Utta Tuttlies: "In the European elections we'll be voting for our shared future"

Interview with John Stelios Papadopoulos  "The EU is first and foremost a project of peace and of hope. You take them away fr...

Utta Tuttlies - thecolumnist.gr

Interview with John Stelios Papadopoulos 

"The EU is first and foremost a project of peace and of hope. You take them away from the people and what do you have?" Mrs. Utta Tuttlies, Head of Press/Communication and Spokesperson for S&D Group, in an exclusive interview with "The Columnist" on the upcoming European elections, the role of social media in political campaign, fake news and the "Europe Together" platform.
- What is at stake in the upcoming European elections and how does S&D Group address those issues? 

U.T.: "What is at stake? Nothing less than our future. And I don’t mean the future of European institutions, but the future of all European citizens, their freedoms, their hard-earned rights, their way of life. Myself, my children and the ones close to me have been living in this safe environment that is called the European Union. We cannot envisage our lives as people have no less than 75 years ago, with war being a constant threat. The EU is first and foremost a project of peace and of hope. You take that away from the people, and what do you have? 
Unfortunately this is what populist forces all over Europe are trying to do right now. They make people scared, have fear, and want us to go back in history by promoting the nation state over the multipolar world order and a closed society as opposed to the open society guaranteeing freedom, democratic values and the rule of law. Our message, as Socialists and Democrats Group is that we have to fight this fear with hope. Our Group Leader, Udo Bullmann, our MEPs, our Spitzenkandidat, Frans Timmermans - they have all been strong and outspoken on the latest alarming developments coming from countries like Poland or Hungary and recently also Italy and Austria. As a Group, we have been strong and united against this and we will never stop fighting for the freedoms all European citizens should enjoy. 
This May when we head to the polls we won’t just be selecting the next politicians that will pass EU legislation for the upcoming mandate. We’ll be voting for our future. I know what I want my future to look like - I want it to be a safe, hate-free place for my children; I want it to give equal opportunities to men and women alike; I want it to allow everyone to travel freely, to have access to education, healthcare, quality jobs, decent housing. I want a future where companies pay their taxes in the countries where they make profits and, then, that money is put to good use, wherever it’s needed. This is what my Group stands for and this is what I’m going to vote for in the next European elections."

- What is the role of social media in your political campaign?

U.T.: "First, let me clarify one point. We, as S&D Group, cannot and will not campaign for the European elections. This is the task of the European parties, in our case the PES, However, we have the task “to inform” European citizens and thus use social media in our daily communication, as a strategic part of conveying our message to as many people as possible. The advantage of communication on social media is that we are able to “speak” directly to citizens. We use a much lighter tone than in our press releases, we explain concepts that are part of our bureaucratic language, and we address the people on the topics that concern them the most. Of course, feedback is crucial on social media, and I mean that both ways. We take in all the comments and suggestions that come to us via our platforms, both positive and critical, and we try to integrate them in our daily work lives, we convey the message further to our MEPs and political advisors, and that’s how we build our community. We’re always in touch with the people via social media. 
Thus, social media communication is key in today´s world, yet, it is not enough. Traditional presswork and engagement with journalists continues to play a key role. But beyond social media and presswork, we must also physically speak to the people directly."

- How do you evaluate the "Europe Together" platform in the endeavor of S&D to forge a new relationship between European social democracy and European citizens? 

U.T.: "The idea of the Europe Together platform, came more than two years ago. It’s not, by any means, an electoral exercise, but it is, in fact, our way of listening to the people, their ideas, proposals and concerns. To make it a complex exercise, Europe Together is an initiative structured on two pillars - one is the online platform, www.europe-together.eu, where the people can add comments on various topics of interest, start debates and ask questions to our MEPs. The other one is the #EuropeTogether series of debates we have organized all over Europe which is based on the idea of inviting citizens in small and big cities to events with leading politicians, intellectuals and artists to discuss with us. At a point, these two pillars merge. Based on the comments and the input we receive on the platform, we select together Ambassadors who join us at upcoming events. We, then, give them the stage so they can share their ideas with the audience, with politicians and policy makers. 
For us listening to the people is so much more than a slogan. It’s the way we work. Because when politicians lose contact with the people, then their work is in vain. And I personally believe that in these times of mistrust in European institutions - and note that I do not mean distrust in the European project - giving people a voice and a space to exercise their right to free speech is crucial. Furthermore, all these comments and ideas that we have received in the past two years on the Europe Together platform have not been wasted. Last December, at the PES Congress in Lisbon, we have handed PES leaders all the statements we have worked with together with the people. Because all those comments, suggestions, criticism that we have received on the platform were included in these statements. And they are at the basis of the platform that the European Socialists will use in these elections."

- You have visited several European cities with the "Go Local" initiative, including Athens. What are these events about? 

U.T.: "As the name of the initiative says, the entire purpose of these events is to go one step beyond the formal border that you usually have between citizens and politicians. Together with our MEPs we are bringing the political debate to the local level, where we talk directly to the citizens that are interested and affected by the legislative changes that we promote at a European level. Over the last year, we have been in more than 40 cities and have done all kinds of local engagement, ranging from discussions in bars, to biking and singing with citizens while discussing their views about Europe. Besides being a way of reaching out to people, these Go Local events are also an exercise in maintaining a close relationship with the realities on the ground. In addition, these are of course very diverse, given that our Group has representatives from 28 European countries. To understand how EU policies affects the people’s lives is crucial and we understand this when being in dialogue on the ground in the various countries."

- Two of the major challenges for the EU ahead of the European elections are fake news and disinformation. How do you cope with those issues?

U.T.: "This is indeed a major challenge we are facing. Especially Brexit, but also recent elections like in the US for Trump, have seen a significant influence of fake news and disinformation and we have seen what this can lead to. The best way to tackle fake news is to stick to the truth. Never in our communication strategies have we ever strayed away from the truth. What we always do in these situations is to counter these with facts, numbers, legislation we have passed. And it usually works. Of course, our MEPs are also working on legislation to counter fake news and disinformation at a European level. Sure, being a part of such a big political family brings its challenges. But standing by our values is what will always set us apart from other political forces. The fight is long, but we are confident that we will win it!"

John Stelios Papadopoulos
Email: jskpapadopoulos@gmail.com

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