Minister assesses EU citizens’ consultations
European Union – Citizens’ consultations – Interview given by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, to the daily newspaper Le Parisien Paris, 25 October 2018
Q. – What do you take away, overall, from these citizens’ consultations?
THE MINISTER – First of all, the strength of our fellow citizens’ expectations about Europe. They may have made criticisms, but I felt no indifference or any desire to turn their backs. And the purpose wasn’t to say how tremendous Europe was!
Q. – What are the major themes that cropped up most frequently?
THE MINISTER – First and foremost, there was the issue of social Europe, with French people’s annoyance about social dumping. I heard satisfaction with what’s been done in the past year, particularly with the revision of the posted workers system, but at the same time there’s an expectation for us to do a lot more. The fight for the environment and against global warming, as well as health issues, were also issues that emerged progressively over these six months.
Q. – How can you be sure only pro-European activists didn’t take part?
THE MINISTER – Eurosceptics can be heard talking loudly a lot, but overall the French want Europe. We didn’t want the government itself to organize the consultations: it was players on the ground that took responsibility for it, mainly local elected representatives, chambers of commerce, farmers, voluntary organizations etc. There were consultations in places where Europe isn’t talked about spontaneously, for example in Baumettes prison and in the Restos du Coeur [food charity].
We were interested in finding out what the widest variety of French people wanted to say about Europe. It can’t be a 100% representative sample, but each person was free to take part and I met participants who were sometimes very Eurosceptic or very critical of the EU.
Q. – What were the main criticisms?
THE MINISTER – A lot of people talked about a Europe they were unfamiliar with or which seemed to them too distant. I sensed annoyance or frustration, and a lot of EU actions are still not known about. For example, the beneficiaries of the Restos du Coeur often don’t know that a quarter of their meals are funded by Europe. Fears were also expressed in relation to current European events, for example by Breton fishermen about Brexit. Alongside daily concerns, I was also struck by many questions about Europe’s destiny, particularly concerning defence or security. For example, a lot of French people talked to me about a European army. The issue of tax harmonization was often mentioned, too, with the idea that there should no longer be differences in tax rates between one country and another.
Q. – Were there different themes in each European country?
THE MINISTER – I noticed, for example, that immigration wasn’t the dominant theme in France, whereas it may have been in other countries, like Austria. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a concern for French people. I was also very struck by some Eastern Europeans’ worries about foreign – often Russian – interference. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that social Europe was such a live issue in the other countries as it was in France.
Q. – What regrets do you have when it comes to assessing these consultations?
THE MINISTER – I have no regrets about the issues mentioned, because I had no preconceptions about them. The aim was really to find out what French people’s priorities were and to help us reform Europe better. However, I am dissatisfied in one way, about the fact that the online consultation wasn’t promoted enough. French and European people didn’t take sufficient ownership of that tool, at the very time when people are saying Europe’s action isn’t known about. I also regret the fact that two countries withdrew from the process, namely Hungary, and Italy following the new government’s election [with Matteo Salvini as Interior Minister]. Originally, the 27 EU countries agreed to take part.
Q. – What do you expect as a follow-up?
THE MINISTER – Many participants are wondering, “What do we do next?” and how we continue this participative democracy. It’s a question we’re asking ourselves, and I think we’ll have to repeat these democratic exercises in one way or another. I’m now expecting a lot of proposals from the final report. This summary will be available to all the political parties, with full transparency. Each one is free to make use of it for the European election campaign./.