The president of the European parliament, accompanied by his French counterpart, paid a visit to high school students in the Parisian suburbs of Seine-Saint-Denis, where abstention at EU elections hit record low levels in 2009.
The presidents of the French and the European parliaments, Claude Bartolone and Martin Schulz respectively, yesterday (13 January) visited high school pupils from three towns in the Parisian suburbs of Seine-Saint-Denis, known for their role in the infamous riots in 2005.
The suburbs, seen as the most problematic in the wider Paris region, also saw record-high abstention at the last European election in 2009, with 69% abstaining.
“The most beautiful [thing] that Europe is giving us is peace. But what Europe will we leave for the future generations?” Bartolone asked the young audience.
Martin Schulz reminded them of the European Parliament’s influence: “70% of national legislation comes from European legislation.”
“The European Parliament has a huge influence as lawmaker but we have a problem: our real responsibility doesn’t match the EU citizens’ perception of what we do,” Schulz regretted.
The president and declared candidate for the EU Commission top job also voiced criticism about the distribution of powers in the institutions.
“The European parliament is one of the most powerful in Europe but the Commission keeps the legislative initiative monopoly and the parliament is deprived of it,” he added.
“We are fighting to change that because MEPs are elected so that they can propose laws,” he continued, adding that this time MEPs could win this battle.
“This time it will be different, Parliament will choose the Commission president and he will have to justify his programme in front of the MEPs,” Schulz explained.
Addressing a multicultural Seine-Saint-Denis audience, the French speaker said that diversity could be a chance for France and Europe.
“Feeling European has a lot do with discrimination questions,” Schulz explained.
“I am scared when I hear certain speeches in Europe today,” he continued hinting at populist parties in Europe and more specifically in France, Hungary or Italy.
“If we want to combat the rise of populism in Europe, we need an EU that answers the questions that are of interest to the citizens,” Bartolone added.
Tackling the issue of immigration and integration, the young people asked the two presidents what the EU could bring to high-school students who are not EU nationals.
“We are trying to find a status for persons who are not nationals of an EU member country. An unlimited residence permit right could give the same advantages as any other EU citizen has: free movement, working in another EU country, training and university exchanges,” the president of the EU parliament assured.