Cooperating on the spot and digitally for the benefit of Europe

Berlin Conference 2021 highlights bottom-up involvement and launches digital cooperation platform for European engagement


Berlin, 9 November 2021 – On this important date in European history, politicians, creative artists, political scientists, and committed citizens have gathered at a historic site: right next to Brandenburg Gate, the annual Berlin Conference is currently taking place at Allianz Forum on Pariser Platz in Berlin. They are joined by further guests from across Europe, who participate in the conference remotely. ‘Europe Bottom-Up!’ is the motto of this year’s conference, which aims to show how citizens, cities and regions can get involved in Europe.

“Citizens must be encouraged to get active, but politicians have to realise that cooperating with the citizens is without alternative”, Nele Hertling, co-founder of “A Soul for Europe”, said in a discussion on the question of what Europe needs now. “If we, the politicians, have confidence in the citizens, we also create more trust in politics among citizens”, MEP Niklas Nienaß added.

One impressive example among many that underlined how the bottom-up approach can be put into practice for the benefit of Europe was given by Rabbi Andreas Nachama. He presented the interreligious House of One as a project which fosters togetherness and understanding where there used to be physical borders until not so long ago (in Berlin) and where there still are imagined borders (between religions).

In order to facilitate exchange between like-minded organisations and municipalities, the Stiftung Zukunft Berlin is developing a digital cooperation platform together with its partners and the support of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany. This “Europe Bottom-Up” platform is designed to provide cities, regions and various initiatives with a tool for exchange across national borders. It is an instrument that makes it easier to learn from each other and to arrange and carry out joint projects. The explicit goal is to strengthen the European unification and to attract others to it through the joint presence on the platform.

"Europe Bottom-Up!" thus not only describes an approach but can also be understood as an invitation to give some of one’s own creativity and commitment to Europe. The kick-off day on 7 November in Chemnitz, the European Capital of Culture 2025, saw mayors and representatives of current and former European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) and candidate cities such as Chemnitz, Zittau, Bad Ischl, Hildesheim, and Magdeburg discuss culture-driven urban development as well as the importance of the periphery for Europe using the ECoC experiences as an example. On 8 November, representatives of civil society, arts and culture, and politics discussed the significance of the "bottom-up" approach for the future of Europe in a plenary session and several working groups. Among the discussants were former European Film Academy director Marion Döring, Ása Richardsdóttir of the IETM network for performing arts, and writers Noémi Kiss and Serhiy Zhadan as well as politicians like EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and MEPs Hannes Heide and Niklas Nienaß.

The remaining conference programme on 9 November includes guests such as Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions, political scientist Gesine Schwan, mayors Emil Boc of Cluj-Napoca, Tanya Hristova of Gabrovo, Mohamed Ridouani of Leuven, Mike Schubert of Potsdam, and representatives of civil society organisations such as the Berlin-Forum, the Citizen Network, or the Greek Forum of Refugees discussing the role of cities and regions for Europe.

The conference will be followed by the annual "State of Europe Speech", given this year by Charles Michel, President of the European Council, on the evening of 9 November and followed by a discussion with young Europeans, which will be moderated by Yolanda Rother of Stiftung Zukunft Berlin.