Passing of Michael Dower, a European Englishman

Michael Dower. Photo: Hannes Lorenzen

Michael Dower has sadly passed away. Co-founder of the European AgriCultural Convention (EAC), which later became ARC2020, Michael stood staunchly for rural Europe, democracy, inclusion, and taking action now. His retirement marked the beginning of a fruitful career as a European convener, co-founding PREPARE and a number of other networks that punched well above their weight. Hannes Lorenzen remembers a European Englishman and friend.

A European citizen

Michael Dower died a week before his 89th birthday at his home in Dorset, England. We have lost a wholehearted European citizen; a believer in a peaceful, democratic and integrated Europe; a rural activist and climate worrier; a talented artist; and an idol and mentor for young Europeans. Michael was already a rural legacy when he was still traveling the wider Europe over past decades, addressing, organising and inspiring numerous gatherings, workshops, rural parliaments and conferences with high level political decision-makers.

A country-sider

His academic career was shaped by his love for nature and the countryside. He managed the National Park of the Peak district in England; was Director General of the British Countryside Commission; and lectured as Professor of European Rural Development at the University of Gloucestershire. His academic engagement in Europe culminated in editing and promoting the European Landscape Convention for the Council of Europe.

Paul Soto, MEP Danielle Auroi, Michael Dower and Hannes Lorenzen at the European AgriCultural Convention 2003 in the European Parliament

A European convener

The end of his academic career was the beginning of volunteering activism. In what Michael called his first retirement he became a European convener. He founded and served as president of ECOVAST – the European Council for the Village and Small Town. He co- founded and animated the European AgriCultural Convention (EAC), now ARC2020. He co-created the CURE – Convention for Urban and Rural Europe. He co-founded and served as coordinator of PREPARE – Pre-accession Partnership for Rural Europe, supported the launch of many national and regional Rural Parliaments, and was an ardent supporter and animator of the European Rural Parliament. Michael was a very active member of Forum Synergies, and many other European civic initiatives.

A climate activist

In his second retirement Michael focussed his attention on his village, parish and rural schools. As an enthusiastic climate activist he was planting trees with children, caring for school forests and animating various other rural initiatives in his neighborhood, urging people to take climate disaster seriously. He still stayed in close contact with the European networks and associations he had co-created and shaped, with a spirit of keeping his own country and its rural movements in Europe after Brexit.

A European Englishman

Michael was an Englishman for Europe, a believer in European democracy, cohesion, integration, cooperation, and volunteering. He strongly supported every step of EU enlargement and insisted at every occasion possible that the West Balkan region needed fair negotiations and accelerated inclusion. He worked with the Black Sea countries and contributed to the rural policy and development initiatives in Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia including Ukraine.

As an Englishman, he could stop a packed workshop at 5 pm CET calling out “tea time” – (4 pm his time), or to order a proper meal when his dinner time had come. He found Brexit “appalling” and suffered much from its political and social consequences.

Michael Dower co-moderating and taking notes at ARC’s concluding conference in 2010 on the “Communication of Civil Society to the European Institutions on the Future of Agriculture and Rural Europe”

A talented artist

Michael’s artistic talents were borderless and emerged from nature – he painted flowers and landscapes with deep concentration and great passion; he followed the lines of sea washed wood to create living creatures. He had the gift to turn complicated political debates into enchanting limericks and poems, and would sing songs about Russian love dramas and French particularities to cheer up exhausted audiences. His English humor and his sense for what we all have in common, despite the many differences, was always heartwarming.

A lifelong learner

Michael was always curious to learn and to broaden his understanding of people and nature. His life was in a permanent flow of creation, creativity, engagements, and action. In order not to overlook or forget about the things he had learned and understood, he became an enthusiastic notetaker. His archives of notes are immense. Where no-one was ready to be the rapporteur of meetings or gatherings, Michael was. When no one remembered what had been decided at some assembly, Michael knew.

A friend

Michael was a friend. I got to know him in 1998 in Brussels. He gave a lecture on rural Europe. I shared the experience of the “Sustainable Rural Mystery Tour” of Forum Synergies.

