PARIS – Human Rights Watch called the European Union’s migration policy ‘hypocritical’ and raised concerns about France’s anti-terrorism laws on the launch day of its World Report 2018.
At the launch of the 28th edition of the charity’s global report, executive director Kenneth Roth said that by financing and training the Libyan coastguard, the EU was ‘directly or indirectly’ forcing people to stay in ‘hellish conditions.’
It would be wrong to suggest that there was ‘anything approaching a systematic improvement of conditions’ of migrants in Libya, he said.
‘Either they have the right to receive protection in Europe, or they are de facto sent back to their countries of origin,’ said director of advocacy Philippe Dam in a Facebook Live shortly after the press conference, ‘but pretending that training Libyan coast guards to send [migrants] back to Libya is the right thing to do is absolutely wrong.’
Roth said that the EU should ‘by all means’ endeavour to provide migrants with alternative ‘safe and legal avenues’ to Europe, but that authorities must still treat them humanely, using the correct asylum procedures for those arriving in Europe by boat.
In December, France took in a group of 25 migrants – from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia – who were rescued from Libya and flown from Niger to Paris, avoiding the treacherous Mediterranean crossing.
In a press release published on the same day as the report, Benjamin Ward, HRW’s deputy Europe and Central Asia director, said that too often in 2017 the EU had treated human rights as an ‘optional extra.’
The communiqué also said responses to migration and terrorism ‘should reflect’ the institution’s ‘core values.’
Macron must do more
On the day that Emmanuel Macron visited British Prime Minister Theresa May at Sandhurst military academy to discuss, amongst other things, counter-terrorism and migration policy, Roth described the French President’s record on human rights issues as ‘mixed.’
Roth described Macron’s recent diplomatic visit to China as a notable ‘low point,’ saying that he heard ‘barely a peep about human rights’ from the French leader.
He also expressed concerns that France’s anti-terrorism laws, adopted late last year, could lead to ‘discriminatory abuse, particularly against the Muslim population,’ and added that Interior Minister Gérard Collomb ‘continues to be in denial’ about ‘police abuse’ of migrants.
Last year Human Rights Watch published reports documenting and denouncing the police’s ‘excessive force’ when dealing with both adult and child refugees in Calais.
Roth congratulated Macron, however, for firmly opposing such mistreatment on his recent visit to Calais, and praised him for ‘reinforcing rather than running away from democratic values’ during his presidential campaign.
He described Macron’s rejection of the authoritarian populist tendencies adopted by some other European leaders as a ‘turning point’ of 2017.
The bigger picture
In a wide-ranging press conference, Roth described the United States as ‘a wall when it comes to human rights,’ and said that Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi was ‘not the leader the world should look to for guidance’ on how to combat ‘the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.’
Asked about the UK, he said he was ‘concerned’ about the rhetoric of certain Brexiteers, and criticised those who wanted to leave the European Convention on Human Rights for their ‘very short-sighted approach.’
However, the World Report also noted that there were ‘hints’ that European leaders were ‘beginning to recognize’ that the future of the EU ‘depends on a willingness to stand up for human rights’. This was particularly observable in the bloc’s response to the ongoing threats to the rule of law in Poland.
‘The lesson of the last year,’ said Roth, ‘is that resistance matters.’
“C’est une tragédie.” That’s how European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker referred to Brexit in a speech in May.
Tragic or not, there is a silver lining for French speaking politicians like Juncker. “Slowly but surely,” he said, “English is losing importance in Europe.” Although there are currently 24 official languages in the EU, business in Brussels has mainly been conducted in English for more than a decade. To some on the continent, Brexit is an opportunity to change that.
How English usurped French
From the 17th until the mid-20th century, French was the undisputed lingua franca of Europe. It was spoken by European diplomats and elites all over the world. That changed, however, after the United States successfully lobbied to elevate English to a position of diplomatic equality with French at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. By the time the United Nations was founded in 1945, English had definitively overtaken French as the language of diplomacy.
But the French resistance fought on. President Charles de Gaulle famously vetoed (twice) the UK’s accession to the European Economic Community, saying: “L’Angleterre, ce n’est plus grande chose” (“England is not much anymore”). Even when the UK finally did join the EU in 1973, the language of Shakespeare was reluctantly accepted.
