for the 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and on Sunday the weekly “Pulse of Europe” demonstrations drew even bigger crowds in 50 German and other European cities, according to the organisers. They made quite subdued crowds, all ages, friendly and seemingly from all backgrounds, unified in their interest to protest FOR and not AGAINST something.
The demonstrations were born out of a tiny initiative, set up by a small number of individuals who use social media to enthuse and mobilise, without any large organisations behind them – and it looks like people are indeed moved by it. The demonstrators are making “the European idea visible and audible” and call free movement of persons, goods, money-transfers and services “historic achievements” that are to be defended (Pulse of Europe).
Civil, but not unpolitical
What’s characteristic to the Pulse of Europe activities: They are pure civil society initiatives without any party affiliation, driven by the sense of responsibility and togetherness. Politicians are welcome to join the demonstrations as normal citizens, but they will not be given a stage, the microphone is only for general people. From a political perspective, it is hard to say how this will impact the elections in September, and if it will be sustainable. But the public’s passion for democracy, freedom and peace for Europe is currently developing its own voice.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
Ms. Ledosquet joined FTI Consulting’s London office in 2000 and advised clients from various sectors in strategic communications, initially focussed on financial market communication and international assignments. After moving back to Germany in 2005, she supported clients in corporate and change communication. Since 2010, Ms. Ledosquet co-heads FTI Consulting’s Berlin based public affairs practice covering predominantly energy, finance and consumer protection policy. Prior to FTI Consulting, she was international communications manager at British Airways plc.