The aim of our dinner debates is to bring together MEPs to discuss, in a relaxed atmosphere, about the big questions of European politics and to do so from a perspective different from the one of the European Parliament.
For almost one year now, defence cooperation is climbing the agenda in the European debate. Brexit, Donald Trump repeatedly calling into question US commitment to NATO and Emmanuel Macron’s landslide victory in the French presidential election gave fresh impetus for a discussion on how Europe should deal with a context of rising security threats.
What is the way forward in the pursuit of a common European defence? Is it time for an EU common army?
The European Parliamentary Association stepped into this exciting debate by organising on Wednesday 17 May an informal discussion on “European Defence Union: More Union in our Defence?”, which was attended by around 60 MEPs, members of the diplomatic corps of Strasbourg, heads of other European associations and university students interested in the topic.
Olivier Mirguet, correspondent of the French newspaper La Tribune, moderated the debate, which was opened by the interventions of a panel of experts. These were MEP Michael Gahler, EPP Group spokesperson on Security and Defence, MEP Eva Kaili, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, MEP Klaus Buchner, member of the subcommittee on Security and Defence, and Eurocorps Brigadier General Franz Pfrengle, former mission commander for the EU Training Mission in Mali.
“The European Defence Union is a good vision, a European army is only fiction,” made clear General Pfrengle, insisting on the importance of “developing structures able to put together the national capabilities that we already have”, like, for instance, the European Air Transport Command, which has its seat in Eindhoven.
The relative lack of interoperability between European armies is indeed a severe limit to the EU’s ability to intervene collectively in missions where European interests are at stake.
Michael Gahler, instead, focused on the fact that in Europe the majority of military equipment procurement still takes place at national level. This shortcoming limits economies of scale and produces costly duplications of military capabilities.
“We must become more efficient, we need a single market for arms. It is only if we cooperate at European level that we will manage to face the competition of big arms producers, such as the US, Russia or China,” Michael Gahler pointed out.
Talking about the relationship with NATO, Gahler said, “The European Defence Union does not mean duplicating what we have with NATO…We have difficult NATO partners who may try to bloc NATO resources. That’s why we must build up the capabilities to act independently.”
Eva Kaili focused also on this issue, pointing out, “We must not forget that only 22 EU countries are NATO members. We must provide effective protection also for those member states who are outside the Alliance.”
The speakers agreed that the European Defence Union seems to be on the right track, praising the steps forward made in these months by the High Representative Federica Mogherini.
Finally, Klaus Buchner reflected on the type of missions in which EU forces will be deployed and, in this regard, made clear, “European troops must be deployed for humanitarian interventions.”
Participants showed a great interest in the topic, posing questions that allowed tackling the issue of defence cooperation from different perspectives. The European Parliament Association thanks them and our guest speakers for their contribution to the success of its debate.
Just three weeks before the first round of the presidential elections in France, the European Parliamentary Association invited the Members of the European Parliament to a dinner debate, to discuss the possible outcomes of the elections in the two most populous member states and their consequences for Europe.
The event was organised in collaboration with the APE’s “German sister”, the German Parliamentary Association, which is based in Berlin and which strives, like the APE, to establish a place of encounter and exchange for parliamentarians of different political groups.
60 MEPs of all political groups, as well as members of the diplomatic corps of Strasbourg, chairs of several European associations (MESA, Movement européen etc.) and some locally elected officials (the President of the Conseil départemental du Bas-Rhin, Frédéric Bierry, the Senator Jacques Bigot and the Member of the French National Assembly Eric Elkouby) joined the debate.
Two keynote speakers, coming respectively from Paris and Berlin, gave a short introduction on the topic. These were Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’, Socialist member of the French National Assembly, where he chairs the Franco-German Friendship Group, and Gunter Krichbaum (CDU) Chairman of the committee on the Affairs of the European Union in the German Bundestag. Both speakers focused on the importance to restart the Franco-German engine, which has so far been at the heart of the process of European integration.
“Today the European Union represents the 7% of the global population and, by the end of this century, this figure will fall to 4%. In Europe, there are countries which are small and others which are small but have not already acknowledged it. If a country wants to go fast, it can proceed alone, but if it wants to go far, it has move together with other countries”, Gunther Krichbaum stated.
Talking about the Brexit referendum and its consequences for Europe, Krichbaum strongly criticised the decision of Prime Minister David Cameron to let the British people decide on EU membership, pointing out: “There is a difference between a man of a government and a statesman. French politicians never dared to propose a referendum on the ECSC treaty, because they knew that in the post-war climate French citizens would have probably rejected it. That is the kind of courage that Cameron lacked”.
Like Krichbaum, also Le Borgn’ spoke in favour of the reinforcement of the project of European integration: “Among the scenarios proposed by Jean-Claude Juncker, my favourite option is an increased cooperation among those states who want to go further. To succeed to win back the support of the citizens, this renewed effort must take into account also the social dimension of integration, which has so far been erroneously neglected”.
The two national politicians also agreed on the name of the candidate who they would like to see winning in the French presidential race; Emmanuel Macron would be their best choice.
