The Ulysses Conference | 2018

European Democracy: an idea whose time has come?
Centro Cultural de Belém, 7 and 8 April, 2018 (curator: Rui Tavares, historian)

«There is one thing more powerful than all the world's armies – it is an idea whose time has come.»
(attributed to Victor Hugo)

It is our intention that the Ulysses Conferences will turn Lisbon into a centre for reflection on the major issues that are set to mark the European and global agenda, in keeping with the values associated with the figure of the city’s mythical founder: adventure, friendship, travel, hospitality and dialogue. Questions relating to human rights, in particular those of refugees and stateless persons, questions relating to globalisation and cosmopolitanism, and questions relating to the European Union and its member states will be among the main themes discussed at the Ulysses Conferences. These are aimed at a mixed audience, consisting of specialists and the general public, people from the arts and sciences, mere observers or participants, including both highly respected speakers and enthusiastic young people. Unlike other similar cycles of talks already held in this country, the idea is not to bring to Portugal the thinking that is currently taking place abroad, but to generate and radiate from Portugal thought that has a truly global relevance. In order to guarantee that the output generated by the reflections taking place at the Ulysses Conferences is not exhausted after the closure of each edition of the event, our aim is to stimulate the creation and publication of written or audiovisual material that will prolong its memory and to organise an essay competition open to young people that will similarly prolong the reflections of the Ulysses Conferences over future generations.

The theme for 2018
As a pilot scheme for the first edition of the Ulysses Conferences, we propose the organisation of an international conference, to be held on 7 and 8 April 2018, on the theme of “European Democracy: an idea whose time has come?”.
The topic is justified by the simultaneous launch of different processes of reflection on the future of the European Union: the White Paper on the future of the EU, launched by the European Commission at the commemorations of the Treaty of Rome in March 2017; the Bratislava Process, launched by the European Council following the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom; and the process of the “EU Democratic Conventions”, suggested by the French President Emmanuel Macron in recent speeches that he gave in Athens and Paris, promised for the first half of 2018 and which does not yet appear to have a fixed format. The holding of a Ulysses Conference that is dedicated to the theme of reforming the European Union thus has the dual advantage of allowing for Portuguese participation in a debate that risks taking place without us, while, at the same time, bringing to this same debate some of the most important European public intellectuals, in order to afford a greater range and much-needed boldness to the initiatives launched by the political decision-makers and by the Community institutions.

After more than ten years of different crises — the rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty by the French and Dutch electorates in 2005 was immediately followed by the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the euro crisis of 2010-2011, and the so-called “refugee crisis” from 2015 onwards — the European Union has arrived at a crucial and decisive moment in its history: with its member states, it is a “club of democracies”, but only through the participation of its citizens will the EU become a genuine European Democracy. If it fails in this aim, the EU may very well fail to take advantage of this present moment in order to pause, take stock and rethink its position, ending up by falling once again into the throes of an existential crisis that runs the risk of being its last one.

The creation of a European Democracy is, however, a profoundly difficult question. For several centuries, philosophers, writers and visionaries, ranging from Erasmus of Rotterdam to Kant and Victor Hugo, have dreamt of founding a European republic, a federation of peaceful states or a cosmopolitan utopia and, in the latter case, a United States of Europe, the very idea that is “more powerful than all the world's armies” at the moment when “its time” has come. But what is a democracy? When do we know that we have ceased to be a democracy or that we have just become one? Or, as some have claimed, is it impossible to construct a democracy beyond the frontiers of the nation-state? If there is a right moment for holding this discussion that can salvage the European project, then that time is now, after two years in which the wave of national populism has appeared to be about to engulf any hope of international cooperation and in which a counter-wave in France and Germany seems to have left all Europeans waiting for a reform in their willingness to give the EU another chance.

This opportunity will have to be seized by us, simultaneously European citizens and citizens of the whole world, concerned with the cause of peace and human rights and committed to understanding and shaping the process of globalisation in order to correct its vices and injustices.

