I spent the past week debating the future of the European Union and transatlantic relations with nearly a thousand American citizens in Florida, Georgia, Indiana and finally Wisconsin.
The exercise is new, but it has attracted a motivated and diverse audience (students, retirees, Republicans, Democrats, military, professors, business leaders,…) and, new to the United States, thirsty to better understand what is happening within the “other pillar” of the Atlantic Alliance. The transatlantic crisis over Iraq, the rise of the Euro against the Dollar,… all this clearly leads an increasing number of American citizens to take an interest in European integration, whether they see in it the risk of the emergence of a competitor or on the contrary the development of a balancing factor.
And, of course, in each room, there was always at least one person who asked me very quickly about the draft European Constitution and the increasing probability of a victory for the No on 29 May.
So there is no escape, if my rather positive vision of the next twenty years of European integration were to convince, it would have to show that this positive development is in fact independent of the constitutional ratification process. Otherwise, it would be to acknowledge (which I do not believe) that the future of our continent is linked to the success or failure of a single text.
So, in the face of a non-European public, it is not possible, and above all not credible, to hold the catastrophist speeches of some proponents of the Yes or No: “if the No wins, it will be the end of the European dynamic for many years”, “if the Yes wins, Europeans will be prisoners of an ultra-liberal hell”?
For having had to face the problem all over last week, my answer is simple and clear: these catastrophic speeches are totally irresponsible and misleading. They deny the ability of citizens to make intelligent choices about their future choices, they deny their ability to transform those choices tomorrow if they consider it useful, and they deny the dynamic nature of the community project, which has many drivers. It is not only the elites who “make” history; and there is no “eternal trap” for educated and responsible peoples.
To hold this kind of speech in front of a non-European audience would be to express a bottomless contempt for the peoples we would be supposed to “guide”, “save”; and would make the European project appear in the end as an artificial construction, infinitely fragile and therefore condemned to disappear one day or another. This is the opposite of everything I have learned in the last twenty years as I try to actively contribute to this vast political project of our continental unification.
At the same time, it is equally impossible to discuss the future of Europe with non-European audiences without having to address very quickly the question of the aims and direction that Europeans will take in global affairs. It is therefore necessary to present a credible vision for the future and show how it will be served by ad hoc means. In short, we must provide these audiences with the same thing that neither the leaders of the No nor the leaders of the Yes are able to propose to our European citizens: what will we do in the coming decades? In what direction, and with what resources, will we lead our European ensemble?
After the United States, I will now, together with many others from Europe 2020 and Newropeans, try to present this vision of the future in France in May, at about twenty conferences with citizens. We always learn a lot from discussions with people. I will certainly learn a lot in the coming weeks.
Thus, the debates with American citizens have enabled me to clarify a characteristic of the European political project, which has recently been misconstrued as the American project (see Jeremy Rifkind’s book, “The European Dream”): the European project is not a dream, but a promise. It is rooted in rationality, which is not the case with dreams. We Europeans have seen our dreams end in nightmares too often not to be suspicious. On the other hand, we hope that we can overcome the difficulties of our common future, without deluding ourselves of the difficulty of the task.
I now look forward to discovering what I will learn from these twenty debates with the French*.
Franck Biancheri, 25/04/2005
*In 2005, Franck Biancheri conducted some twenty conference-debates on the European Constitution, which was submitted to a referendum in France. This series entitled “Yes-But” (“Yes to the Constitution… But with Democracy” -only in French) proposed contradictory debates on the European Constitution, real podiums of discussions between the political supporters of the Yes and those of the No to the Constitution, around the intervention of European stakeholders.