In 1994, a small group of students had the idea of getting together every so often in their respective home countries to keep in touch and share their ideas about the environment. The next year, the German students in Bonn hosted their European friends and so the Born in Bonn network was born. From 11 to the 20 April last, the 9th meeting took place in France, both in Paris and the region of Nord Pas de Calais.
There were a few of us discussing the very durable development that had taken place in the media. Fifteen countries represented, with as many disciplines, a good range of viewpoints that ensured a healthy debate. And of course the wonderfully warm ambience (!) and the new contacts made across borders. We were laying our little stone of foundation for a real, live Europe.
A participatory spirit
An essentially participatory and informal event, year after year the BIB has asserted its difference to other networks. This opportunity for in person participation, usually so abstract, is for all those self-proclaimed "bibiers" really important. The organisers take responsibility for preparing the gathering on behalf of those students that have elected them. The participants enrich the event with their spontaneous contributions, work or experiences presented during the various workshops. Eco-tourism, climate change, high environmental standards, chemical weapons dumps and environmental education are just a few examples of the themes presented and debated. Questions are never in shortage, keeping up the dynamism of knowledge sharing and exchange made possible by individuals' investments. Each year, the roles are reversed and a new country takes charge of the organisation.
Theme one: sustainable development
This decade of exchanges has opened up refreshing new perspectives for reflection. The three days of field trips in the Nord Pas de Calais region allowed us to discover a sustainable development that has grown from dominant practices, imposing creativity and changing our benchmarks. We saw, for example, a peasant and his family who were getting by very nicely with only 8 organic sows and without any loans. An ecological college, full of light and void of violence. A mine that now houses artists and green enterprises.
In the same line of thought, we had suggested to the students to discover Paris a little differently by meeting local actors, and discovering all kinds of initiatives: the Joint Development Zone 'Paris Rive Gauche' [Paris Left Bank], Frigos de Paris [Paris Fridges], International University Campus, André Citroën Park. Disconcerting moments were had where everyone remembered that Paris doesn't stop at the Louvre, but remains a dynamic space of everyday stories.
At the conference on 18 April, entitled 'Sustainable Development: introspection and the next steps', Mr Morin (sociologist and Director of the French centre for scientific research), Mr Nicolescu (physician and president of the international centre for interdisciplinary studies), and Mr Tardieu (special counsel to the president of Véolia-Environment) caused us to take a step back from our somewhat galvanised perceptions. Is it not a little strange that a vision of the future shared by the majority of the western European political class is also supporting the communications of so many large firms (Electricité de France, British Petroleum, the Bank Crédit Agricole, PSA etc.)? Is the notion of sustainable development an empty one if it has incited such opportunism? While it is no panacea, at least its existence stimulates exchanges and discussions.
Pleading for an open European parliament
In reality, if this meeting illustrates an opening of minds, when will we achieve equality between citizens, the end of borders? The BIB network reaffirms its belief that Europe is bigger than the EU. Communitarian solidarity concerns a limited number of countries. Yet Serbs, Russians, Albanians and others are also Europeans! And so we see a ghettoisation of the Schengen zone. This instrument of opening has become discriminatory and obliges its eastern participants to carry cash when crossing a border, the equivalent of a minimum wage per day in the zone. At a time when French security is so high as to have eclipsed any idea of French hospitality, this money has disappeared from the bags of around 20 participants. We are fighting for a wider and more tolerant Europe. Ethnic and economic discrimination has already made too big a mark on our history.
For initiative to survive we have to shake up this rigid system
The BIB subscribes to a logic that doesn't match that of the university system. Meetings which are informal, militant, pan-European and trans-disciplinary. We believe that Ivan Illich is right when he speaks of students as 'consumers pupils whom we teach to adapt their desires to commercial values. Without any chance of reaching maturity throughout this vicious circle'. Breaking out of this stunting reality, the BIB is trying to free itself from the cloister of the university.
So our initiative has not been given any room to organise its workshops. How many forced doors? Wasted energy? Letters without replies? When the biggest region in France hides itself behind the largesse of its administration only to say neither yes nor no to the requested partnership.. To state that the European system incites students to take initiatives is naïve and hypocritical! On the other hand, it's so good when the enthusiasm is there, to hear 'you're all crazy, but it's great!'. Only our relentlessness has allowed us to transform our dreams and projects into such enriching experiences!
How will things be for our 10th host country, Romania? Will a solidarity stronger than economic difficulties win out, rendering the concept of development useless?
And then, when will Europe as a 'level of reality' come about, to repeat the expression of Basarab Nicolescu? An open Europe that transcends nations, languages and cultures... A Europe respectful of it environment, so rich and so diverse, where future generation should come and go in peace over the centuries? Just dreams.
Through sustainable development, a minimalist concept which does not overcome the initial contradiction of development / sustainability, a fundamental question on the future of Man and his environment is raised. The finite system that is the Earth is in crisis: climate change, the exhaustion of natural resources, the increasing inequality. We are approaching breaking point. It is urgent that we stop patching the tyres and simply get new ones. To think to a more intelligent future, where the economy will serve Man. Man in harmony with his environment. Utopian, some will say. Elementary pragmatism, others will respond...