The structure
The two days of debates will be organised in such a way as to allow for a permanent interaction between the specialists or established speakers and the general public or the enthusiastic young people.

On each of the two days, there will be two plenary sessions held in a large auditorium, where some of the Portuguese and foreign thinkers who have most engaged in reflection on the European project will be given the chance to speak, together with interventions by artists, writers or politicians that will prevent the discussion from falling into the trap of becoming too technical.

Interspersed with the plenary sessions, we will have round table discussions centred mainly on the participation of young people, and at which specialists and foreign guests will largely play the role of catalysts in promoting discussion. The young people taking part in these round table discussions will be chosen through an essay competition to be held between January and March 2018, and they will also be entrusted with the mission of serving as rapporteurs for the plenary sessions and preparing a publication (in the form of a newspaper and/or a website) setting out the conference conclusions, to be launched a month after its completion, on Europe Day, 9 May 2018.

The work undertaken at the plenary sessions will lead to the drafting of a 2020 Charter setting out the twenty examples of public services and goods that the EU should guarantee to provide by the end of the 2020s (in fields such as civil and political, social, environmental and economic rights).

+ Programming | April 7th

2.30pm – 4.30pm – Panel 1. Democracy – Main Auditorium

5.30pm – 7pm – Round Table Discussions – Luís de Freitas Branco Room / Maria Helena Vieira da Silva Room / Almada Negreiros Room / Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen Room

9pm – 11pm – Panel 2. Economy and Society – Main Auditorium

+ Programming | April 8th

10.30am – 12.30pm – Panel 3. Human and Environmental Rights – Main Auditorium

2pm – 3.30pm – Round Table Discussions – Luís de Freitas Branco Room / Maria Helena Vieira da Silva Room / Almada Negreiros Room / Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen Room

4pm – 6pm – Panel 4. The Future of Europe – Main Auditorium

+ Youth Contest

Write your future – Selection of 15 to 25 young people to participate in the Ulysses Conference, 2018, on European Democracy: an idea whose time has come?

Victor Hugo once said “there is one thing more powerful than all the world’s armies, and that is an idea whose time has come.” This is the challenge that we now offer to you. Share with us your idea whose time has come. As part of the Ulysses Conference, 2018, on European democracy, a (written or recorded) essay competition will be held to select from 15 to 25 young people who can help shape the debate on Europe and its future in the world.

The young participants in this competition will play an active role in the discussions taking place and in editing a newspaper about the consequences of the conference, set to be held on Europe Day, 9 May 2018. The best essays – presented either in the form of a written text, or in audio or video versions –  will be rewarded with a CCB Card and a three-day trip to Brussels, in the second quarter of the year, to visit the European institutions, with all of their travel and accommodation expenses duly paid for.

In order to compete, fill in the application form. The competition is open to young people living in Portugal, aged between 16 and 30, whether Portuguese or otherwise. Written essays must have a maximum of 2018 words, or if presented in a video or audio format they must not be longer than 8:12 minutes. The essay and the completed application form must be submitted by the end of 18 March.

From the essays sent to us, we will make the best possible selection based on the criteria of quality and diversity. If necessary, we will try to balance this choice in terms of gender, residence, and area of study or work, with the aim of arriving at a plural group of the highest quality. Accommodation will be provided and the travel expenses of participants from outside the Lisbon Metropolitan Area will be reimbursed.

Those essays that are not chosen will be preserved and their authors may be invited to take part in other similar initiatives at a later date. They will also be invited to take part in the Ulysses Conference, 2018, and in editing the conference conclusions.

The results will be announced by 28 March. More information or further explanations can be obtained via e-mail at


Enter the following code in the box bellow


The present data will be computerized and the CCB Foundation guarantees its total confidentiality
Fields marked with * are mandatory

+ Sponsors



Media Partners