EU co-founder France sent a shock wave through Europe when its citizens rejected the proposed European Constitution in 2005. Three days later, The Netherlands also cast a negative vote on the plans, sending the whole project back to the design stage. Since then, a group of wise men has been working on a new 300-paged document which will be integrated within existing EU treaties. They thereby avoid having to consult their citizens before being allowed to sign the deal. How does France feel about European integration in the meantime?
Marion (21) and Yohann (27, both in photo) have a hard time answering that question. `We don`t feel like it really concerns us`, they say, specifying that their opinion may well be representative for the rest of France. Marion voted in favour of the European constitution back in 2005, mostly because she had her mother vote in her place. `She knows more about it than I do, so I counted on her expertise`, she says.
..don`t really care about the EU and its constitution
Integration and enlargement
Prices in France have risen since the introduction of the Euro in 2002, but the decrease in purchase power is mostly based on other factors than the very change of currencies. `We got used to it`, says Marion,`only old people still calculate in French Francs, but those are the same people who were still only halfway getting used to the omission of two zeros. The old Franc was nevertheless abolished in 1960.`
Marion mentions the ease of traveling as one of the main advantages of the European Union. She has traveled across many EU countries herself and knows quite some people who took advantage of the Erasmus exchange program for students. Traveling and studying seem more popular than actually emigrating. Marion does not know many people who actually ended up staying or working in another country than France.
Yasine (20), who spent some time studying in Poland, does have some friends who are working abroad. Non-European countries like the United States, China and Japan seem to be suitable for that, but most people will only take that step if they have already been recruited by their employers. Within Europe, only the United Kingdom can count on much popularity.
Immigrants working in France are mostly limited to certain domains: construction, transportation and hospitality. Young French people who work in these areas have reasons to fear for their jobs. Central European newcomers work more for less money, and are easily accused of stealing jobs. Audrey (21) thinks that especially Romania and Bulgaria could have waited a little longer before joining, simply because the income differences between them and the old member states were too big. She is nevertheless confident that the situation will balance out over time, because the enlargement also means that more vacancies will be able to French people.
Changes in society
Cl?ment (20) is not a big fan of France`s role in Europe. Actually, he can think of a many reasons to leave France but so far has not attempted the big jump. `The EU is a nice idea, but we first have our own national problems to solve. Young people can hardly find employment, house rentals are too high, we have strikes over and over again and taxes rise sky high`, he says. `In the UK, it`s much easier to find a job and you can work as many hours as you want, so you can at least decide how much you earn. In France, a fulltime job is 35 hours and extra hours are often not even paid.`
Cl?ment continues: `Working, working, working may not be nice all the time, but at least you have control over how much money you make. Brits have money to party and buy stuff, while many French youngsters need to work at minimum wage and all they can dream of is to buy a CD at the end of the month. Only the really poor have access to social security benefits, everybody who manages just above the minimum wage level disqualifies for many benefits but does pay the full range of taxes. Poverty is spreading, with more and more people appealing to external aid. One of those is the chain of Restaurants du Coeur (Heart Restaurants): establishment who fanatically try to support poor people by providing them with hot meals.`
Emie (20) explains that French society is already going through many transformations. `Many people have a hard time keeping up. Everything Europe is propagating just comes on top and all of that is more change than people can cope with`, she says. Both Cl?ment and Emie would like to look at opportunities abroad, but have so far preferred to stay in France. `At least, we know HOW things do not work, which would not be the case if we moved to another country.
Gael (28) did not vote at the Constitution referendum in 2005. `We received the text of the Constitution by mail and tried to read it. I can tell you that our family is quite well-educated but even to us it was all Greek. The general impression people have is that all relevant information is mystified somehow so that people will only listen to a few simplified and populist quotes that should make us vote yes`.
Gael further adds: `Europe is a nice idea and we in France are for sure a lot better off than many other countries in the world. We have freedom of expression and a reasonably free press system, even though it is changing for worse under our fabulous new president Mr Sarkozy. He is too close with leaders of big media consortiums and I am scared that he will manipulate our information supply to his advantage.
Whether or not these suspicions will come true, none of my conversation partners of today have referred to EU Constitution. Although massively rejected by the French electorate in 2005, the amended and disguised version will now be adopted without their consent nor disapproval. Perfectly in line with what Brussels is accused of from across the continent: having no relation with people`s daily lives and implementing incomprehensible legislation with unclear objectives for the future.
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