Yet English quickly became the most common language of communication for non French-speaking civil servants. That process accelerated when thousands of Eastern European civil servants joined the ranks in Brussels in 2004, whose shared foreign language was often English. Much to the chagrin of French speaking eurocrats, the scales seemed once and for all tilted against them.
Profiting from another’s loss
Brexit, however, has opened a window of opportunity. After Britain exits the EU in 2019, English will be the official language of just two EU member states — Ireland and Malta. Their combined population constitutes less than 1 percent of the EU’s total population. In a ranking of the EU’s most widely spoken mother tongues, English would drop from its current 2nd place to a lowly 17th, coming in behind Finnish, Bulgarian and Slovak. For the pro-French camp, this is proof of the absurdity of conducting EU affairs in the language of a country that will soon turn its back on the bloc for good.
Regardless, re-establishing French as the EU’s lingua franca is easier said than done. Only the Council of the European Union is able to decide, by unanimity, to add or remove a language from the register of official working languages. Ireland, being a nation of native English speakers, would likely nominate English as an official language (alongside Gaelic) and veto the motion, as would Malta. And even if this legal obstacle were avoided, English will by far remain the most widely spoken foreign language in the European Union. With 95% of students in the EU currently studying English at secondary school, it is the language of the future. This will be true after Brexit, whatever language eurocrats in Brussels speak.
The push for greater use of French is acquiring new momentum. Those keen to banish English from Brussels seem willing to risk slowing down the efficiency of a political institution already marred by red tape. Much like the Brexiteers, the pro-French are motivated by national pride, not pragmatism. It is a rivalry not just between two languages but two world views — on the one hand, the Anglo-Saxon model of market-driven globalisation; on the other, the French instinct to preserve culture and tradition.
Granted, reduced British influence will strengthen France’s position on the continent in many ways, but language is unlikely to be one of them. Judging by the prevalence of English, both in Brussels and beyond, the French are facing an uphill battle. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
This guest article was written by Kyrill Hartog. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.
The Pan European recently caught up with Daniel Roeder, a lawyer by trade and co-founder of the Pulse of Europe (PoE), a grassroots initiative started in Germany that aims to promote the European Union at a local level. From Albania to Sweden, the PoE has held rallies across the continent to speak out in favour of the European project.
As you might have heard, coalition talks to form a new German government have so far been unsuccessful. Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was not able to reach an agreement with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party over the refugee crisis and the environment. Daniel told us what the ramifications could be for Germany and Europe.
So, the liberal FDP recently pulled out of coalition talks in Germany. Were you surprised?
Absolutely, what happened was totally unexpected. We still don’t know the exact reasons: progress was made in certain areas, and I haven’t heard anything specific – just very broad, abstract phrases like ‘we were on the wrong path’. It remains to be seen what the real reason was.
What’s next for Merkel?
Well, it’s difficult to guess…there are two options. Either new elections, or she will try a minority government, which is a difficult thing and is probably very unstable. Maybe the Social democrats will change their minds…the situation is new: the parties need to accept their responsibilities, because I don’t think new elections will bring new results.
Which outcome is more likely?
It’s impossible to say right now, but the situation for Merkel is even more difficult than before.
What is the current mood on the ground?
People are shocked and surprised. No one knows why the talks failed – if there had been one topic during negotiations that the Liberals had said, ‘that’s a no-go topic for us and we won’t deal with it,’ it would have been understandable why they walked away. But they had made progress over the last two days – politicians were tweeting that progress had been made, and then the next day it was the opposite.
If a snap election is called, do you think the far-right AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) will gain an even bigger share of the vote?
Possibly. The CDU haven’t managed to form a government, so obviously that could provide potential support to the AfD. Similarly, if a snap election is called, the FDP may lose votes because they are apparently the ones to blame. However, I expect that the outcome would be similar, maybe a little shift here and there, but I doubt any party would gain significantly more votes than they had in September.
AfD voters are quite heterogeneous: they are not one-of-a-kind. There’s a certain percentage of former CDU voters who wanted to show their party that they are dissatisfied with the policies of the last few years, particularly in regards to the refugee crisis…the Christian Democrats haven’t done enough, simply.
This is why I believe that the parties must try and form a government now: they have to deal with the outcome of the elections. It’s a duty, in my opinion.
