At the side table, two young women were talking, about the pensions, of course, like everyone else in France. “Do you realize, said one of them, that there is a seven hundred euro gap between the pensions of men and women? – And the worst thing, the other said, is that it’s everywhere like that, in all of Europe.” They looked at each other, overwhelmed, and, as talking to nobody in particular, the first one whispered: “And Europe is not even capable of doing anything about it! What’s the point of Europe?”
I should normally have pointed out to them that the pension system, pay equality and the organisation of parental leave were not the responsibility of the Union but of the Member States and that we could not, at the same time, demonise “Brussels” and blame it for not having enough power. A good Member of Parliament would have interfered in their conversation to tell them but, MEP or not, I wanted to have a quiet lunch, not have a meeting, and then…” Fifteen years,” I thought to myself.
Except there is another world war, a new crisis of 1929 or an accelerated rise of sea levels, there is still a maximum of fifteen years left, I told myself, to avoid a disintegration of the Union because, in fifteen years, either we will have affirmed ourselves as a new democratic and social power on the international scene and Great Britain will have returned to knock on the European door, or our unity will have run its course. I told this to myself because I had been torn, for the past two days, between sadness and hope, between the prospect now acquired of the British departure and the satisfaction of seeing the Union awakening and mobilising, throughout the week, against global warming and for its reinvention.
The gigglers are giggling because, while subscribing to it, Poland has refused to commit itself to the common objective of achieving carbon neutrality in thirty years. If the Poles do not keep this commitment, the sceptics say, it will not be kept and the Union will have merely gargled with words. Yes….
Maybe, but still! The new Commission has placed the defence of the planet at the heart of all its future policies. Alone to have done so, the European Union has given priority to the mother of all battles after affirming its desire to become a geopolitical actor. At the same moment as the British were voting, the Member States followed in the footsteps of the two community institutions, the Parliament and the Commission, and still nothing would happen?
Nothing would change, absolutely nothing, and the proof would be Polish, whereas, very dependent on their coal, the Poles are only trying to get more support from their partners to finance their energy transition?
Optimists are taken to be stupid but at the risk of sounding like one, I would say that everything is changing. If even the ruling Polish political right did not want to oppose carbon neutrality in 2050, because its image would have been damaged by such a decision. If the entire Union shares this ambition, it is because an awakening awareness about it and because the European public opinion has demanded this audacity. If the Member States have at the same time decided to launch a Conference on the future of Europe, it is because the trauma of the failure of the draft Constitution has now passed, because voters expect more common efficiency and that it is by not moving that we would make our unity a forgotten dream.
It all makes sense. The British are not only leaving because of the immigrants from Central Europe, but because they no longer saw what the Union could offer them. If the ladies at the next table were wondering “what is the purpose of Europe”, it is because we expect our unity to be able to achieve much more than our States, because otherwise, what is the point? If our national leaders are exasperated with Emmanuel Macron’s European hyperactivism but are re-engaging in institutional reforms, it is because the American estrangement, the Russian question and the environmental and technological challenges are forcing us to move.
This meeting that I had refused, I played it out in my head and, without any explanation, nems and Bo bun swallowed, I greeted my neighbours with a “See you in fifteen years!”.