“Is France’s economic policy laid down by Europe?” This is a burning issue participants tried to reply during a conference-debate organized by the French weekly L’Express (in association with the Franco-German TV channel Arte and the European Commission representation in France) which took place this Tuesday, 24th of September.
During near two hours, Anne Houtman (European Commission permanent representative), Jean Quatremer (French journalist and French daily Liberation correspondent in Brussels), Philippe Martin (Conseil d’analyse économique Chairman), Christophe Caresche (socialist MP of Paris and member of the European Affairs committee in the French National Assembly) and Laurent Allias (entrepreneur) confronted their points of view, their agreements and their disagreements vis-à-vis this tricky query.
Indeed, in the context dominated by a stronger and stronger distrust of our co-citizens regarding the European integration, the role and the importance of the EU within national politics and strategy seems to be questioned, especially in France. However, this impression should be nuanced as Gwenaelle Huet – political analyst for TNS-Sofres – highlighted insofar as French people actually have an ambivalent, not to say ambiguous, feeling vis-à-vis the European integration in which they are wondering if the European Union really takes into account the national interests and expectations, considering France would not make best policy without Europe, in the same time.
This point of view was explicated by Jean Quatremer who put forward his idea of “European Republic”, a political area in which institutions as the European Council and the Commission should be accountable, especially since the European Union prerogatives have been reinforced by the Lisbon Treaty to tackle the crisis. At this point, such a “Republic” should give an answer to the impression of democratic deficit felt by the French people and to the persistent impression, often fed by French leaders, that Europe is seen as a stranger, a foreign power although France has a very important role within the EU decision-making process, as Laurent Allais reminded, pointing out the institutions are more regarded than the French population in this issue.
This is the heart of the issue, all the more it has been recurrent for years and reinforced by the crisis: Europe cannot be made without citizens and against them, which supposes they have the feeling to be fully part of and heard within the EU decision-making process. But, the lack of communication and pedagogy, the national parties’ ambivalence, their lack of seriousness (in France, especially) and the lack of information largely contribute to this ignorance then distrust of citizens regarding the European integration they do not see the benefits for France. What is more, crisis and its economic and social consequences reinforce the idea the EU seems to be disembodied, technocratic and which takes away democracy increasingly, at least prevents any democratic control and process, as Jean Quatremer underlined.
That explains this impression of distrust and the establishment of some amalgams especially regarding budgetary or reforms issues. At this point, Christophe Caresche reminded France kept its sovereignty regarding national budget while Anne Houtman said the country should reform for itself, a subtle way to explain the EU institutions does not give orders to the French government, even if Philippe Martin considered there exists a budgetary constraint and the European Commission has to remind the Member-States engagements vis-à-vis the Treaties only.
At the moment, French people are wondering about the advantages of the European Union and are ready to vote for the Front national far right party – according to a recent opinion poll – it seems more than necessary to think about the weigh and the final goal of the EU once again At this point, the next European Parliament elections should allow a deep and serious reflexion within the population, at the condition national and European political parties take their responsibility, especially in France.