The Battle Plan for a Federal Europe. The ‘I Choose Europe’ Campaign
Directly elected member of the Federal Committee of the UEF and President of UEF-France.
During their last Congress in Vienna in November 2018, the European federalists (UEF) adopted the format of their campaign for the next European elections in May 2019.
Aware of the difficult task to advocate for a federal Europe in times in which the European ideal is more than ever criticised, they have carefully designed the ‘I choose Europe’ campaign to give concrete but ambitious answers to many of the challenges that lie ahead.
It is a sort of ritual: six months before every European electoral deadline comes the time for each and every pro-European organisation to start thinking – not to say to start implementing! – its strategy to try and influence the vote. And we, European federalists, as the main federalist umbrella organisation in Europe, make no exception here. Initiated at the last Federal Committee in Berlin in April 2018, the discussions about how the new campaign would look like crystallised in November, when the ‘I choose Europe’ motto was designated as the banner of a concept that had been thought through. One may look at it and think federalists are once again serving people their usual ideas – and ideals – about a European federation we need to build to solve most of our problems.
But this time is different.
In the gloomy context of a disastrous Brexit, at times when the rule of law is endangered in Poland and Hungary, to name only them, while witnessing worrying developments in Italy and weak government decisions in Germany, the European project might have never been threatened by so many opponents – both internal and external, as the world does not seem to be in a better shape. Defending that project might have never been harder than these days… unless you have a plan.
Choosing the federal solution
Contrary to what we often hear, the European federalists are pragmatic, and it is with a realistic approach in mind that they came up with a campaign that would put in practice their federalist ideology to solve a difficult situation through concrete proposals. The real issue here is, and will be, for the coming months, to campaign for a federation, when this is not a real option we have in the elections. The trick is then to send the right messages, to get as many people of goodwill as possible in the Parliament and hope that the general turmoil will lead them to sit down and discuss the required substantial changes of the exhausted European institutions, who keep on struggling. In this regard, the idea of ‘This time I’m voting’ is quite a good example of the deadlock in which we currently stand when we know that more participation in the European elections, without a clear pedagogy on the stakes, might also lead to more populists in the next Parliament. And this is what the motto ‘I choose Europe’ is all about. In these dark times, we, citizens, choose Europe and all the values it stands for, and we believe that our future can only get better through a European perspective. That is why the motto comes with a few more adjectives to define the kind of Europe we want to build: stronger, democratic, social, federal. The message sent is intentionally positive, but not naïve, and can adapt to the various realities encountered in the different Member States, especially towards the idea of federalism.
To implement such a programme, efficient tools are very much needed. In this regard, the European federalists have understood where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and an honest evaluation of the situation is what led to setting a concrete agenda.
The objectives of the ‘I choose Europe’ campaign are quite clear, which make them achievable:
- Support the national sections in their own campaigns;
- Advocate efficiently on the European level;
- Organise a final event in Strasbourg during the first session of the newly elected European Parliament;
- Increase the visibility of the organisation throughout the process.
Analysis of a well-thought-out plan
To understand the complete structure of the campaign and why it is a reliable system, it is worth taking a close look at each component individually.
- The support to national sections: the main purpose of UEF as umbrella organisation
We might regret it (and we do!) but the European elections are not as European as we would like them to be. It is not one big European battlefield that we need to prepare ourselves for, but a constellation of 27 (28?) lands, which answer to different rules, in different political environments, with different focus points. In this configuration, the European level of the organisation is not entitled to make plans to tackle issues in each Member State, and it should not even try. This role is the responsibility of the national sections, who know the field reality better than anyone outside of their borders. This is where the 2019 ‘I choose Europe’ campaign is strong: it respects and embraces the diversity of actions the sections may want to come up with by giving them a framework in which they are free to express themselves, while still belonging to the same set. Moreover, it will give the sections’ initiatives some echo by highlighting that it is not just nationals pushing the federalist ideas forward in their own countries, it is a wide collection of men and women throughout the continent who stand for the same values, using different weapons and adapting them to the threats they must face.