Do you feel that the parties have an obligation to making this coalition work?
Yes. To a certain extent I can understand the SPD reaction right after the elections, but there are two ways of looking at the results. Voters expressed that the Grand Coalition should not continue, but on the other hand they [the SPD] gained roughly 20% of the vote: they’re the second strongest party in parliament.
‘I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years.’
All parties want to avoid losing voters, I understand that, but there’s something above party interests…a duty to the people, and that goes for any party. It’s a difficult situation for Germany and Europe.
Many of AfD’s voters come from East Germany. Why is that, and how can the government reconnect with those people?
It’s a very difficult question… it’s not only Eastern Germany, it’s a phenomenon that has in different degrees spread all over the country, but the AfD is particularly strong in East Germany. I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years. This is true not only for Eastern Germany but the whole of Eastern Europe. If you look at Poland or Hungary or other countries where populists and nationalists are regaining power, I think that they are looking for their Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc. identity. Many countries were elated after the Iron Curtain fell, and they then tried to connect with the European Union, but perhaps it was too fast. I think it was still the right decision, but in a way they are still suffering from that experience…they seem to find an answer in nationalism.
What can the government in Germany and the EU do?
Well, they must re-engage with people, and listen more carefully to the problems that they are raising. A large part of this is addressing globalisation: people are overwhelmed by it, and a natural reaction is to withdraw to a smaller unit – the village, the neighbourhood, the nation. Germany and the EU need to provide solutions for creating a world in which globalisation doesn’t leave people feeling lost.
Obviously, Germany is not alone, and this ties into a larger movement of populism sweeping across Europe. Can grassroots organisations such as the Pulse of Europe tackle this?
I hope so, yes. When we started off at the end of last year, the mood was quite dark. Everybody thought that there was no real answer to Brexit, to Trump. But we proved that there are thousands of people who believe in a united Europe, in democracy and the rule of law. The problem now is that many people thought ‘job done’ after the French elections. Yet for me it’s now an even more critical situation – we need to create a new future and there needs to be a quick response to Macron’s suggestions.
I’m not saying Germany or other European countries should exclaim, ‘oh great, Macron, we agree to your catalogue of 40 plus topics.’ No!
The only thing he is saying is, ‘let’s have a serious discussion about Europe,’ yet so far there has been no response. That’s part of the problem with the coalition talks in Germany. There needs to be a quick response, otherwise Macron will have an internal problem in a couple of years.
Do you feel Macron is a lone figure in Europe?
Yes, that’s the problem. He has very much linked his personal success with the European project. Macron knows that he has to undergo a lot of social reforms within France, which is a difficult task. Certainly, he needs success within Europe – but obviously that requires assistance.
The Franco-German relationship is often seen as the heart of Europe. What effect do you think Macron has had on this relationship so far?
I think it’s been quite positive. The perception in Germany is also quite positive. But there are also some voices who raise doubts: the traditional German narrative is that we don’t want to pay for France. But that twists the story around…no one is saying we have to pay them, and if we want to improve and protect the European project, we need to invest money.
This narrative doesn’t consider the counterpoint: what would Germany have to pay if the European Union fails?
What’s on the agenda for the Pulse of Europe in 2018?
Many things. We still believe that Brexit can be avoided, but there needs to be some kind of push from the UK. We would love to interlink with the anti-Brexit movements, but they need to take the first step.
‘We still believe that Brexit can be avoided…’
We are focusing also on Eastern Europe and civilian movements. Macron has said that there should be a civilian participation project in renewing Europe. We’ve made contact with him over that and have asked what exactly is his vision for the project. Maybe we will join in, provided we remain independent.
We also want to help other civilian movements in Eastern Europe to fight for democracy because it’s a serious situation there. I know from our people in Poland and Prague that it is already difficult to assemble demonstrations – freedom of speech is at stake, and that is obviously fundamental for democracy.
Also on the 6th May there will be a Pulse of Europe day in Frankfurt… the City granted us the Paulskirche, which is an honour. We will try to create a huge demonstration for all things Europe, and possibly issue a manifesto.
We will send a message to all European politicians that the European project is moving forward, through the people.
Over 223,000 people united on Tuesday in protest against French Employment Law reforms. Philippe Martinez, of the French General Confederation of Labour, proclaimed the rally a success, wrote Le Monde.
