Jean-Pierre Jouyet, General secretary for French Foreign affairs, congratulated the IGC for the job accomplished and enthusiastically welcomed the text that came out last Friday. He didn’t forget to underline that the ratification process still remained a crucial challenge.
What is at stake for the future French EU presidency? Which accomplishments are possible and thinkable today … A speech tinted with optimism but which proposed very few concrete measures.
The institutional reshuffling seems to be agreed; the Union will be more efficient with the new treaty thanks to implementations concerning the institutional coordination (between the Council, the Commission, the European Parliament and the National Parliaments) and the qualified majority voting system that will be extended.
What about deep issues, i.e. the European budget (balanced or not balanced, that is the question?), the cooperation policy (or how to make of the immigration problem a Community issue?), social cohesion (a “providential EU”, for when?), research (how to invest in our “brains” and to yield a profit out of “centers of excellence”?) …
Obviously, the tone is ironical, but the difficulties are real.
On economy, first, Jean-Pierre Jouyet announces France’s willingness to go deeper in “sharing sovereignty”.
Avoiding speaking about of an economic government, an expression that frightens our German neighbours, he says he wants to strengthen the Eurogroup and to intensify solidarities. But, does he covertly mean that, regarding the pitiful budgetary results of the EU this year, member States (which is to say us, the people) will have to put more money on the table? (The EU budget fell under 1% after ceiling 1.27% in the 90s.)
However, the EU budget should be rationalized on three fields that will also be French priorities during its presidency: innovation and research, education and training, CFSP and ESDP. Indeed, social dialogue over the future of the European Social Fund (ESF), for which Jean-Pierre Jouyet wishes a more transparent and decentralised management, should be resumed. According to him, many left-overs of the cohesion fund exist in France because of an organisation system which unduly favours centralisation. We should “accelerate transfers”, and ESF “should be addressed by the préfets”, he says.
How to couple the implementation of the 2010 objectives with the ambitious project of creating “centers of excellence” considering the ongoing insufficiencies?
Answer : by creating an “Erasmus +” and by encouraging infra European exchanges ?
In order to promote the mobility of workers, associations, searchers, Jean-Pierre Jouyet reintroduces the idea of an “Erasmus +” system, without getting full support of the other guests who composed the round table. Among them, representatives of trades and associations (the Confédération étudiante, the Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes (UNSA), the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT), the Carrefour pour une Europe Civile et Sociale (CAFEC), or even Génération Europe) accused the project of aiming at creating something new with rags. Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul, writter for Notre Europe, doesn’t miss to underline that this kind of program already exists through, for example, Leonardo which is financed by the European Commission. Also, important cycles of demonstrations have been planned and deserve to be strengthened and perpetuated. She cites the European Major States which occurred in Lille last March (next session will be held on July 21, 2008 in Lyon). “These are great platforms for associations and we should develop them instead of weakening them by creating new tools”. This statement made by Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul concerned both the Erasmus + and the Associative Forum projects.
Immigration, another sensitive issue … especially for France.
Without referring to the domestic debates which have been feeding the French political scene these days, and loyal to his opinion concerning the need to “denationalize” European debates, Jean-Pierre Jouyet tackles the issue of immigration through the Euro-Mediterranean partnership angle. Pointing out that strengthening this partnership was “not an alternative to the EU-Turkey membership issue”, the General secretary says he is in favour of enhancing solidarities between Mediterranean countries and the European Union as a whole. Even if not all EU states feel concerned with this issue (Scandinavian countries are merely sensitive to Mediterranean cross boarder exchange policy), one cannot deny that it entails problems concerning everyone : For example, integration and co development policies, fight against illegal immigration or demographic raise.
Sustainable development and environmental issues.
Environment, another trendy topic, came very shortly in the debate. This was mostly to stress how member States, very effective in making statements and declarations of will, became very bad when they were asked to translate speeches into actions… This criticism, partly covered, was made by a representative of a working group dealing with sustainable development related issues. It was directed to the French government, often judged by the ECJ for not transposing European directives. In short, as Jean-Pierre Jouyet confesses himself, progress still need to be made and measures are to be taken (other than sanctions we hope …).
At the core of the debate, the question of public opinion and the role of civil society.
Despite being optimistic and obstinately confident about the improvements of the Reform treaty on institutional, economic and social aspects, Mr. Jouyet admits that progress has to be done, both at the European and at the national level, to enhance the efforts made by the civil society.
He considers this as one of the main tasks for the future French EU presidency that will take the lead after Slovenia in July 2008. He puts forward the idea of creating regional forums and of having existing associations work together.
Concerning the web community, the French presidency intends to strengthen existing tools i.e. to develop Toute l’Europe, a website the French government has partly financed since 2006.
The round table
Among the guests taking part to the round table to discuss Jean-Pierre Jouyet’s speech after his departure, many young association representatives were present : the Taurillon, Toute l’Europe, Agence Europe, Génération Europe. All of them agree that we need to double our effort to “break the media ceiling”. For that matter, associations should gather together, coordinate their actions and build common projects. “The problem is less linked to a lack of pedagogy than to the partitioning of these structures”, one of the participant stressed. “If we can’t act at the national level, maybe should we change medium and target PQR” (presse quotidienne régional in French which means local daily newspapers). We would, then, have to be concise and clear so as to fit to this kind of press.
Ratification poses a moral pressure for many States among which France stays a way ahead. Shall we propose a popular referendum and take the risk of repeating the 2005 fiasco, or shouldn’t we better get through the Parliament, even if some will qualify it of “authoritarianism”? Even f it the General secretary to Foreign affairs seems slightly worried by the ratification process, this issue is just the tip of the iceberg. More generally, it sets the problem of the EU legitimacy at a moment when democratic deficit and cases such as the role of civil society in the debate over the Union’s future are very sensitive.
This is, however, the feeling I had leaving the conference.