Candidates for France's northwest constituency - from the Greens to the National Front- debated their programmes earlier this month in the northern city of Arras, offering clashing visions of French politics and society one month ahead of the European elections. EurActiv France reports.
The candidates present were Karima Delli for the European Greens (EELV), Jérôme Lavrilleux from the centre-right party UMP, the Left Front's Jacky Hénin, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, centrist Dominique Riquet (UDI-MoDem), Cédric Suzanne from the European Federalist Party, and Jean Philippe Tanguy, from the nationalist Arise the Republic party.
The debate was organised by European Movement and hosted by EurActiv on 7 April.
Security and common defence policy
The issue of European diplomacy was central to the debate due to the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
"There is a lack of real European foreign policy and speaking with one common voice, especially during large international meetings and in cases of conflict, for example in the United Nations", claimed Karima Delli of the Greens.
According to Delli, this is even more crucial in relation to problems stemming from energy resources.
"The EU must become autonomous on energy issues, such as gas. This would reduce external pressure from Vladimir Putin," she claimed.
The debate that followed focused on European defence and the need to integrate defence and armament policies. In this area, the centrist candidate Dominique Riquet claimed that further integration was clearly in the interest of European citizens.
He claimed that "defence costs EU member states €194 billion every year. If there were greater integration of defence and armament policies, it would be closer to €68 billion. Significant budgetary savings would be possible in European countries if the European Union was more efficient. Is it normal to have 28 embassies in every country of the world?"
On the other hand, Jérôme Lavrilleux of the UMP struggled to imagine a common defence policy in the 28 EU member states.
"A common defence policy is impossible. There are too many historical differences between European countries. I do not believe it is possible to further integrate diplomacy and defence," he stated.
A European minimum wage
When asked about ways to evolve an economic Europe into a social Europe, the socialist, green and left-wing candidates argued for a pan-European minimum wage.
"We cannot continue to have such diverse costs of labour in Europe. We need a minimum wage in Europe" claimed the socialist candidate Jean-Louis Cottigny. This was reiterated by Martin Schulz when he spoke to 1,200 socialist activists in Paris last week (April 17).
Karima Delli called on the EU to tackle tax havens and establish fiscal harmonisation across Europe.
"In order to fight social dumping, there must be a European minimum wage, but also a fiscal Europe with harmonised company taxation. Tax havens that take money away from EU member states must be shut down," explained a Green Party candidate.
National Front compares EU with USSR
Opinions were diverse when the candidates were asked how to make the European Union more efficient. Whilst Jérôme Lavrilleux calls for a European circle process which would allow member states to opt for more or less integration, Karima Delli calls for strengthening the European Parliament.
"In order for Europe to advance and avoid obstacles regarding unanimity requirements, we need a European circular process which allows countries to advance at their own pace" claimed Jérôme Lavrilleux.
The head of the green list, Karima Delli wants to see the strengthening of the European Parliament and change the election process for the President of the Commission.
"The European Parliament must have more power because it represents the people of Europe. In the future we should be able to directly elect the President of the European Commission. The Parliament should also be able to propose legislation and control the European Central Bank" she stated.
Marine Le Pen did not share their ideas. She called for less Europe and compared the EU to the USSR, claiming that it was impossible to reform.
"The EU is like the USSR. It cannot be reformed, or improved. Sovereignty should be given back to the people. National law should be inserted into European treaties, because national law comes from sovereign people. Countries that control their sovereignty have done better," she explained.
- 25 May 2014: European elections in France