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Candidates divided on the European question
On March 25th, we celebrate 60 years of the Treaty of Rome, the founding text of the European Union. On this anniversary, those we call the « Eurosceptics « shout « When do we retreat ? » And since Brexit passed, other voices are barely audible. In 2017, it is difficult to say anything positive about the European Union without receiving a round of sharp criticism. There are many explanations, but the reason is simple: Europe has distanced itself considerably from its citizens who see in her only a distant illusion or an obstructing wall.
On the occasion of the French presidential election, the European question has, nevertheless, intruded into the debate. This major question rings out like the preface of a new book : What kind of Europe do we want for the future ?
The Citizens for Europe collective represents a group of citizens who develop ideas and information about Europe on the web. Their assessment of the gap that separates European Union citizens is irrevocable. « European citizens often feel uninformed », explains one of the managers of the site, Séverine Lenglet. « We can blame the democratic deficit of the EU, its absence, and also the weak development of opinions. As far as the power of the financial lobbies and industries on European institutions, they have strongly contributed to the mistrust of European elites by citizens. » Even if not all propositions are fit to be thrown out, there often exists a real gap between the citizen’s vision of Europe and the ideas of the candidates. Let’s consider…
Macron, conventions targeted
In an earlier post, Pierre Calame said : « In the European parliament, candles are being lit in the hopes of a Macron-Schulz electoral ticket ! » Which is to say that the position of Emmanuel Macron in regards to Europe seems hopeful for many. To save the EU soldier, the candidate of « En Marche » wants to conclude a compromise between France and Germany. The reconstruction of Europe requires a revival of the French-German partnership and a series of agreements within each member state from now until 2018. These agreements would target distinct fields : security, growth, globalisation, sustainable development and digital technology. « Organising democratic agreements is a good idea, but they can not be concentrated on only a few themes », says Séverine Lenglet. « They need to consider the political wishes of citizens by enlisting a large number of representative organisations in various fields and including all the member states. We also could give more weight to European citizen’s intitiatives. Why not let them launch an agreement when they achieve a million signatures ? »
Hamon, a more federal and democratic Europe
The candidate of the Socialist Party has never appreciated the liberal orientation taken by Europe during the past few years and has often pointed out the « lack of democracy. » But by surrounding himself with the economist Thomas Piketty, the winner of the Socialist primary has himself taken a turn. He makes a bitter assessment of Europe as too distant from the people and proposes a « treaty project of democratisation of economic governance of the euro zone. » « The idea is advantageous because it shakes up the status quo », judges the collective. « But the main obstacle is the weak probability of a transeuropean consensus for this new authority. » And as for the desire of Benoit Hamon to see deputies from both national and European parliaments able to make decisions, it seems insufficient. « It won’t go far enough because it does not challenge the role of the Central European Bank and the present economic orientations of the EU. »
A proposition that he shares with Jean-Luc Mélenchon wins unanimous support, the idea of a minimum European wage. « It would be a good way to increase the standard of living of the most vulnerable workers », notes Citizens for Europe. « But also to fight against social dumping and to relaunch the social integration of Europe. There needs to be a coming together of higher social standards. »
Mélenchon, the « joint exit » from treaties
He makes the same assessment as Benoît Hamon on the weakness of European democracy but opposes him on ideas. Jean-Luc Mélenchon desires, on his part, « to disregard treaties » and « reorient Europe. » The candidate of La France insoumise wants to get out of certain rules imposed by European treaties, or to simply exit these treaties completely. He is against a Europe of defense and suggests the end of the independence of the Central European Bank to be replaced by a « fair and united protectionism. »
Fillon and institutional change
Embroiled in scandals, his five European priorities are barely audible. For all that, François Fillon has put forward his desire for a policy on energy and a border policy. In favor of a common « policy of defense and security », the Republican candidate intends to radically change the institutional code. « This would ring in the end of a European Union of 28 countries with a Parliament and a Commission which are the tools for the construction of a federal system, » he says.
The Eurosceptic freewheelers
Let’s be honest, Europe, which is significantly distanced from its citizens, has opened a Pandora’s box. In the context of populism on a roll, anti-Europe candidates are the majority. Leading them, Marine Le Pen brings up a return to a national monetary system, exiting from the euro and reestablishing national borders. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan wants to « replace the European Union with a Community of European states. » François Asselineau hammers home his « Frexit » at every opportunity. And Jacques Cheminade has, more or less, the same « idea ». « To positively reappropriate the European question during an electoral debate, one needs political courage, » states Citizens for Europe. « Those who still believe in the European project must mobilise and put forward the real dangers of going backwards. For this, politicians should above all dare to recognise their past mistakes, challenge the status quo and reconsider the politics of austerity. Which is not the case today. »
The refounding of Europe from the bottom up ignored by the candidates ?
Faced with a scepticism which has been rising for the past decade, it’s time for a candidate to bring Europe closer to its citizens. More than Europe, or a French-German relationship, it’s true European democracy that is essential to promote. And it needs to be said that the entry, even late, of the European question into the electoral debate is good news. For it is unthinkable to project a « desirable future » on France without thinking of its ties to Europe and to the world. In these violent times, the raison d’être of Europe, constructing lasting peace, is more newsworthy than ever.
« The place of European citizenship needs to be strengthened », concludes Séverine Lenglet. « Ideas such as the creation of true European parties and encouraging the development of a public European sphere must emerge. » It is easily verifiable that the propositions brought forth by citizen collectives such as Citizens for Europe are in total discrepancy with those of the candidates. Refounding from the bottom up seems simply to be side-lined.
It is up to the future President to show that Europe is nevertheless not ready to be sent into retirement, but instead reflects the ambitions of European populations and strengthens the construction of our national and shared future on the continent, as well as in the world. The future President must be the initiator of a new legitimate democratic governance for France and Europe.