Throughout the Conference on the Future of Europe, France 24 goes out to meet those who are taking part in the event. Among them, representatives of civil society such as Yves Bertoncini, vice-president of the European Movement – International, one of the voices of the “Europe in the world” working group. France 24: What was the atmosphere of this Conference for the future of Europe? Yves Bertoncini: It’s a special atmosphere. Already because this Conference is made up of members who come from different countries but also from diverse backgrounds. The representatives of the citizens’ panel bring a lot of fresh air, they are enthusiastic to discover Europe, the European Parliament. We can see that they are happy to be there and to give their opinion on the future of Europe. Thanks to them, it’s a fairly invigorating exercise. If you look at the other components, the European Parliament is also well represented, by motivated people who bring energy, which is less the case at the level of parliaments and national governments, which sent larger proportions of less involved Eurosceptics. Finally, the representatives of civil society, of which I am a part, are regulars in European discussions and seized this opportunity without excessive hopes. But the atmosphere was especially strange at the start of the Conference, when it was launched virtually and forced on May 9, 2021, after a year of pandemic. Because of this delay and the health context, the hemicycle was half empty and the Conference lacked cohesion. Today, things are much better, but unfortunately that only happens when the Conference is coming to an end. Would you have liked to continue the discussions? I think we should have extended the experience and kept the two years originally planned. A year is not enough. The French authorities have decided to put an end to it but I regret it. This should at least be pursued by other means, with a convention for example. A European convention which would be launched after the fact but which would be a little less civic, with the institutions, the parliamentarians. It would prolong the momentum. Are you still satisfied with the results? Yes. The nine groups divided by themes produced good documents, based on the formulations of the citizen panels. From that point of view, they are useful documents. The citizens are rather wise and reasonable, guided by the idea that there is strength in unity, while some of them are far from being enthusiastic about Europe. So I think what will come out of it will be good. The question is to know what will be the fate of these productions. We can precisely think that this Conference is yet another Théodule committee which will not give anything concrete? We never said that all the proposals will be accepted and implemented, that’s for sure. There will be disappointments. But the participants will have gone through the learning process of European fellowship. There are two elements that suggest that all this will not have been for nothing. First, the proposals are largely based on citizen impulses. We mobilized these citizens in all the Member States but also at the pan-European level because that is what Europe is: having a Latvian debate with a Spaniard, an Italian and a Slovenian. It’s not just debating between French people. It’s a great civic impulse. Then, everything is done in a particular geopolitical context – marked by the war in Ukraine but also the Covid-19 pandemic, climate challenges, the rise of China, etc. – which pushes for the unity of Europe. For these two reasons, there is perhaps a chance that the results of the Conference will not get bogged down in the classic European interinstitutional negotiations. But it will be necessary to manage to combine the civic and geopolitical context which is buoyant and the institutional emergencies as well as the divisions between the Member States which are lesser, but which are underlying if we are talking about the future of Europe. of the current geopolitical context with the war in Ukraine. Within the framework of this Conference, you are part of the “Europe in the world” group. Have you seen a change in your group since the beginning of the conflict? Certainly. And it’s a good illustration of what a citizen’s report can be useful for. Generally speaking, citizens believe that unity is strength. They are aware that Europeans represent only 5 to 6% of the world’s population and that they are no match for some of their neighbours. When the war in Ukraine broke out, the citizens were quite wise . They did not call for a European army but for national armies that could be mobilized within an Atlantic framework, and also within a European framework for self-defence. When I arrived at this Conference, I said to myself that the citizens were going to propose a European army. We know, especially in France, how difficult it is to do that. The European Defense Community was rejected in 1954. The Europe of defence, common armament, is difficult. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to note that the proposals were not going in this direction but rather for joint mobilizations. Another example, the citizens reflected on the production of weapons but above all on political control and the question of export of these. Their proposal was to look at how to produce these weapons but above all how to export them correctly, that is to say that they did not want these weapons to be sent to dictators, for example. It is a good example carried by the citizens. The arms manufacturers are less scrupulous. This collective deliberation, both civil and political, makes it possible to identify elements of European compromise. This is an illustration of the joint, intelligent citizen reflection of Europeans, who confront their ideas with parliamentarians and who manage to take into account the evolving geopolitical context. From this emerge fairly solid proposals that deserve to be looked at. It is a stone in the European garden. Those who protect us from Putin are the Americans and NATO, so we have to build up more muscles. It is useful to hear these proposals and necessary to think about them. We don’t know what will happen in a few years. And it’s good that we’re starting to think about this right now, because it takes time to establish political control, the production of weapons. I hope that everyone will take the time to take an interest in it because if this is not the case, we are exposing ourselves to disappointments, including in France.
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