One year later we organised together a rural traveling workshop through Estonia and Sweden. We had pushed the European Parliament and the European Commission to co-organise and finance this unusual discovery tour with locals, regional officials, national ministerials and EU civil servants. They all saw what was needed, what was possible, and what they were supposed to do. The EU Parliament published a report – which Michael wrote at night in Vietnam during a training course (with a wet towel around his head as he said) – because the paid rapporteur had failed to deliver. It was the first of many following projects and initiatives where we well “punched above our weight”.

We gathered civic energy and pushed politicians to act. In all this Michael was always demanding and supporting at the same time. At one of those punching occasions he shared with me what he called his four principles of a fulfilled life:

Dare the impossible – be ambitious about what you can and what you want to do – punch above your weight (a.k.a. his “So what?” question).
Do it Now – whatever needs to be done. Postponing or avoiding action means losing substance, understanding, and time.
Help if you can – volunteer if you see others needing your support. Inspire people to do the same.
Be reliable – never promise what you cannot hold. Check what is within your capacity and your time before committing.

Bless you Michael.

More on taking action 

Regional Rural Responses – Reimagined.

A Vision for Rural Europe – Civil Society asks Questions

Reversing Rule and Exception – Transformative New Integrated Policy for Rural Agri & Food presented in European Parliament 

Future of Europe at European Rural Parliament – Sufficiency, Integrated Policy, & Rural Action

Rural Europe Takes Action | Creating Alternatives, Creating Community

Rural Europe Takes Action | Seeds of Collaboration

Rural Europe Takes Action | Creative Municipalities

Rural Europe Takes Action | Much More Than Our Daily Bread

Rural Europe Takes Action | Regenerative Governance in Rural Spain

Rural Europe Takes Action | CSA and the Building of a Food Commons

Rural Europe Takes Action | A Shared Space for Food Transition

Rural Europe Takes Action | The Sámi Environmental Programme

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About Hannes Lorenzen 35 Articles

Hannes Lorenzen was senior adviser to the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg from 1985 to 2019. Before starting his career in the European institutions, he carried out research, coordination and evaluation work on rural development projects with the Technical Service of the German Government. On the international level Hannes Lorenzen is co-founder of Genetic Resources Action International (www.grain.org) and co-president of the European Rural Development Network Forum Synergies (www.forum-synergies.eu). He is also co-founder of PREPARE, the "Partnership for Rural Europe" network for Central and Eastern European Member States (www.preparenetwork.org), serving as chairman and president until 2016. He co-founded ARC2020 and is its president since 2016. Closer to home, Hannes chairs a local rural development organization on his home island of Pellworm in North Friesland, Germany, which works o organic farming, renewable energy production, soft tourism and nature protection projects in a local dimension.

Hannes Lorenzen a été conseiller auprès de la Commission de l’Agriculture et du Développement Rural du Parlement Européen à Bruxelles et à Strasbourg de 1985 à 2019. Avant d’entamer sa carrière au sein des institutions européennes, il a effectué des travaux de recherche, de coordination et d’évaluation de projets de développement rural au sein du service coopération du gouvernement allemand. Au niveau international, Hannes LORENZEN est co-fondateur de Forum Synergies, réseau européen de développement rural (www.forum-synergies.eu). Il a cofondé ARC2020 et en est le président depuis 2016. Hannes préside aussi une organisation locale de développement rural sur son île natale de PELLWORM, en Allemagne. Cette organisation travaille sur des projets d’agriculture biologique, de production d’énergie renouvelable, de tourisme doux et de protection de la nature à l’échelle locale. Sur l’île il est aussi engagé avec des jeunes agriculteurs dans le développement et la reproduction des semences paysannes en bio et la biodiversité en agriculture. Hannes a toujours vu l’agriCulture française au cœur de l’intégration européenne. L’amour et le respect des français pour leurs paysans et l’appréciation de la “bonne bouffe” ont aussi été une flammèche pour se lancer dans cette nouvelle aventure du projet “La résilience de nos compagnes” de ARC2020. Même si un petit virus empêche Hannes de voyager pour l’instant, il est déjà en route pour rencontrer plein de monde qui bouge pour une transition juste et attirante…