This article is part of our special report The role of ‘social Europe’ during the European Elections.
When consulted at a workshop on the future of “social Europe” after the European elections, French people put forward ambitious proposals on social issues. EURACTIV France reports.
Could the French be more pro-European than their political representatives?
At a discussion workshop on social Europe, held in Paris on 19 February and organised by Mutualité Française, which groups many French health insurers, participants listed a dozen proposals to reform social Europe.
Asked about employment, health, the environment, and solidarity, the participants – most of them ordinary citizens – selected 12 measures and all of those proposals were ambitious.
One of them was establishing a compulsory civic service lasting one year in a different European country on a solidarity-based project for young people aged between 16 and 30.
There was also the idea of revisiting decision-making procedures at the European Medicines Agency (EMA) by regulating the influence of lobbies.
On environmental issues, the participants wanted the EU to invest in agricultural enterprises which use sustainable techniques and to stop funding polluting companies. This could be done by redirecting how European funds are allocated.
However, this idea may be overly ambitious at a time when the European Union is struggling to agree on banning glyphosate.
The outcome of the three-hour workshop fitted onto a few pages. However, this exercise in drawing up citizen proposals for social Europe, set in motion by Mutualité Française, will continue in 11 other regions in total. The process should bring up a large number of proposals, which will then be sorted through an online vote.
The final decisive step will be a debate on 11 April between the leading candidates for the European elections. “The proposals with the most support will be submitted to the candidates heading the lists for the European elections,” explained Matthias Savignac, vice-president of the International Association of Mutual Benefit Societies (AIM) in an interview.
“We want to hear the candidates discussing social Europe,” explained Thierry Beaudet, chair of Mutualité Française, in a video message at the introduction to the discussion workshop.
A risky exercise
The exercise was not an easy one. “The objective of the morning was to produce six proposals by listening to others and keeping to everyone’s speaking time. But, above all, it had to be practical,” explained Camille Marguin, moderator of the working group on solidarity.
“For instance, there can’t be proposals to end poverty or to stop climate change,” Camille Marguin continued. Roughly ten participants around the table listened carefully to these guidelines before moving on to the discussion.
“The first step is to define together what is included in the topic of solidarity,” the moderator explained. In order to take note of the solidarity-based issues at the European level, the participants reflected on cards which summarised the major issues. These included access to housing in the various European countries, achievement in secondary schools and the number of Europeans living below the poverty line, etc.
The other restriction imposed on participants was that proposals had to have a European-level scope and be achievable for elected European officials.
The workshop exercise meant that ill-advised good ideas could be ruled out and some proposals could be refined. For instance, the proposal of “guaranteeing access to new technologies within the EU” developed into “requiring operators to devote a share of their profits to covering ‘white’ areas,” at the second roundtable.
The proposal “to turn the European Union into a social dynamic to deal with the irreversible need for solidarity,” was not kept. “It expresses an objective but it isn’t specific enough to be implemented,” a participant explained.
Certain issues would not be among the proposals adopted by a majority decision at the end of the workshop, to some participants’ disappointment. “I’m quite surprised there wasn’t a proposal on homeless people, the topics were proposed by rich people!” one participant regretted.
The ten discussion workshops will be held across France until April and should broaden the debate to include other topics.