‘We are off to a promising start,’ declared Martinez, who spearheaded the rally alongside several other unions. Reported turnout figures across the country varied widely; in Marseille, 7,500 according to local authorities or 60,000 according to the organisers; in Nantes, 6,200 compared to 15,000; and in Havre, 3,400 compared to 10,000.
Minor clashes in Paris
The Parisian procession marched from La Place de la Bastille – accompanied by a fairground brass band – to La Place d’Italie. Despite the celebratory atmosphere, the rally was marred by several incidents. Protesters threw projectiles at police, who retaliated with tear gas and water cannons, as observed by a journalist from Le Monde.
Police stated that 300 people in balaclavas were present at the march and reported ‘several acts of vandalism’, including the damaging of windows and defacing of adverts. One person was taken to hospital.
Political personalities mobilised
Amongst the crowd were several political figures such as Benoît Hamon, Socialist Party candidate in the last election, Pierre Laurent, National Secretary of the French Communist Party.
In Marseille, leader of ‘La France Insoumise’ Jean-Luc Mélenchon promised to ‘make the President back down’. In Strasbourg, five European MPs participated in the protest.
Placards bore messages targeting Macron for recent remarks in which he promised ‘to make no concessions to absconders, cynics or extremists’. One banner read, ‘You’re in trouble Macron, the slackers are marching on.’
Strikes and blockades
The day was also marked by strikes and deliberate travel disruptions. Several schools in Paris and surrounding areas were partially or momentarily blocked off by students, but without violence.
Tens of fairground lorries disrupted morning traffic in Paris and the rest of France, in response to a call to protest by the ‘Fairground King’ Marcel Campion. According to Campion, ‘around 10,000 trucks were mobilised throughout France, of which between 400 and 500 were in Paris.’
Divided trade unions
The proposed reforms go against many of Macron’s electoral promises: a cap on compensation awarded by industrial tribunals, the merging of independent staff representatives into companies, reform of the CPPP (safeguard against ‘difficult working conditions’) and greater power accorded to intra-company agreements.
Yet the unions are divided. The Worker’s Force did not publicly align itself with the movement, though some members decided independently to protest. The same was true for the Democratic Confederation of Labour, the Confederation of Management, the Confederation of Christian Workers and the National Union of Autonomous Unions.
The General Confederation of Labour has already called for another protest on the 21st September, the day before the reforms are presented at a Cabinet meeting.
Ever seen those photos of the massive pro-Europe demonstrations in Germany?
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.
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.”
TPE 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.
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.
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.
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.
Pitted as ‘a direct repudiation of Trump’s populism,’ Macron was seen as ‘Europe’s best hope for standing up to Trump.’
It was Macron – who once taught philosophy and can recite Molière – the liberal defender of the EU and the free market, versus Trump, the “America First” protectionist who supported Marine le Pen, Macron’s election rival.
Yet, ‘different as they are, Macron and Trump are likely to get on rather well,’ says Haddad.
First, Macron is ‘no Hillary Clinton.’
Despite being a liberal, the French president ran on an anti-establishment platform and criticised both the major parties on the left and right.
‘Like for Trump, few “experts” would have bet on Macron’s victory just a few months before the election.’
And his first bill will aim to “moralise” French politics, imposing maximum terms and ‘barring MPs from hiring family members or working as consultants.’
Second, Macron sees himself as a realist, and has embraced the “Gaullo-Mitterandien” realpolitik tradition of ‘realist French foreign policy.’
And despite his strong criticism of Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, let’s not forget that early on in his presidency Macron invited Putin to France to discuss cooperation in Syria.
‘For years, this French attitude of independence has raised eyebrows in Washington; these days, it fits perfectly with Trump’s agenda.’
Third, Macron’s “Europe first” attitude ‘seems to dovetail with Trump’s wariness of free-riding allies.’
The French president wants to increase eurozone budgetary coordination, as well as create a finance minister for the bloc.
This will mean ‘convincing Germany to give up on trade surpluses that have reinforced imbalances within the EU,’ and the two nations have already begun discussions for the creation of a European defence fund.
Rather than ‘embracing movements like Brexit that weaken Europe and leave it more dependent, the America First president should welcome European leaders who want to strengthen the continent and shoulder more responsibility for defending their own interests and security,’ says Haddad.
