Conference-debate: “Is the French economic policy dictated by Europe?”

“Is the French economic policy dictated by Europe?” This is a topical question that participants tried to answer during a conference-debate organized by the French weekly L’Express (in association with the Franco-German TV channel Arte and the European Commission’s Representation in France) on Tuesday 24 September.

During near two hours, Anne Houtman (European Commission’s permanent representative in France), Jean Quatremer (French journalist and correspondent of the newspaper Libération in Brussels), Philippe Martin (Chairman of the Conseil d’analyse économique), Christophe Caresche (socialist MP from Paris and member of the European Affairs committee in the French National Assembly) and Laurent Allias (entrepreneur) confronted their points of view on this contentious issue.

Indeed, in a context characterised by an increasingly strong distrust of our co-citizens regarding the European integration, the role and the importance of the EU within national politics and strategy seems to be questioned, especially in France. However, this impression should be nuanced, as Gwenaelle Huet – political analyst for TNS-Sofres – highlighted, insofar as French people actually have an ambivalent, not to say ambiguous, feeling vis-à-vis the European integration: they wonder if the European Union really takes into account the national interests and expectations, but at the same time they consider France would not make best policy without Europe.

This point of view was supported by Jean Quatremer who put forward his idea of “European Republic”, a political area in which institutions like the European Council and the Commission should be made accountable, especially since the European Union prerogatives have been reinforced by the Lisbon Treaty to tackle the crisis. At this point, such a “Republic” should give an answer to the impression of democratic deficit felt by the French people and to the persistent impression, often fed by French leaders, that Europe is seen as a stranger, as a foreign power although France has a very important role within the EU decision-making process, as Laurent Allias reminded, pointing out the institutions are more regarded than the French population in this issue.

This is the heart of the issue, all the more as it has been recurrent for years and reinforced by the crisis: Europe cannot be made without citizens and against them, which supposes they have the feeling to be fully part of and heard within the EU decision-making process. But the lack of communication and pedagogy, the national parties’ ambivalence, their lack of seriousness (in France, especially) and the lack of information largely contribute to this ignorance, which is then converted in distrust of citizens regarding the European integration, as they do not see the benefits for France. What is more, Jean Quatremer underlined that the crisis and its economic and social consequences reinforce the idea that the EU seems to be disembodied and technocratic, and increasingly takes away democracy or, at least, prevents any democratic control and process.

This explains this impression of distrust and the establishment of some amalgams, especially regarding budgetary or reforms issues. At this point, Christophe Caresche reminded France kept its sovereignty regarding national budget while Anne Houtman said the country should adopt reforms, a subtle way to explain the EU institutions do not give orders to the French government, even if Philippe Martin considered there exists a budgetary constraint and the European Commission has to remind the Member States’ commitments under the Treaties only.

At the moment, French people are wondering about the advantages of the European Union and are ready to vote for the Front national far-right party, according to a recent opinion poll. Therefore, it seems more than necessary to think once again about the weight and the final goal of the EU. At this point, the next European elections should spark a deep and serious reflexion within the population at the condition that national and European political parties take their responsibility, especially in France.

Gilles Johnson

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