"Europe must take a step towards its citizens

The European Movement – France has been mobilising since 1950, across all generations, to promote a pluralist public debate on Europe. Marie Caillaud, elected President of the Young Europeans, tells us what are for her the stakes of the Conference on the Future of Europe, brings together the 27 countries of the EU around key themes such as the democratic crisis and global warming. She explains her programme, which is already underway, to make the European citizen a citizen who decides.

Today, at a time when debates are highly polarised and often caricatured, and when Europe seems to be less and less of a dream, what are the levers on which you rely to organise a calm debate?

I disagree with one of the statements in the question: Europe as we know it today is going through a crisis, but that does not mean that it makes us dream less. On the contrary, it forces us to ask ourselves what kind of Europe we want. It is not because we question the current functioning of Europe that we question the European project. We simply need to ask ourselves what is appropriate for us Europeans, whether the democratic project is sufficient and whether it works well. Today, for us, the answer is no. For us, there is a great deal of room for improvement, and to do this we need to work together to put in place mechanisms to make Europe more democratic. Above all, we must think about a way to put the citizen back at the heart of Europe.

On the other hand, it is true that the debates remain polarised, even if we have seen a certain evolution in the European debate. A few years ago, people were for or against Europe, today, politicians present different visions but never without Europe. The question of an exit along the lines of Brexit seems hardly credible in France; the debates revolve more around the model: Europe of nations versus a more integrated Europe. Which model? Which projects? Europe also suffers from caricatured debates, from “fake news” where “it’s Brussels’ fault”, even though sometimes this is the responsibility of the States.

For a peaceful debate, we must fight against this dis-or misinformation and have a pedagogical discourse to explain and disentangle the true from the false. To this end, the Young Europeans organise educational events for young people so that they can form their own opinions and have the keys to reading and becoming an active citizen on these issues.

We must also make the effort to go and talk to all young citizens: not those who are already in the European bubble. As you do at Missions Publiques, we must carry out educational interventions before launching debates. Our Europe through Youth educational programme aims to raise awareness of European citizenship and to show how Europe is present in the daily life of citizens. These educational interventions allow us to set up debates and to take informed positions. This will be our challenge during the Conference on the Future of Europe. It will be both to have an educational intervention followed by debates organised within the framework of the conference so that we think without ever saying what we should think. Finally, we want to give the citizen the ability to construct his or her own opinion.

“Our challenge during the Conference on the Future of Europe will be both to have an educational intervention followed by debates organised within the framework of the conference so that we think without ever saying what we should think.

Marie Caillaud

President of the Young Europeans

The Conference on the Future of Europe has started, and the Citizens’ Panels will be launched soon. What are your concrete proposals to put the European citizen back at the heart of the decision-making process?

The first thing is that the Conference on the Future of Europe, which aims to give citizens the means to take ownership of the European project, gives us one of the demands we are making. Beyond the symbolism, the Conference must give rise to changes according to the online consultation and the deliberations that will have been made. If tomorrow, the citizen and the citizens agree on something that requires a revision of the treaties, then this citizen’s opinion will have to be respected, not just that it is a consultation. Then, we are going to make proposals during this Conference which aims to put the European citizen back at the heart of the European system. We want the European citizen to become a citizen who decides.

We, the Young Europeans, have three main proposals concerning the democratic aspect. The first is that citizens should have legislative power. The second is that the European Parliament should have the right to convene a jury of representative and consultative citizens drawn by lot, precisely to promote participatory democracy. In addition to evaluating and debating public policies and involving citizens in decision-making, this would also allow citizens to become aware of the European decision-making process. Even today, this is something that is very unclear to the majority of French people. A third issue for us is the Europeanisation of national political parties so that their affiliation with European parties is more easily understood. We would thus have an integration of the European dimension within the political parties.

“We, the Young Europeans, have three main proposals concerning the democratic aspect. The first is that citizens should have legislative power. The second is that the European Parliament should have the right to convene a jury of representative and consultative citizens drawn by lot. (…) A third issue for us is the Europeanisation of national political parties so that their affiliation with European parties is more easily understood.

You have been elected President of the Young Europeans. How do you reach young people? How do you mobilize them around issues that are often perceived as being far from their daily lives?

 For a year, the challenges have been increasing. They are economic, political, security and environmental. At the European level, we are going to focus on two main challenges that also correspond to a young sensibility, they are two strong issues for our generation. These are environmental and democratic issues. But these are two issues among a multitude of very important issues for the years to come. Personally, I am convinced that the first thing to do is to make this European Union a little more sexy. That is to say that today, when we talk about Europe, we feel obliged to have technical and ideological debates that are very much focused on the law of the European Union. This excludes de facto people who know nothing about it.

So, each one takes a step towards the other. Europe must take a step towards its citizens by making an effort to communicate and educate, and also by dealing with subjects that are of interest to these young people who are far from European issues. And by taking this step towards young people, they also feel more concerned. And when we feel concerned, when we have the feeling that we are being talked about, we are more interested in the issue.

In concrete terms, we will always choose themes that speak to the public, adapting the questions to give a fairly representative example of our way of working. When we intervene in secondary schools in priority districts, we do not start by explaining the institutional triangle of the European Union, otherwise we lose everyone after five minutes. On the other hand, taking the theme of soccer and explaining the relationship between soccer and the European Union, it speaks to them. It tells them something. And so there, we have captured them and we will be able to discuss it. By creating this simple and playful analogy, they understand that the Court of Justice of the European Communities has allowed a revolution in the world of soccer by authorizing many teams, notably English teams, to exceed the quota of three players of different European nationalities.

What points of attention would you give us? What risks do you fear?

It is essential that this Conference leads to action. We must transform the trial and learn from the lessons of the Citizens’ Climate Convention, whose process was a success on many points but whose final impact was disappointing for the young generation. It is also up to us, Young Europeans, to make an effort to mobilize these young people to express their opinion on this.

The immediate translation in all languages of the proposals that are made on the platform is very interesting because it also allows young people who do not have the opportunity to discuss with Germans, with Poles or with any other European, because they do not master the language. Of course, the foreign language is not enough to break down linguistic barriers. But this effort of instantaneous translation is important so that young people can also grasp it and feel involved.

The risk, in my opinion, is that the pro-Europeans do not mobilize and leave this field to the Europhobes and that we are discouraged by the European Union. But I want to believe that we are on a democratic exercise. It will work.

The Conference coincides with the French presidency of the European Union and also with the presidential elections in France, which will take place on May 1st 2022. I believe that this is an opportunity to have a global debate on the European Union, both in France and in Europe. The French presidential elections will be heavily tinged with European issues. And so much the better!

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