Finally, both Macron and Trump support military action and assertive foreign policy.
He has ‘repeatedly said his top foreign-policy priority would be fighting Islamism,’ and supported the Trump administration’s airstrike of the Syrian Army’s Shayrat airbase.
‘Paris – always more comfortable with hard power than Berlin – could be a more neutral partner for the Trump administration.’
Macron has vowed to increase France’s defence spending to 2 percent of GDP.
Widespread dislike of the new US president saw many people hopefully cast Macron as an ‘anti-Trump champion.’
But the French Constitution grants the president much more freedom in foreign policy than, say, Germany, and the ‘widespread loathing for the US president, real though it may be, is unlikely to have a major impact on Macron’s decision-making.’
Their initial handshake was frosty, ‘and it remains unlikely that Macron and Trump will be taking in any Molière performances together anytime soon, but sometimes a rough handshake can be the start of a fruitful relationship.’
The former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is a full-blooded European.
His new book, ‘Through thick and thin’ (‘Contro venti e maree,’ published in Italian only), is his guide to relaunch the European project in the dawn of a new era marked by Donald Trump’s election and Brexit.
Mr Letta, the current Dean of the SciencesPo Paris School of International Affairs, moved to the academic world having held the highest position in Italy’s political system from April 2013 to February 2014 – the coronation of a brilliant political career. He was previously a Member of Italy’s House of deputies and then moved to become a member of the European Parliament (EP) from 2004 to 2006. He also held several cabinet positions in centre-left governments.
Here are the 7 principal changes he believes Europe must make:
Convince the people that Europe is not made for the elites.
Like former French Foreign affairs Minister Hubert Védrine and journalist Jean Quatremer* – both of whom we have recently interviewed – Mr Letta says Europe should show the people that it is not made for the elites. He proposes an extension of the Erasmus program to apprentices, a focus on education, and to help all Europeans adapt to the internet and learn foreign languages, primarily English.
Europeans are like brothers and sisters within a single family.
*However, Mr Letta and Mr Quatremer disagree on several points.
According to Mr Letta, the originality and the force of the European integration project relies on giving every member state the same level of recognition. Whereas, for Mr Quatremer, this is precisely what causes the impotence and decline of the European institutions. He deplores the increase in the number of commissioners to 28, the relative overrepresentation of the small countries in the EP, and the rotating presidency of the Council.
Likewise, Mr Letta says that every commissioner draws their power from his or her remit, not from their nationality, and insists that this principle is the foundation of European integration. Mr Quatremer, however, sees in every commissioner a servant of his or her country of origin, a problem aggravated by the unnecessary representation of every state through a commissioner.
Mr Letta also believes in redirecting European subsidies towards weaker nations.
He would call the plan Dionysus, after the Greek god who is born and reborn again and again. In order for the Europeans to accept change, he recommends that Europe focuses on providing security in the face of change.
Europeans should be rule makers rather than rule takers.
This applies to values. What are the European Values? Our opposition to death penalty is definitely one of them, says Mr Letta. So are gender equality, the promotion of LGBTQI rights, the protection of the environment and heritage, secularism, and the right to work.
The same rules must be applied to all religions.
Mr Letta – a Christian – controversially writes that history shows that Christianity is inseparable from Europe; that Christianity is part of Europe’s identity. But the freedom of religious belief and conscience are among the most cherished European values.
However, does Homo Europeus truly exist, asks Mr Letta? Not as an ethnicity or human race, but as a cultural fact? His answer is yes, although Homo Europeus is hard to define. Europeans are like brothers and sisters within a single family, he says, observe them from outside Europe and their singularity is obvious.
Europe is simply an additional level of identity, on top of the “paese,” – village in Italian – the region, and the country. And the subsidiarity principle is there to help distinguish between the powers of every level.
France should resist Germany more actively.
Now that the UK is out of the picture, France remains the only counterweight to Germany’s supremacy. With its position on the UNO’s Security Council, its nuclear weapons, and military capacity, France should play a more active role on the European stage and in its relationship with Germany, says Mr Letta.
Only France can convince Germany to use its fiscal surplus to help relaunch European growth, to get more involved in security, defence and foreign policy and, last but not least, to accept reforms of the euro.
