Op-Ed by Nathalie Loiseau published in the Journal du Dimanche (15 April 2018)

Today, Europe is facing challenges in every field. From climate change to terrorism, and from the digital revolution to migration, no national response in isolation can suffice to address issues that defy borders. On the world map, the European Union forms a unique, envied space: unique, because it alone defends all the values of individual freedoms, enterprising spirit and social justice; and envied, because several countries want to join and because hundreds of thousands of men and women aspire to enter.

And yet, in one year’s time, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. And for several years, from election to election, referendum to referendum, many Europeans have expressed their questions and doubts in the face of this great common project; or else, quite simply, their indifference. Italians showed during their latest vote their disappointment in what they have seen as an abandonment by the European Union: not enough Europe. In the United Kingdom, Brexiters rejected a European Union accused of denying them control over their destiny: too much Europe. Everywhere, turnout in European elections is low. “Why Europe?”, wonder those who do not turn out.

So how can we know what Europeans want and what they propose, when they ignore the ballot box, or when a referendum asks a simplistic question about a subject worthy of a thousand possible answers: what Europe do we want? What is your Europe?

We have decided to ask you that question, widely, freely and in a way that has never before been tried. From now until the end of October, across the European Union, we are offering you the opportunity to take part in Citizens’ Consultations for Europe. Better still, we are encouraging you to organize them. What does that mean? Everywhere, in town halls, universities, chambers of commerce, cultural venues, businesses, trade unions and associations that so wish, Europe will be up for debate. You will be able to say what you want, what you hope, what you regret and what you propose. We want to reach the widest diversity of audiences possible, in all age ranges and from all geographical origins and socio-professional backgrounds. There will be convinced Europeans, definitely; and critics of Europe, quite probably. But both of those groups speak out often. And then there will be all those who do not boil down to a mere label or slogan, and they are listened to far less often.

This initiative is determinedly pluralistic, non-partisan and transparent. To take part, anyone who wishes to organize a consultation simply has to write to the address consultations.citoyennes at diplomatie.gouv.fr and make a three-fold commitment: pluralism of opinions expressed, transparency on the conditions for the debate’s organization, and publication of the conclusions, on the website quelleestvotreeurope.fr which will open on 18 April. In return, we can offer methodological advice, propose speakers or moderators to lead the debate and, if necessary, provide support for the organization of the event. In a few days, I will set up a monitoring committee at my side, to which all the political parties present in parliament have been invited to appoint a representative, in order to be kept fully informed of the progress of the initiative.

On 17 April, the President of the French Republic will take part himself in a Citizens’ Consultation for Europe that will take place in Épinal, in the Vosges. The initiative of the Citizens’ Consultations on Europe was his idea, but it has now been emulated in all countries. Last week, I opened the first consultation at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. Croatia is the EU’s youngest member, having joined in 2013, and has proved the most enthusiastic; the debates were very stimulating. I will soon be visiting the Czech Republic, Malta and Spain to set in motion their consultations. In France, the first projects are popping up all over the place, from Saint-Omer to Brignoles and Quimper. Initiatives are also emerging in our overseas communities, as Europe is present in three oceans thanks to our overseas territories.

In a few weeks, the European Commission will top up these consultations through an online questionnaire, which will also be accessible across Europe. The questions will be chosen not by officials in Brussels or political leaders in Member States, but by a panel of European citizens who, together, will decide on what you – we – will be asked about.

The whole initiative will end in late October, so as not to interfere with the campaign for the European elections. Then it will be time to publish the results of the consultations, to be drawn on by European leaders to decide the shape of a new European Union. So, let us know what your Europe is, for tomorrow’s Europe to have a new face: yours.