According to Krichbaum, Macron “is the only French politician who advocated for reforms aimed at fostering the competitiveness of the country”. On his side, Le Borgn’ underlined Macron’s “admiration for the dynamism of the German economy” and described him as “a statesman who is looking for economic viable solutions and who would, therefore, go on well with the ruling coalition in Germany, but also with a coalition headed by Martin Schulz.”
The topic of the debate was approached by different perspectives, as MEPs touched many issues linked to the future of the Union. The collaboration between the German and the European Parliamentary Association proved to be very fruitful and, in this regard, we are looking forward to new opportunities of exchange.
Wednesday 14 December 2016 – Dinner debate: “Campaigning for re-election – tools and strategies to run a modern electoral campaign”
Last 14 December, our members had the opportunity to discuss in an informal setting with Guillaume Liegey, French spin doctor and founder of the campaign technology start-up Liegey Muller Pons.
Mr Liegey has a long experience in the organisation of electoral campaigns in different European countries (e.g. France, Italy, Germany, Spain). In 2012, he has been national field director for the presidential campaign of François Hollande and now he is coordinating the electoral campaign of Emmanuel Macron, founder of the “En Marche” movement and one of the candidates of the next French presidential elections.
Mr Liegey explained to our guests how political campaigns strategies are changing with the development of new communication tools and technologies and spent particular attention on the role of big data in identifying the sections of the electorate that are more prone to vote for one particular candidate or another.
Who will win US elections and how will this impact on the relations between the EU and the US? We have tried to answer these questions during our dinner debate on Wednesday, 5 October 2016. Our guest speakers, MEP David McAllister, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the United States, and Bernard Genton, Professor of American civilization at the University of Strasbourg gave a short introduction, expressed their opinions on the topic, and debated with the many MEPs from all over Europe who came to the event. Moderator of the evening was Daniel Köster, spokesperson of the EPP Group in the European Parliament.
The event ended up with an excellent spirits tasting offered by the Alsatian distillery “Massenez”.
On 8 June 2016, our members were invited to a dinner debate on the consequences of Brexit. Keynote speakers were Pauline Schnapper, Professor of British Civilisation at the Sorbonne University and authour of “Should Britain leave the European Union?”, and Michel Devoluy, Professor of Economics at the University of Strasbourg.
Wednesday 3 February 2016 – Dinner debate: “Beyond the national perspective – Do we need European media?”
On Wednesday 3 February 2016, the APE held its first dinner debate.
The purpose of this event format is to allow MEPs to discuss in a relaxed atmosphere about a topic linked to their activity, but approached from a perspective different to the one of the European Parliament. The participation of a prestigious guest speaker and the opportunity to enjoy a delicious dinner make of our dinner debates a unique moment in parliamentary life.
On the suggestion of Rainer Wieland, Vice President of the European Parliament and member of the APE, the topic of our first dinner debate was the impact of European media in the shaping of a European identity.
Herbert Dorfmann, President of the APE, welcomed the participants with a few words on the issue, noticing the fact that regrettably there is no media which is specialised in European questions. Then the two keynote speakers – Reinhard Reck, journalist at the “Mittlebadische Presse” and Kai Littmann, editor of Eurojournalist – gave a short presentation and talked about their own experience. They brought the main points of the debate up: on one hand, the gap between media, European Union and public opinion, on the other hand, the different interests of politicians and journalists and a severe lack of accessibility to the information concerning the EU and its institutions. Both journalists stated that the European institutions should help financing the press and in the same time allow it to have a better access to information. All in all, the connection between journalists and politicians should be strengthened.
In response to the presentation, a British MEP spoke first, surprised of such top down approach of European media, which had a taste of propaganda in his view. Concerning the question of independence of the media and on the contrary, propaganda, MEPs highlighted two major problems: First, the lack of freedom of expression. Several MEPs confessed that in their own job at the parliament, statements are changing depending on the person one is talking to. The financing of European media by the European institutions could contribute to the problem that it seems to be impossible to create a truly objective journalism which is somehow integrated in an institution. Littmann and Reck didn’t deny it, and emphasised the growing danger of limited freedom of expression. The second problem which the MEPs detected was the huge power that media has on public opinion and the risks of the creation of propaganda, named as some kind of “European war through media”.
Regarding the media coverage in the European Union, the MEPs agreed a wide media coverage does exist indeed, but remains on a regional or national level. The problem is that this media itself decides which news are important, and they don’t seem to favour news on the European Union. Additionally, there is a lack of communication between European countries: There is not a big interest in the neighbouring countries, or the own political partners on the European level. Finally, Europe is not educated enough. Even the most sophisticated people do not always know a lot about the roles and powers of the European institutions. So how could the public opinion possibly be interested in it?
The participants didn’t only exchange their points of view, they also submitted some specific proposals to improve European journalism. One of these ideas got a particular attention: creating a European journalism training centre, based in the capital of Europe, Strasbourg. We hope that this initiative and others will be pursued and maybe this debate will foster the growth of other cooperation for the development of European media.