The second States-General of Europe conference in the southern French city of Lyon took place at the weekend amid the reverberations of the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty.
‘No’ supporters stuck to their central belief that the rejection of the European Union’s reform treaty in last Thursday’s referendum in Ireland must be treated as if holy.
Militant eurosceptic Christophe Limousin said:
“Listen to us, the French people who already voted ‘No’ to the Constitution. Listen to the Irish, listen to the people who spoke out in the Netherlands as well. These people must be listened to, because there are reasons behind it — suffering.”
The first States-General of Europe conference was held in Lille a year ago. This second one organised by pro-European movements was held in Lyon.
Full theatre debates, citizens’ workshops, reading cafes were all tinged with melancholy by the Irish ‘No’.
France’s State Secretary for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet said ‘never mind, the fight for integration will go on’: “It’s thanks to a new wind for Europe, thanks to a renewed European militancy that we can combat these detours. With Bernard Kouchner, we still consider Europe’s worth a struggle.”
Around a thousand people attended, to speak about or listen to others speak about Europe. Their goal was to clarify ideas and talk frankly, without the official babble.
Participants said: “There were times I leaned towards the ‘No’, when I saw that the constitution talked about no-holds-barred liberalism.”
“I strongly regret that the word ‘social’ is used so rarely.”
“I’m pleased about this debate. Unfortunately, we are all rather pro-European here.”
One of the event’s organisers is Sylvie Goulard, president of the European Movement in France. She rejects the Irish professed incomprehension of the treaty text and insists that is not being honest:
“We must dare to say they are mistaken. Their speech also gets across because they simplify it. When you say there’s a treaty that’s trying to set up defence mechanisms, it’s the Natoisation of Europe, it’s on the evening television news for one minute. If you explain that it’s an attempt to bring countries together, that are neutral, that are Atlantic alliance members or non-NATO, some countries that came out of the Cold War… you see, I’va already gone on far too long, and been perhaps far less clear, but Europe is complex, and we need the courage to face it.”
The continent’s heads of state and government were admonished not to make Europe the whipping boy for the problems its people are going through, and were urged to show more backbone, resourcefulness and imagination.
Olivier Ferrand, with the organisation Terra Nova, gives his view of current conditions: “The political courage and will is missing today, I believe. It’s a generation that doesn’t yet have a vision of the Europe of tomorrow.”
There were many questions, and the answers were elusive but there was a common conviction among the participants, including the smallest that Europe can fit together.