Democratic Conventions

by | 2 Dec 2017 | Governance

“I came to talk to you about Europe. Some will say : again ? They would better get used to it.”

It was a couple of weeks ago : in the wood-panelled great amphitheatre of La Sorbonne, the French President was explaining to an audience of European students his views about the future of Europe; three weeks before, at the Pnyx, a hill that was at the center of Athenian democracy almost 2,500 years ago, with a stunning view of the Acropolis behind him, he had also introduced his vision of Europe.

Some will call his ambitious and detailed reform agenda a “Prévert-style inventory”, remembering ironically a poetry by the great French poet Jacques Prévert, listing an endless wealth of subjects, images, views and angles … And it’s easy to point out in his two hours speech a lack of prioritisation among all the different projects.

But at least, as no other French President in the last quarter of a century did, President Macron delivered a vision of what he called a “sovereign, united, democratic Europe”. And let’s be honest, after Angela Merkel’s painful victory in recent Bundestag elections, he is the only Head of State and Government to be in a political position to do it.

A sovereign Europe is a Europe that guarantees every aspect of security and addresses the migration challenge. And that does it through, among other things, a true partnership with Africa based on education, health, and the energy transition. It’s also a Europe standing as an economic and monetary power.

A united and democratic Europe is a Europe that gradually brings our social and tax models closer together, defining a “corridor” for corporation tax rates, as we did in the past for moneys. It’s’ also, and it’s exactly what many of my posts here are about, a Europe with a sense of belonging.

It’s finally a Europe that puts the people at the heart of its project : “Europe’s overhaul cannot be achieved away from the people, but only by involving them in this roadmap from the very outset.”, says Elysée press release.

European Intelligence Agency, European agency for disruptive innovation, new copyright regime for digital works, college and high school Erasmus … plenty of issues are on the table. It’s time now for European citizens to take the chance on talking of all these proposals.

President Macron also touched on the democratic reshape of the EU in two points: the need for transnational lists of Member of European Parliament (MEP) candidates to fill the void of returning British MEPs in 2019 and the need for a series of democratic conventions across the EU, where Macron’s proposals would be debated and discussed. He stated that these conventions should take place before the 2019 Parliament elections.

Because after the vision, we need to come back to the real world.

“By the end of this year, and on this basis, we will launch democratic conventions all across Europe. It will be up to each one of us to sign up to it or not.” President Macron said. For six months, national and local debates will be organized in all EU countries that volunteer, on the basis of common questions. What the French President called during his presidential campaign the “democratic conventions”.

On October 30, I joined the first signatories of a paper titled titled La société civile au coeur de le refondation de l’Europe”, stating what could be the conditions for this initiative to succeed. To make a long story short, a convention is only worthwhile if it is inclusive of citizens and civil society, and in as many Member countries as possible. It implies a direct involvement of civil society members and citizens in order to make the convention process participatory and transparent.

Whether it should lead to a vote in the form of a binding referendum at the end, is another question that we didn’t address in the paper. In many aspects, the French President considers that, as far as France is concerned, the referendum about Europe was his own election. It’s not completely wrong (read “The Battle of the Giants”).

“And at the same time …”

Iconography : Refurbishment  of the Acropolis, in Athens, Greece, April 24 2017 (personal collection).