While the EU and UK negotiate... Europe Talks

Eddy Canfor-Dumas

13

December 2020

Sunday lunchtime and the news comes through that the EU Commission and UK government have decided to extend their search for a new trade deal, which has to start in less than three weeks.

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that the talks continue, even though there is a strong suspicion that this is all political theatre, as neither side wants to be blamed for finally pulling the plug on something that can’t be agreed.

But at the same time a different kind of talking was taking place across the continent – Europe Talks, a social initiative put together by a coalition of European news publications.

A focus on the future

The idea was to pair people from different countries, different backgrounds, different ages to talk about the future. For some, the focus was the pandemic and how it will change things. For others, climate change was the focus. But for everyone the topic was how life will change; in fact, is changing.

I had a fascinating conversation with Teresa from Portugal, a young postgrad student in biomedical engineering, working on AI. As we talked about her studies it was sobering to realise that she has never known life without the internet and can only grasp theoretically what a profound effect it’s had on everything.

It was also sobering - and a bit cheering, actually - to learn how little even leading researchers in AI know about how the human brain learns, which is why it’s so difficult to replicate in a machine.

But as we discussed our new digital reality there was one point on which we strongly agreed - the need for us all to arm ourselves against online manipulation, commercial or political.

The human connection

When the call ended and I returned to the news about the EU-UK stalemate, I was strongly mindful of the need for these seemingly insignificant - but I think profoundly important - human, one-to-one connections between peoples of all different nationalities, religions and generations.

OK, we didn’t solve anything in our conversation, but I strongly believe that it’s only through these connections - repeated and replicated in many different forms and formats – that we can build the understanding and solidarity we need to confront the shared problems that are growing around us.

My exchange with Teresa was what my co-author Peter Osborn and I call a creative conversation - it created something of value between us, a connection and a thread of understanding. I suspect the many thousands of other Europe Talks conversations today were creative ones too.

And I was left wondering what might be possible if only our political leaders learnt how to talk in this way - especially when things get stuck...

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