The euro must be more than a currency.
Let’s consolidate the European Stability Mechanism, complete the Banking Union with a single deposit guarantee fund, create a proper European budget, and appoint a European Finance minister, writes Mr Letta.
Let’s increase the scale of the Juncker Plan in the field of innovation, education and research, as well as giving up the unanimity rule for the Eurozone, and harmonising the taxable bases, starting with environmental taxes.
Europe could also get involved in financing countries that wish to combat unemployment, in exchange for an increased effort to reduce it at national level.
The refugee crisis can be remedied in five steps.
According to Mr Letta, the refugee crisis is, to a large extent, the result of President Bush’s wars.
Though he also points to the West’s big mistakes in Libya and Syria, he believes that if the US Supreme Court had ruled differently regarding the recounting of votes in Florida at the end of the presidential election in 2000, the situation regarding refugees would be radically different today.
Like Mr Védrine, Mr Letta bases his proposal on the necessary distinction between refugees and economic migrants.
This may be a convenient distinction from a moral point of view, but those in charge of enforcing the distinction, whether as civil servants or as magistrates, know that it is often hard to determine whether a migrant should be put in one category or the other.
Moreover, benefitting from the theoretical distinction requires whichever state or organization applying it to effectively deport those classed as economic migrants, which usually doesn’t happen in Europe.
Mr Letta’s first recommendation to European governments is to prevent crises in the ‘sender’ countries through responsible foreign policy and development aid.
Second, Europe must harmonize migration and asylum policies.
Third, the ‘Dublin’ rule – that forces migrants to apply for asylum in the country of arrival – must be changed. (That’s Italy’s ex-Prime minister speaking.)
Fourth, Europe must agree on a common, and shared, refugee relocation policy.
If the US Supreme Court had ruled differently regarding the recounting of votes at the end of the presidential election in 2000, the situation regarding refugees would be radically different today.
Fifth, the European Border Control Agency must secure the continent’s external borders.
Mr Letta believes that the scale of the EU migration policy must be kept within integration limits. “It is clear that diversity becomes a problem when the original population of a country ceases to be the majority.”
However, he doesn’t say whether a limitation based on proportion should be implemented.
It’s time to debrusselize.
Enrico Letta sees in Brexit an opportunity to review the role of the EP. It is time to give the EP what it lacks the most: the power of legislative initiative. Likewise, Mr Letta suggests calling the commissioners ministers.
Mr Letta wants to change practices, not rules.
Deputies should be elected at the European –instead of the national – level.
Consequently, the European Council should draw inspiration from the European Central Bank, whose president is the only one who speaks to the press. There should be fewer summits and more lower-level meetings, while every summit should take place in a different European city.
In order to remedy to the so-called democratic deficit, deputies should be elected at the European –instead of the national – level.
Here, Mr Letta has a bold proposal: the 73 seats about to be given up by British MEPs could be replaced by Europe-wide candidates, and voted in by the single European constituency. Another progressive proposal is to involve the national deputies in the European decision-making process.
We have saved our favourite proposals for last. Civil society is weak because of the barrier of languages, says Letta, so let’s make the learning of foreign languages compulsory and reduce the gap between the multilingual happy few and those who only speak their mother tongue.
And finally, he says, we need Pan-European media outlets.
‘It seems that despite his youth and vitality, the new president is sticking to a very old line when it comes to France’s position on Africa,’ writes Eliza Anyangwe in The Guardian.
Emmanuel Macron, France’s newly elected president, explained at a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg this week that the reason there was no Marshall plan for Africa was because the continent had “civilizational” problems.
One part of the problem, he added, was the countries that “still have seven to eight children per woman.”
Well, writes Anyangwe ‘the condemnation online was swift and relentless.’
“It is RICH for a French president to criticise Africa this way,” US political scientist Laura Seay tweeted. Part of France’s colonial “’mission’ was the institutionalisation of Catholicism as the official religion of French colonial territories in Africa.”
“We see all kinds of effects of the ‘mission civilatrice’ in Francophone Africa today, like the church’s teaching against contraceptive use, which most African adherents take very seriously,” she added.
“Do women in Francophone Africa want to give birth to far more children than they can reasonably feed, clothe, and educate? I doubt most do.”
