Professor Manuel Castells on Emotions, Reality and the Future of Europe

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In his address during Re-Imagine Europa’s annual forum, Professor Manuel Castells reflected on the adversities faced by Europe in the last decade and expressed the need for new narratives that respond to people’s concerns. According to the professor, it is important to engage in a “non-ideological debate on the usefulness of Europe for citizens at large”, building a new narrative from the bottom-up.

Professor Manuel Castells elaborated on the relationship between emotions and reason, especially when analysing Europe’s present and future. In the last few years, the European Union faced a global financial crisis that threatened the euro and triggered serious social problems, from a challenging digital transition to the rise of fake news, a global pandemic and, more recently, an unexpected war in Europe.

Citizens face consecutive challenges for which meaningful solutions are not being presented, increasing their levels of anger and undermining their trust. As noted by Professor Castells, “there is a massive lack of trust between citizens and institutions, and among citizens themselves, which leads to polarisation and intolerance. In this context, social media amplifies and deepens this crisis“.

According to Castells, the two most recent crises, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have essentially contributed to bringing all Europeans closer. Nevertheless, there is still a long path to be followed. It is worth remembering that the European project was founded to achieve peace and security in Europe, overcome “narrow-minded nationalisms” that could develop into violence, achieve prosperity through deeper economic integration, and build a fair society.

Professor Manuel Castells is positive that the European Union should devise solutions for each incumbent challenge. With war looming at the European borders, building a common military force while renovating the European Security systems and its democratic institutions is important. “If you want peace, prepare for war, hoping it will not happen“. Furthermore, developing a new energy model for Europe based on changes in the EU’s production and consumption model is crucial. Professor Castells argued that “the choice in terms of energy policy today is between sustainability or dependence“.

To fight the constant, increasing feeling of social injustice throughout the European continent, it is also necessary to reform, strengthen and modernise social security systems by making them less bureaucratic and more responsive and agile. In addition, the European Union needs a new fiscal policy, including “a new realistic taxation policy harvesting wealth where it is, not where tradition says it is“.

At the event held at Palais d’Egmont, Professor Manuel Castells stated it is important to engage in a “non-ideological debate on the usefulness of Europe for citizens at large“, building a new narrative from the bottom-up in the process. This new narrative shouldn’t attempt to refute the existing narrative but rather create a new one that responds to people’s concerns.

Digital communication has become a central element of the public agenda, so a good communication strategy is essential to disseminate the new narrative. We need to devise new ideas because dreams and ideals are forces that can bind together people, institutions and societies. “Every great evolution starts with ideas, not anger“, concluded Professor Castells.