We are here in Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliamentary Assembly. Robert Schuman is at the origin of this choice of the Alsatian capital. Was it a gesture of Franco-German reconciliation?
It reflects the will of the founding fathers: the Frenchman Jean Monnet, the German Konrad Adenauer, the Italian Alcide de Gasperi and the Belgian Paul-Henri Spaak. Robert Schuman (1886-1963), nicknamed the “Pilgrim of Europe”, was from Messin and very attached to Strasbourg where he completed his law studies. The city has also experienced many horrors during wars over the centuries, with families divided between the two belligerents, sometimes forced recruitment into the German army, accompanied by threats to loved ones. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that it was men from the borders who had this idea: Schuman, born in Luxembourg, of a German father, as well as Gasperi, from a small territory that is now Italian but who the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then Adenauer, former mayor of Cologne, a very Francophile city… We must respect this historical choice.
What do you remember from the Schuman method?
First, the man. Bold, visionary, tactician too. When as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he mentioned his project to create a European coal and steel community in his famous speech of May 9, 1950, his administration at the Quai d’Orsay was not aware . Keeping it secret allowed him to have his idea more easily accepted by other governments and administrations. It was Jean Monnet, then Commissioner General for Planning, with whom he spent hours dreaming and inventing Europe, who wrote the text.
How did this project come to him?
He had this idea in mind for a long time, aware that we must not repeat the mistake made after the First World War: humiliating Germany, rather than associating it. And then, he was clever, because he passed off his project as a union only concerning coal and steel, when he undoubtedly saw further. Perhaps he did not imagine the magnitude that this adventure would take. Everything is summed up in his sentence that we often repeat among MEPs: “Europe will not be created all at once or in an overall construction, it will be achieved through concrete achievements first creating de facto solidarity . »
He was also a Christian involved in several charitable works, for Catholic education… He wanted to “do good”.
He also thought about becoming a priest after the death of his mother, to whom he was very attached. When we visit his house in Scy-Chazelles, near Metz (Moselle), very simple, a bit austere, we discover that he was shaped by his faith: a chapel houses his tomb; In the rooms a quantity of crosses, books and pious objects are exhibited. Her vision, her concern to “do good” inspire me as a Catholic but more broadly, as a woman of action.
His beatification process is open. Is it possible to be a saint in politics?
In this case, it is not technically true since no miracle has been attributed to him. But as Pierre Pflimlin, mayor of Strasbourg, short-lived President of the Council, liked to say, “Europe is a miracle, because it is she who transformed the Rhine, a river of blood into a river of peace. » He is therefore at the origin of a miracle, in a certain way!
What do you feel most honored about as an MEP?
The mission we receive from our fellow citizens is completely beyond us. Finding, beyond our convictions, our backgrounds, our cultures, majorities of ideas, beyond the right and the left, it is an immense, historic task. It is nothing more and nothing less than war and peace. For decades, Europe activists talked about it like this and everyone found it a bit corny. Today, the war in Ukraine has caught up with us with unprecedented violence. Some Member States such as Finland or Poland have a common border with the aggressor, Russia. The idea of a common defense, supported by France for a long time, has progressed in an unexpected way since the start of the war. To the point that many countries, including Germany, which has long been reluctant, have announced budget increases dedicated to this subject, an unprecedented fact.
However, the European Union remains criticized for its inefficiency, its technocracy… How can we make people like the European idea?
But Europe is no longer an idea, it is a reality! It is present everywhere, in our daily lives. We pay in euros; here, in Strasbourg, we pass into Germany in a few minutes without any stops at the border; our students are increasingly carrying out part of their studies in another European country… Not to mention the mobile phone charger which will soon be common to all brands. In our daily lives, we experience Europe in a concrete way.
You are in charge, with other MEPs, of the subject of migration. The far right and part of the European right want to restrict the right to asylum. What do you answer them?
This is a complex issue that no one can claim to resolve with the wave of a magic wand. These subjects remain essentially within the competence of the States, with a framework from the European Union. The EU and member countries must work together, this is the only way to be effective. In the regulation we are working on, accelerated procedures should make it possible to process in less than six months the cases of people who come from countries with very little chance of benefiting from asylum. For the others, 30,000 places should be created in the Member States. And countries that do not want to participate in this process – Poland and Hungary – will have to pay a fine proportional to the number of migrants they should have welcomed. If all goes well, the text will be voted on in early 2024, before the European elections in June. On these subjects, I try to find a balance between the need for common rules – because we cannot welcome everyone – and an approach of openness, of generosity which comes to us from our humanist values and which Robert Schuman carried.
For several years, the Franco-German engine seems to have broken down. Is it still crucial in Europe?
First, let’s recall the achievements. There is a Franco-German parliamentary assembly which meets here in Strasbourg. There is also the Eurocorps, a multinational army corps created by France and Germany and also based here; twinning between our two countries… Franco-German understanding is experienced on a daily basis. Then there is a political reality. Across the Rhine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is at the head of a coalition torn between the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals and does not have the freedom to act as a leader at the European level. Finally, let’s remember: the French and the Germans are very different. When we can agree, it’s a great basis for pulling others along with us.
What future do you imagine for Europe in twenty years?
I would like it to be taken care of and brought up to date by new generations. Let all young people feel European! Today, this is especially the case for urban dwellers and graduates and less so for people from rural areas or those who have had less education. I would also like each European to have had the opportunity during their studies to benefit from an educational experience abroad. And then, we also need to reduce poverty because if our GDP increases, the number of poor people also increases and that is unacceptable.