The most recent European Democracy Network meeting took place in mid-January 2018 under the title ‘Influencing policy: Bringing new voices to the policy environment’. It aimed to identify how the policy landscape has been changing and how philanthropy can react to this. Acknowledging that there are many different elements in the changing landscape, and in policy, the role of foundations and think-tanks has come into question and this is hugely topical today. The key question being ‘’does this model need to be adapted to suit this new landscape?’’

To address this changing policy landscape, what is happening in Europe needs to be studied and understood. We are at a time of great change and influx of news opinions and ideas and norms are evolving. Andrew Duff, President of the Spinelli Group was the first to speak and introduce participants to the shifting policy environment. He gave an in-depth overview of how the treaties have changed the roles of the institutions and what changes may need to take place to rectify some of the imbalances.

Following the introduction, Susi Dennison of the European Council on Foreign Affairs then introduced their aims to influence very specific foreign policy in the European policy landscape. To have effective foreign policy it was recognised that it is not just about what you are trying to achieve but how Europeans see Europe and think about what foreign policy is trying to do. There are big differences in how Europeans see things and this needs to be recognised and used to create a more unified, ‘’community’’ feel.   

Janis A. Emmanouilidis from the European Policy Centre then proceeded to highlight problems such as a new level of high volatility and the centralisation of power, for example the increasing power of the council. There is also distrust between states, politically and socially, and a divergence in how member states understand each other and think. In moving forward, new policy efforts needs to include a wider range of stakeholders on different levels.

In one effort to tackle the wave of criticism of Europe and the rise of populism in response, Matt McWilliams developed a ‘Populism Propensity Score’ survey, which was then tested in EU countries, Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the US. This essentially identifies strong populist supporters and those who are not supporters yet, but potentially could be. In doing so, the aim is to discover what messages and issues matter in the growth of populism and conversely, what could stop it.

Studying the thoughts and opinions of citizens regarding political agendas presents an opportunity to connect with individuals and member states in understanding why people support different politics. Enrico Boehm introduced Eupinions, an initiative by Bertelsmann Stiftung. It is an independent platforms for European public opinions and is also working to understand political views surrounding the EU and globalization.

It is initiatives and efforts like this that are needed now to identify why people are turning from democratic values. If the union is to succeed citizens needs to be understood and listened to so that their concerns regarding democracy and the concept of the EU can be addressed. In going forward the question is, what can foundations do to reach these people, and what can be done to re-establish the importance of a democratic union?


For more information regarding the Democracy Network please contact Jennifer Fitzsimons at