Thursday 28 September 2017

Future of Europe: idea of democratic conventions

Our latest blog posts have looked at the citizens of the European Union as passengers or participants on the EU reform and Future of Europe bus.

In this article we are going to track the idea of democratic citizens’ conventions meant to rebuild political Europe, ahead of the informal discussion among EU27 heads of state or government this evening in Tallinn.

Democratic conventions?

In the State of the Union 2017 brochure section Letter on the Roadmap for a more united, stronger and more democratic Union (page 105), president Juncker addressed the presidents of the European Parliament and the European Council, as well as the leaders of the current and following presidency countries of the Council of the European Union until the elections to the European Parliament in June 2019: Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria and Romania.

Juncker recalled that he set out his intentions for the Commission Work Programme (CWP 2018) in his State of the Union 2017 speech, but also addressed the medium to long term of their Union. The leaders should use the current window of opportunity and engage in a broader reform of their Union, advancing like this:

I would like to work together with you to ensure that this Roadmap is discussed, developed and pursued jointly with all EU27 Heads of State or Government, all EU Institutions and the national Parliaments of our Member States. I support the idea of President Macron to organise democratic conventions across Europe in 2018 to accompany this important work on our common future. These democratic conventions could build on the experience of the Commission in organising more than 300 Citizens’ Dialogues over the past three years.

I would welcome an initial discussion on the future of Europe and on this concrete Roadmap at our informal dinner in Tallinn on 28 September. Additional EU27 meetings during 2018 and 2019 may also provide appropriate occasions for further deepening our common work.

En marche !

Le Monde reported generally on Emmanuel Macron’s launch 4 October 2016 of his En marche ! movement in Strasbourg, the French city with the aura of European institutions.  

In other words Macron had not yet become an official presidential candidate, but he already laid out plans to ‘bring European democracy to life’. For our own purposes,  we are better served by  Euractiv with an interest in European affairs; here a link to the original Euractiv story in French: Macron veut refonder la représentativité, y compris européenne.   

Macron’s proposals included offering the seats formerly occupied by the UK’s MEPs to members elected from a pan-European list. For him it was essential to bring European democracy to life, to give it a strong foundation and vitality. He wanted his followers to survey people door-to-door all over Europe. EU reform should not be decided behind closed doors, but by organising democratic conventions in every country in Europe to try to come up with a shared vision for Europe. Macron stressed the need for Europe to be built on new foundations (refondée) and for democratic participation.

Congrès de Versailles

Macron has returned to the theme of democratic conventions. Experiencing trouble with the search function on the Elysée website, I found that BFMTV provides us with the text of his address on the plans for his 5-year presidency to the joint session of both chambers of parliament on 3 July 2017: Le discours d’Emmanuel Macron au Congrès de Versailles, where he stressed the necessity of the European project for our future and the launch of democratic citizens’ conventions.

But what are these democratic conventions? tells us in the report Macron relance l’idée de conventions démocratiques en Europe (3 July 2017):

La formule de ces conventions devrait être très souple, en fonction des différents pays, l’idée étant de faire remonter des idées des Européens, comme le mouvement En Marche a pu le faire lors de sa propre campagne. Un marketing itinérant sur la base du porte à porte qui avait bien fonctionné en France.
In this video excerpt Macron argues that the remake of Europe shall begin through first principles and democratic conventions.

Pnyx hill in Athens  
In Athens on 7 September 2017 president Macron continued the theme of remaking Europe in a speech delivered in Athens:

Ceux qui aiment l'Europe doivent pouvoir la critiquer pour la refaire, pour la corriger, pour l'améliorer, pour la refonder !
Alors oui, c'est pour parler de ces espérances, de ces trois espérances, de souveraineté, de démocratie et de confiance que je suis là ce soir.

There is an English version of the speech after the French text; the translations come from there:

Those who love Europe should be able to criticize Europe to rebuild it, correct it, improve it, rebuild it!
Indeed, I am here tonight to talk about these hopes, these three hopes of sovereignty, democracy and confidence.

(Both refaire and refonder have been translated by rebuild in the same sentence.)

European sovereignty, democracy and confidence are necessary, they require institutional reform and Macron promised to present a roadmap during the coming weeks. This requires courage to regain the road of democracy:

Cela passera d'abord par une autre méthode pour refonder l'Europe, voilà pourquoi je souhaite que cette feuille de route que je veux proposer à l'ensemble des États membres de l'Union européenne, cette feuille de route pour construire l'avenir de notre Europe sur les dix années qui viennent, je ne propose pas que ce soit un traité négocié en catimini, que ce soit un texte discuté derrière des portes dans une salle obscure à Paris, Bruxelles ou Berlin, non je propose que nous essayons une méthode nouvelle, que d'ici la fin de l'année, nous puissions construire les grands principes de la démarche, ce vers où nous voulons emmener notre Europe, de définir nos objectifs de manière claire et que nous puissions à partir du début de l'année prochaine les soumettre aux peuples européens. Que partout où les dirigeants choisiront de suivre cette voie, et je le souhaite avec ardeur, dans chacun des Etats membres, nous puissions pendant six mois organiser des consultations, des conventions démocratiques qui seront le temps durant lequel partout dans nos pays nos peuples discuteront de l'Europe dont ils veulent.  
Alors oui par ces conventions démocratiques durant six mois, débattons de cette feuille de route que les gouvernements auront construite dans ses principes et retrouvons-nous six mois plus tard pour en faire la synthèse et sur cette base, débattue, partagée par des débats sur le terrain, par des débats numériques partout en Europe, construisons ce qui sera le fondement d'une réinvention de notre Europe pour les dix ans, les quinze ans, qui viennent, construisons les termes de ce que nous voulons vraiment ensemble. C'est cette ambition que je veux en méthode pour les mois qui viennent !

The English translation:

That will require, first and foremost, a new method to overhaul Europe. That is why I want this roadmap that I intend to propose to all EU Member States – this roadmap to build the future of our Europe over the next decade – not to involve a treaty negotiated sneakily behind closed doors in Paris, Brussels or Belin. No, I propose that we try a new method: that by the end of the year, we sketch out the major principles of our approach, where we want to take our Europe, and define our objectives clearly. We can then, at the beginning of next year, submit those principles and objectives to the peoples of Europe. I propose that wherever leaders choose to take this path – something I hope for most earnestly – in each of the Member States, we organize six months of consultations, democratic conventions that will be an opportunity for our peoples, throughout our countries, to discuss the Europe they want to see.
So yes, through these six months of democratic conventions, we should debate this roadmap, the principles for which the governments will have designed, and then we can meet again to reconcile them and, on that basis, after debate, including grassroots debate locally and digital debates across Europe. Then we can build what will be the foundations for an overhaul of Europe for the coming ten, fifteen years, we can build the terms of what we really want together. That is the ambition I want to see as a method in the coming months.

At this stage we see the contours of the idea: heads of state or government or  ministers agreeing this autumn on some sort of roadmap for EU reform discussion, followed by six months of national ‘democratic conventions’ plus an (EU-wide?) online debate about the future of Europe ten or fifteen years hence. Is it correct this far?

Next, we have to check if president Macron made any clarifications when he spoke at the Sorbonne.

Ralf Grahn

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