“Which Europe do we want”?: the question was addressed by some 1700 lay Catholics during the 92nd Social Week in France (November 18-19 2017). Men, women, youths and adults, political, ecclesial representatives from and outside of France, convened for a two-day meeting in a huge hall, large enough to host them all and enable everyone’s communication. Multifarious and coherent voices were heard, Michel Barnier, the chief EU Brexit negotiator, was seen as the star, maybe because he’s French, or because he spoke openly and respectfully of Europe, garnering enthusiastic attention while not failing to mention the limits of this process. With a prophecy: Europe will be a player on the global decision-making scenario only if European countries will act in unison. “’Every man for himself’ will make us subordinated to China and the US”, Barnier warned. Engaging and inspiring were also the worlds of the Minister for European affairs Nathalie Loiseau and Msgr. Jean-Pierre Grallet, the bishop representing France at the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) with head offices in Brussels. The prior of Taizè, Fr. Aloïs, coordinator of the days’ common theme, elicited the prayers and reflections of participants.
Online consultations. Notwithstanding the plurality of voices, (all speeches are available at http://ssf-lasession.org), months ago, anticipating the Europeanist thrust of French President Emmanuel Macron, French Catholics, actively engaged nationwide, launched a reflection on Europe that will continue after the Paris meeting. In fact at the end of the conference President Dominique Quino identified
a set of discussion points in view of a “Manifesto for Europe”
that will take shape and form with the contribution of all the local platforms of the Social Weeks of France present throughout the country, invited to “post” their opinion by February 15. French Catholics are ready to respond to Macron’s appeal at the Sorbonne of September 26, when he shared his “Plan for Europe” and launched the proposal of “democratic conventions on the future of Europe” in all EU Member Countries.
Symbolical and concrete proposals. Helping Europe overcome “the woes of an adolescence crisis”, said President Dominique Quino, requires first of all “knowing more about ourselves”. “We are more than statistical figures, GDP, and growth indexes. We are people, faces”, that need to know and recognize each other through “encounter and dialogue”, Quino said paraphrasing the words of Pope Francis at the recent COMECE Conference on “Rethinking Europe” (held in the Vatican at the end of October.) The first symbolical step is to hold European Council meetings not only in Brussels but in turn in the various capitals, as was customary until 2004,
the capital of Europe is represented by “all the capital cities of Member Countries.”
Of equally symbolical bearing is the proposal to “establish a common European festivity, on May 9 for example.” Greater concreteness was voiced in the need to speak more “about the topical developments of all European Countries and about European news in the strict sense of the term”, as requested by the youths attending the Social Week, that includes the proposal to publish “common European textbooks.” This chapter envisages a plan to enable access to Erasmus to all youths, including those who are not in school, and to promote twinning schemes of various kinds.
More information and democracy. There is need to “strengthen Europe’s democracy”, by informing on “the priority targets of the EU in clear language”, coupled by “loyal and pedagogical” communications by French policymakers and media outlets
Explaining the ways in which Europe “contributes to the daily life of French citizens.”
There will be more democracy if the lists of candidates for European elections will comprise “people who are determined to support a project for Europe, to devote themselves to it and inform voters on the progress of their commitment.” As proposed by Macron at the Sorbonne, thumbs up to “transnational lists for European elections” – that could initially include the seats left empty by the UK.
Taxes, migration, defence… Europe’s future requires “greater solidarity” at internal and external level. It is necessary “to update the European Charter of the Fundamental social rights of European workers” drawn up in 1990, in order to “revitalise social dialogue” and sustain “a new legislative program in Europe” based on a set of priorities: minimum working hours, protection for workers not covered by collective agreements, rights to new self-employed workers. Moreover, it is necessary to regulate “tax competition” between member States and combat tax havens. Enterprises’ “spirit of loyalty” is critical to the adoption of effective and fair tax regulations. Extending the gaze outside her borders, the EU has to face her “responsibilities”: migrations first of all, expressed as “cogent immigration”, immigration as “a positive reality for Europe”, followed by a set of indications: strengthened cooperation for border control; reception to all those entitled to international protection by means of unified asylum procedures, integration and return to Countries of departure;
helping migrants understand and respect the values of the hosting Countries; distributing people across Member States also on the basis of migrants’ capabilities and desires; promoting family reunification.
Obviously Africa was part of this picture: in fact, economic and political cooperation should be aimed at the stabilization of the rule of law and democracy; investments (hence not only trade) should be the cornerstones of these partnerships; European businesses must pay their taxes in African Countries according to profits. A Europe marked by greater solidarity, for the French, is a Europe with a “common European defence force, based on a unified analysis of the international scenario”, with “more coherent and active diplomatic action.”
Close to the Pope. The underlying frame of reference, whereby French Catholics attending the Social Week feel close to Pope Francis, is the commitment for a “new European humanism”. With a proposal: if national budgets are examined by the EU, which verifies their compliance to EU regulations, why shouldn’t the same occur as regards respect for “rule of law standards”?