Are these the first signs of a ‘chink in the Golden Boy’s armour?’ asks Anyangwe, or were the ‘signs there all along?’
During his presidential campaign, Macron described France’s colonial period in Algeria as “a crime against humanity.” But when confronted about it back at home, ‘Macron apologised for having hurt voters’ feelings.’
‘What about the feelings of the millions of Africans you casually slur, Monsieur Macron?’
The president’s comments ‘make the blood boil,’ but not because they are anything new; in 2007 in Nicolas Sarkozy said “the Africans” had “never really launched themselves into the future. The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words.”
No, the problem is that Macron ‘makes no mention of the root causes’ of the challenges facing Africa.
‘Gone is the lucid, welcome admission that France’s role in its former colonial was anything but laudable.’
He suddenly has nothing to say about the fact that the relationship between France and its former colonies ‘remains largely neo-colonial: Francophone Africa still trades heavily with France, and French companies – particularly in the extractive industries – have a strong presence on the continent.’
This relationship is ‘perhaps best captured’ by the CFA [francophone Africa] franc currency, ‘which offers little benefit to the Francophone nations.’
“CFA zone countries have to deposit 50% of their currency reserves into a so-called operations account managed by the French treasury” says Cameroonian journalist Julie Owono.
And France repeatedly gets involved in military conflicts in its former colonies, but ‘is often silent on human and civil rights abuses.’ Cameroonian ‘strongman’ Paul Biya brutally represses opponents, ‘and turns off the internet in order to silence his people,’ but the French government has looked the other way.
The real test of Macron’s presidency is Africa, writes Anyangwe. ‘At the moment he’s doing a fine job of proving he is cut from the same cloth as every leader who has come before him: adopting a paternalistic tone and happy to moralise, while profiting from the carnage France helped create – to which, at best, he turns a blind eye.’
In a visit to Calais, French Home Secretary Gérard Collomb announced police reinforcements, poked fun at asylum seekers, and seemed to contradict President Emmanuel Macron.
CALAIS – Gérard Collomb, the newly appointed French Home Secretary, made a visit to Calais on Friday (23/06) and said he would be announcing a new national asylum strategy within two weeks.
Striking a far sterner tone than President Emmanuel Macron, Mr. Collomb praised the police for acting with “plenty of conscience and humanity” towards Calais migrants, who – he quipped – are not famed for their “gentleness.”
This despite years of accusations of police violence, which he described as “completely overblown.”
Nine refugees recently decided to lodge an official complaint about police violence to the IGPN – the body which supposedly monitors the French national police – and regular reports and videos of French police blocking food distributions have called the French authorities’ tactics into question.
The Mayor of Calais Natalie Bouchart banned food distributions to refugees several months ago.
Eight months after the demolition of the Jungle, Mr. Collomb is keen to avoid building another camp and rehousing the 5,000 or so people living in the Calais area. He believes this would create a “pull factor.”
On the same day, Emmanuel Macron said that France “must welcome refugees” as a “duty” and an “honour” in a joint press conference with Angela Merkel in Brussels.
Perhaps, says Libération, this betrays a difference of opinion. Or maybe it is the result of a pre-planned good cop-bad cop arrangement.
Macron the humanitarian, Collomb the hard-nosed enforcer.
Having said the region’s NGOs should “use their savoir-faire elsewhere,” Mr. Collomb announced that he would soon outline a plan to “deal with the asylum problem.”
François Guennoc, joint-head of the Auberge des Migrants charity, said that even “regarding the minimum expectations,” the Home Secretary had given them “no response.”
Jean-Claude Lenoir, President of the charity Salam, said he left his meeting with Mr. Collomb “demoralised.”
“All he said regarding Calais was that he wanted no more ‘fixation points.’”
Migrants had become “embedded” in Calais, said Mr. Collomb, which had become a “fixation abscess.”
He said that he didn’t want to build any more “centres” in the area to avoid “history repeating itself.
“We start with a few hundred people and end up with several thousand that we can’t manage:every time we build a centre, we create another ‘pull factor.’”
‘All the same Calais is only 30 kilometres from the British coast, which – for thousands of forced migrants – remains their “El Dorado.”’
Last year, France received 85,000 asylum claims, far fewer than Germany or Sweden.