So much has happened since June! In my last post, six months ago, I mentioned the interest raised, just after Brexit, by my proposal of a European Foundational Assembly. And I concluded with these words: “Because it is no longer enough to say what needs to be done; we also need to say how and with whom. That was the visionary pragmatism of Jean Monnet – which we must now put into action.”

The events of the past months have only confirmed this diagnosis and its urgency: with Brexit, Trump, and the rise of populist political parties and euro-scepticism (if not outright opposition to Europe) throughout the continent, European institutions are realising that the software under which they have been operating has led them astray. And the wake up call is all the more painful. But in spite of a surge in conferences and scholarly analysis, we are not seeing many actual solutions being put forward.

Last October an elite group of communication specialists gathered in Brussels for a large-scale conference entitled “Reflecting on Europe”. They are still preoccupied with trying to find a way to make the people of Europe understand how good the EU is for them! But that sort of approach doesn't work any more.

In November the annual conference of ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System) was held, which involves all European institutions. Three main lessons emerged from the discussions:
1. We need to make a big splash: the politics of small steps is not adequate any more;
2. We need to begin with citizens.
3. We need to begin with the local.

I was able to briefly present the idea of a European foundational process at this event: this was the sole concrete proposal put on the table, and the only proposal that incorporated all three requirements. It is for this reason that the idea of a Foundational Assembly, which we threw out to the public like a bottle in the sea in April, resonated with so many. I sent you, along with my June newsletter, the envisaged scenario. An overview is attached to this message.

Our first idea was to turn our proposal into a European Citizen Initiative, as provided by the Lisbon Treaty. Many of you agreed to join the group that could have initiated such a process, and I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you. But friends of ours who are knowledgeable in European arcana have advised us not to proceed with this. It would be a long and complicated process and, as the proposal of a Foundational Assembly is not within the official remit of the European Commission, it would have been fruitless.

Patrick Lusson, Armel Prieur and I have chosen a more direct approach: this involves publicising the proposal, and start creating the conditions for its success. Who are the key players? Both regions and European institutions, particularly the European Council, the Commission, and the Committee of the Regions, which is the official voice of regional authorities in Brussels.

What would be the timeline? The whole process would simply require two years: one for the regional citizen panels, another for the meetings in Brussels, with three highly symbolic dates:
- 25 March 2017: 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the European Union's official date of birth;
- 9 May 2018: 70th anniversary of the Hague Congress, where everything began;
- Late May 2019: European Parliament elections, followed by the inauguration of a new Commission.

An official announcement of the process at the Summit of heads of states in Rome, in March 2017; a completion of the work of regional panels by May 2018; the proposals resulting from the process being submitted to the renewed Parliament and Commission for their inauguration. This would be an ideal timeline.

As regards regional authorities, the president of the Burgundy Franche-Comté region in France, Marie-Guite Dufay, committed to the process in July 2016, and is now being joined by the presidents of Occitanie, Centre Val de Loire and Brittany. She had a terrific insight: European integration should be the new horizon of the “twin regions” partnerships that are so many throughout Europe and in particular between French regions and German Länder. In November, the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate, a long-time twin region of Burgundy, agreed to the initiative.

Everybody in Brussels expects a strong Franco-German initiative to give Europe a fresh start. This cannot, in the short term, come from governments. And it's better that it doesn't! What better way to assert and highlight the role of regions in a renewed European project than a joint initiative of French and German regions? The proposal is on the table.

On September 26, I was able to present the idea of a Foundational Assembly to the executives of the Committee of the Regions (my presentation is attached). The Committee is now aware that the current European crisis gives it a historical responsibility that takes it far beyond the merely consultative role it had when it was created. The objective is to challenge the European Council in the run-up to the 25 March Summit by calling for a citizen process aimed at giving Europe a fresh start.

The European Council's Secretariat has taken a favourable interest our proposal. I presented our proposition to them last July (see the attached note). The next step, which is now underway, is to submit the proposal to the official representatives preparing the Rome Summit for their respective governments. Needless to say, the attitude of the French government will be crucial.

The Secretary General of the French presidency, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, has already expressed interest in our initiative. But it remains to be translated into concrete action, i,e., the suggestion that other member states put the citizen process on the Summit's agenda. We have until the end of January to achieve this.

We have also had numerous exchanges with European Members of Parliament, and it appears that they are very interested in our proposed citizen-based process. To be honest, the conclusions of the process will be a matter for the next European parliamentary elections rather than for the current Parliament. MEPs and national MPs used to be very wary of deliberative democracy, which they saw as unfair competition: was it not already their role to represent the people? Such wariness is a thing of the past: such is the current crisis of representative democracy that any attempt to reinvigorate democracy seems worth the effort.

And then there's the question of the Commission. Unlike the European Council, we won't need a commitment from the current Commission to consider the citizen proposals; it will be the next Commission that will have to decide. Until then, we need to make the process convincing enough so that it's impossible not to consider its conclusions.

Nevertheless, the Commission's human and financial resources will be indispensable. Deliberative democracy – as citizen panels are called – requires that citizens get the best information and expertise available. Each panel will have to take place in its national language. Dialogue between those panels and a European Assembly will require translation and interpretation resources that only European institutions have. And isn't it only fair that some of these resources, that are funded by European citizens through their taxes, are made directly available to them?

The Commission will also have to cover part of the costs of the regional panels and of the European Assembly. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has initiated a vast investment plan to pull Europe out of the doldrums. That's all well and good, but what other priority is there right now than human investment – investing in a citizen process that could provide Europe with the spirit and enthusiasm that is so lacking today. Without this, nothing else is much use. The proposal is on the table. We will find out in the coming months to what degree it resonates in the hearts of European leaders.

As you can see, there is still a lot of work to be done, a lot of uncertainty. But looking back at the moment we threw this bottle into the sea without much hope it would ever hit land, and considering the progress we have made in just a few months, one cannot but reflect on Victor Hugo's words that “nothing can stop an idea whose time has come”.

We need you all to move the proposal forward, and in the UK as well – many of our British friends would like to be able to play a part in creating the Europe they dream about.

A very merry Christmas to everyone, and long live Europe!

Pierre Calame