Interview: What does French media treatment of Pulse of Europe show?

Ever seen those photos of the massive pro-Europe demonstrations in Germany?

Pulse of Europe French media
The Pulse of Europe movement campaigns for a ‘strong, functioning European Union.’

Then you’ve already been acquainted with Pulse of Europe.

Launched in Frankfurt in 2016, the movement campaigns for a pan-European identity and ‘a strong, functioning European Union,’ but endorses no particular politician or party.

In Germany, the movement has quickly become immensely popular, with tens of thousands of people mobilising to show their support for the European project.

Pulse of Europe recently launched in France, yet the reception seems to have been rather tepid.

Is that because the French are actually more sceptical of Europe than the polls would suggest? Or are the press just reluctant to appear overtly pro-European Union?

We spoke to Aurélien Condomines, head of the French brance of Pulse of Europe, to find out.

TPE Do the French and German press treat the respective Pulse of Europe movements differently?

AC The German media has been very obliging, but the same cannot be said for the French press. In both countries, media organisations adopt a position they believe will resonate with their readers.

I emphasise the word ‘believe,’ though, because they aren’t necessarily right: most journalists haven’t really understood the political changes in France over the past two years.

“French journalists tell us: ‘the French don’t want to hear about Europe, so we don’t talk about it.”

TPE How so?

AC Just look at the papers – no one thought Emmanuel Macron was going to win the election. There is a troubling lack of understanding in the media bubble. Most journalists talk about what they think people want to hear. They are part of a global phenomenon of cronyism.

French President Emmanuel Macron Pulse of Europe French media
French President Emmanuel Macron

In Germany, journalists detected the fears many Germans had about the future of Europe, first with the Dutch, then with the French elections.

Whereas French journalists tell us: ‘the French don’t want to hear about Europe, so we don’t talk about it.’

It’s the opposite of what Macron’s En Marche! movement did throughout the [presidential] campaign. Macron was clearly pro-European – he flew just as many EU flags as French ones, despite the received wisdom at the time.

His victory proved him right.

“Most journalists haven’t really understood the political changes in France over the past two years.”

Is it fair to say that you are pro-Macron?

AC No, it’s not that we are ‘pro-Macron.’ He is pro-Europe and so are we.

TPE Who would have been PoE’s preferred candidate in the recent Presidential election?

AC In the first round of voting, we refused to endorse any particular candidate, we said “there are several pro-Europeans, choose between them.”

In the second round, there was one anti and one pro-European, so we favoured the latter.

Pulse of Europe has members from the left, the right, and the centre. During the election, we saw from their Facebook profiles that they supported François Fillon (right), Emmanuel Macron (centre) and Benoît Hamon (left)

And, of course, we received angry messages from Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far left) and Marine le Pen (extreme right) voters. We found those from the far left to be the most abusive.

“In France we have a terrible tendency to not talk about what we don’t understand.”

TPE Do you believe that most French people are pro-Europe?

AC The polls show clearly that they are.

There are fluctuations – approval ratings have shot up over the past few months, having slumped for a while previously – but these are natural.

People adapt to the narrative of the moment, opinion is fluid, but the population is mostly pro-European.

Paradoxically, before May or June of this year, there was the feeling in France that that wasn’t the case.

There was a sort of anxiety triggered by the Parisian media elite, who decided that people didn’t want to hear anything pro-European.

The opposite happened in Germany.

pulse of europe french media
Martin Schulz, the SPD’s candidate for German Chancellorship, with Angela Merkel

TPE And in the event that they do mention the EU, do you feel it is treated even-handedly?

AC There is a distinct lack of understanding of what the EU does and how it works.

In France we have a terrible tendency to not talk about what we don’t understand.

If media executives felt their audiences were unequivocally pro-European, they would take the time to learn about the EU. But they are still convinced people aren’t interested.

With the election of Emmanuel Macron, that may all change. Bizarrely, the press, like many French politicians, follows opinion, rather than shaping it.

If Macron’s plan to relaunch the European project in the coming months takes off, the media will follow his lead.

TPE Is there another reason – aside from the idea that they don’t think the French audience is interested in Europe – like a feeling that the EU is too neoliberal, for example?

AC That explains the attitude of certain journalists, the militant anti-Europeans, but there are relatively few of them.

TPE Can you give us some examples of the press treatment of Pulse of Europe?

AC We don’t really receive negative treatment anymore, except online, where rumours did the rounds about Pulse of Europe’s supposed dodgy financers – George Soros and the like. They were complete rubbish.

95% of the treatment we receive is positive. The problem is that we don’t get coverage.
Between February and March, up to 60 pro-France demonstrations of upwards of 30,000 people took place all over Germany.

They waved French flags and chanted ‘we love France’ – now that’s not exactly uninteresting!

The Tagesschau, the German equivalent of 20 minutes [a free daily paper] had a story, but in France, nothing.

You would have thought that they would have dedicated at least a minute of the 20 minutes to the tens of thousands of pro-France demonstrators mobilising across Germany.

Nope, diddlysquat.

But they’ll spend 5 minutes on the “fête du cochon” [a traditional festival involving the killing and eating of pigs that has become politically significant for far-right groups. Many now see it as anti-Islam]. It’s absurd.

What has really made a difference in Germany has been TV. We’ve had some press, some radio, but barely any TV coverage.

TV reaches millions of people, 60% of whom are pro-European. If they saw on the news that PoE had meetings all over the country, they’d join us.

Coverage in the written press is only ever going to reach a limited elite.

Here’s another example. In Cologne recently, 2,000 people met in the main square to form a giant French flag – even just visually, it was interesting – but it wasn’t mentioned.

Equally bizarre is the fact that we’ve had plenty of foreign press coverage. Germany’s second biggest TV channel, ZDF, spent two days filming a full-length report on the movement, for example.

Another time, 500 of us took part in a flashmob outside the Palais Royal and Radio France International did a show for its website.

But when they sent us the video, everything was in Chinese! Radio France thought our movement would get more play in the Chinese market than in France.

And this was in March of this year; the EU was one of the major sticking points between Macron and Le Pen in the forthcoming election.

Plenty of people thought Le Pen was going to win, saying that the French no longer wanted the euro etc.

Even then, journalists told us the French weren’t interested in hearing about Europe. They are worried that if they talk about it too much, audiences will feel they are ramming the EU down their throats.

The difference between the coverage in France and Germany is a reflection of the media’s perception of what interests people, not of the amount of people who are for or against the EU.

“Coverage in the written press is only ever going to reach a limited elite.”

TPE What’s next for PoE?

AC The movement is beginning to concentrate on different issues. For example, we are currently doing lots of work in Poland.

Pulse of Europe French Media
The relationship between the EU and Poland has been getting steadily worse since the election of the Law and Justice party.

Look at the polls, the majority of Polish people are pro-European, but the quasi-dictatorship there is threatening basic European values. We are helping out in Warsaw and on the ground elsewhere by supporting pro-Democracy movements.

In mid-July, Pulse of Europe demonstrators in 18 cities across nine countries protested in front of the Polish embassies to show support for Polish democracy.

We haven’t got the means to finance anything but we plan to organise more events and concerts, and we are organising a European marathon.

We want to do everything possible to promote Europe.