Senior French politicians joined forces with ALDE-CoR at the French Senate in Paris to organise a Citizens Consultation, led by French EU Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau and other representatives of the French centrist parties La République En Marche (LREM), Mouvement Radical and UDI.

Hosted by the Union Centriste group of the Senate, it brought together about 80 people – citizens, our members, ALDE Individual members in France, representatives of these parties, who seized the opportunity to ask their questions about the EU or relate their views on Europe to the Minister and other speakers. Senator Delahaye (UDI) Vice-President of the French Senate gave the words of welcome and called on Europe to focus on the challenges and opportunities in the area of Artificial Intelligence.

The full audio content (in English) is available here and here.

Below are some of the key quotes from the invited speakers:

French EU Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau

At EU level, it cannot be business as usual. But we can only find new solutions by listening to the citizens, and that is why we have launched this process of Citizen Consultations. This is my 27th! One of the concerns that comes time and time again in the various Citizen Consultations I participate in is the question of European defence. There has been very significant progress in practical terms in recent years that was unimaginable only 5 years ago, such as cooperating on expenditure. There is really a revolutionary change in culture on this front and the Europe of defence really is becoming a reality.

ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen

ALDE Party is also taking a bottom up approach to the drafting of our manifesto for the European elections. People want solutions to problems and therefore we have to defend Europe by focusing on where Europe is delivering already, and where it can do so in the future.

Deputé Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade (LREM) 

For years in France, the two main political parties were divided over Europe and simply put these matters on the back burner, allowing the extremists to dominate the discussion about the EU. President Macron has turned that around and put Europe at the heart of French political discourse. If Europe is currently disfunctional it is because not enough attention is paid to Europe at national level, and that is no longer the case in France. The objective of President Macron’s party is to transform Europe by 2024 so that citizens perceive that European democracy has real added value, and we must start with a strong political response in 2019 at the next European elections.

 ALDE-CoR President Bart Somers

Populists try to reduce identity to one dimension, but in reality we all have multiple identities. The European identity is not like a national one or like the American one, it is something else, quite unique. And what is common to all Europeans is the values for which the Union stands. Populists want to destroy the EU, but we say it must be strengthened in order to protect freedom and facilitate the multiple identities of Europeans.

Dominique Riquet MEP (Mouvement Radical)

The Europe of Citizens needs to be redefined. Citizens either accept or don’t accept the European Union and the relationship is not always rational, there is an emotional aspect. Some will either like it or not like it. Europe appeals to the emotion, but the European Union is a political-administrative construct which appeals less to emotions than “Europe”. But for the EU to deliver in those areas where citizens feel most passionate about, such as defence or social policy, it requires powers that national governments have not granted it.

ALDE-CoR Vice-President, François Decoster

We need to find effective ways to embody Europe on the ground. One simple proposal is to encourage municipal councils around the Union to appoint one of their councillors as an EU Correspondent who takes the lead in keeping the rest of the Council and local citizens aware of EU developments, and vice-versa. It is a simple idea which costs nothing and is already working successfully in Austria.

Senator Cathérine Fournier (UDI)

In the north of France we had the feeling that we were abandoned when confronted with the now famous Jungle area where migrants were concentrated for so long. We need to know what the European policy will be in the area of migration. When people love something they make an effort to make it work. I want my citizens to love Europe, because in the second round of the presidential elections, 52% of citizens in my area voted for the National Front.That is unacceptable.

Deputée Caterina Avanza (LREM) presented the Grande Marche pour l’Europe, which goes door to door throughout France listening to their concerns and proposals about Europe:

In this way we reach French citizens from all backgrounds and beliefs, thus ensuring we are not just talking to the converted. The preliminary results after 85,000 questionnaires completed, indicate that the French want a more ambitious Europe, with the following priorities: the economy, defence, climate change, migration, and sustainable agriculture, in that order.

The event also focused on key challenges for the EU in the 21st century, primarily migration and climate change, with key interventions by Matthias Ruete, Hors-classe Advisor at the European Commission, and Yvon Slingenberg, Director at DG Climate Action, European Commission.

Prior to the Citizen’s Consultation our member Jean-Luc Vanraes participated on Sunday 10 June in the panel debate on the future of Europe during the Mouvement Radical’s Forum on Europe, joining Dominique Riquet MEP, Thierry Cornillet MEP as well as our member Jean-Noël Verfaillie on stage to discuss the issues at stake in the European Union, with for instance migration, populism and the state of the economy.

French EU Minister Nathalie Loiseau was introduced by Senate Vice-President Vincent Delahaye (second from the left).


Our President Bart Somers and EU Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau listen to citizens during the Citizen Consultation


ALDE Party President Hans Van Baalen (centre)


Our President Bart Somers (left) and Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade of La République En Marche

 

Jean-Luc Vanraes and Jean-Nöel Verfaillie at the Mouvement Radicale National Committee on the future of Europe