Last Sunday on February 1st, the Gare de l’Est in Paris was celebrating. The most famous station in France, from where the country’s troops left to fight the ‘Bosch’ and to where concentration camp survivors returned, is something special.
Jaw-jaw not war-war
It was no longer the drumming of army boots which echoed around the station but a blend of accents proclaiming freedom of expression and cries of ‘jaw-jaw not war-war!’ In a station cafe, 60 people from 15 different countries were brought together through café babel to debate the future of the European Union which will undergo enlargement on May 1st 2004 when it welcomes 10 new members. The occasion? The launch of a series of six ‘coffee storming’ debates, European brain storming sessions accompanied by a cup of coffee, which will take place in Paris, Varsovia, Brussels, Barcelona, Dublin, and Berlin between February and July.
café babel wanted to give the newly enlarged European train a send off from the Gare de l’Est. It is a train in the true sense of the word: 25 carriages, each one different from the rest; 1st, 2nd and 3rd class sections; a little slow perhaps but in which everything is to play for. Of course, right up to the last minute passengers have been fighting for tickets but neither the destination, the driver nor the conductor have really yet been set in stone.
Where is Europe going?
Where is Europe going? Will enlargement turn it into a simple ‘super market’, a more bureaucratised free trade area, or is it still possible to advance towards a federal Europe?
Who is going to lead it? The Paris-Berlin axis, intergovernmental interests, the Commission, or the European people (assuming there is one)?
What is certain is that the Old Europe train, the one of the founding fathers, the ECSC, and Mitterand and Kohl, has come to a halt - not only because new carriages needed to be attached but also because it had reached its destination: today Europe is stable and peaceful.
Now everything has been thrown back into question. But one thing is certain: as the old Orient Express, which travelled between Paris and Istanbul via Budapest and Bucharest, showed, the East is an important part of Europe. And the new route will no doubt include Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, the Balkans…
If you want to believe in such a historic journey, don’t just sit in your chair. Let’s change carriages, let’s go and explore this new train. And let’s have a coffee together: Czechs and Italians, Frenchmen and Poles, Estonians and Cypriotes. Let’s transform a bureaucratic Europe into a Europe of people, accents and dialogues through this latest café babel initiative, produced in partnership with the Czech organisation, AMO, and with the support of Fondation de France. This is our Orient Espresso serving Eastern Europe. This train is about to leave the station…