The ammunition provided by the European level is gathered in a tool-box, which contains, among other things, the manifesto of the organisation for the campaign, coordinated together with the Young European Federalists (JEF Europe), the call to European political parties, the pledge for candidates and the pledge for citizens. If most of the tools are traditionally used by UEF in election times, the pledge for citizens is a new concept which emerged from the observation that citizens need to be (re)engaged in the public debates on Europe. The populists do not have the monopoly of representativeness and the pledge for citizens was made to remind us of it.
The strength of the ‘I choose Europe’ campaign lies in its flexibility. Regardless of whether the actions take place in a big and well-organised section or inside a young and small one which does not really know where to start, the diagnosis is the same: we are all in this together and we all make the network live in our own ways. The whole structure is based on a pooling and sharing system in which we can give and take ideas, concepts and tools to support our own initiatives and create synergies.
- The advocacy actions on the European level, or the simple application of the principle of subsidiarity to the organisation
As we have seen, very few things are left to be decided on the European level during the election period, when it seems that the European institutions can do nothing more than hold their breath, hope for the best and tell citizens to vote. The perk of being a political – and not only a citizen-based – organisation is that we can get in the political game to make our points and inspire new ideas. Of course, here again most of the battles will be played on the national level, but whatever is left to the parties will be grounds on which UEF can try and get influential in the parties at European level. That is why there is a whole strategy to attend political parties’ congresses, get visible and meet the parties leading candidates (the so-called Spitzenkandidaten). As the elections trigger the actions of the entire pro-European civil society, it is also a great time to create partnerships with other organisations to develop stronger positions and make ourselves heard.
- Why organising a final event when it is already all over?
One may find it odd to organise a final event of a campaign when the said campaign will have already come to an end. It is not. If we remember 2014 and how close we were to completely ignore the Spitzenkandidat process, whereas it had been said repeatedly that the future head of the European Commission should be the leading candidate of the winning party, it even makes all the sense in the world. Organising a major event in Strasbourg for the opening session of the European Parliament in July will mark the real end of the campaign and the opening of the dialogue with the newly elected members of the European Parliament who will have committed to the ‘I choose Europe’ project. It will be our way of saying ‘we are still there and now we are watching – behave’ and hold our MEPs accountable.
- The essential need to increase the visibility of the organisation
In the end, visibility is what this is all about. In a political context where the stability and growth of an entire continent are at stake and the battle of ideas is strongly influenced by how visible and noisy an organisation can get, increasing our presence wherever possible is an essential part of this campaign, if not the most important. As mentioned hereinbefore, this vote is not about whether we agree with the creation of a European federation or not. It is about electing people whom we hope will be brave enough to demand substantive reforms heading towards a federal structure. Therefore, we federalists will have to consider other parameters to cast our vote, since we will not be able to tick the ‘federation’ box when going to the ballot boxes. What we can do, on the other hand, is make sure that we are heard and understood as much as possible in the media, in the civil society circles and in the public debates and street demonstrations which will take place throughout Europe until 26th May.
If there is one thing we know for sure about the next European elections, it is that it is not going to be easy. Tough are the times if you are a pro-European activist, let alone a federalist one! But if that is the price to pay for being ambitious and still believing that the only way forward is to overcome national egoisms and work together in a common project, where what unites us is stronger than what divides us, then so be it.
The ‘I choose Europe’ campaign proposed by the European federalists is a good one, not only does it have a fair distribution of roles between national sections’ actions and European level duties, but it is also balanced regarding the public to involve, targeting both citizens and politicians. It aims at implementing the principle of subsidiarity we care so much about at every level of the organisation, in order to make our voices heard everywhere possible.
If anything, it is not a perfect campaign. There will always be flaws to be noticed and weak points to be improved. However, it is worth giving it a try, at least to get some hope in a fight that might last longer than the few months left before the vote. And if things go bad, we can always say that we chose Europe when there was still time to do so.
For the moment, it is all but a closed deal. Let’s be the political actors we want to see. Let’s take our responsibilities, as citizens, as activists, and let’s join the fight, altogether. There is a European federation to build, waiting for us to be brave. En avant!