The local elections at Communal level in Belgium, which will be held in October 14, are beginning to attract the interest of Belgian citizens but not only: European citizens living in Belgium will also be able to vote at these elections, provided they register in the lists of the Commune where they live by July 31st.
In particular in Brussels, with its rich variety of nationalities from European member states and its 19 Communes, the interest for these local elections seems to increase steadily. And it is to better serve these European voters that a new movement inspired by European principles is planning to present its candidates in several Communes, starting with the 19 ones that represent the local government of Brussels.
Mariapaola Cherchi, an Italian lawyer living and working for many years in Brussels, launched a political movement “Citoyen d’Europe” (Citizen of Europe) in 2014 on the occasion of the Regional elections in Belgium. She is now planning to propose this same movement also for the Communal elections of next October with candidates in several Communes of Brussels.
Mariapaola Cherchi sat down with Brussels Express.
When was the idea of “Citoyen d’Europe” launched?
“Citoyen d’Europe” was launched in 2014, when under the name of “Féderalistes européens et Mouvement du Citoyen européen pour la Justice” (European Federalists and European Citizens Movement for Justice) we launched the list FD-MDCEJ for the Regional Consultations for Brussels-Capital. After this experience, we continue to insist on our pro-European initiative but this time at a local level for the coming Communal elections. In our movement, we defend, together with the European idea, the ideals of ethics and equity, and by this, we mean social justice. This is what the European citizen expects from politics and we try to respond to this request.
Which are the aims of “Citoyen d’Europe”?
Our first aim is to create a link between the citizens and Europe, starting from the European territory. Citizens have to trust politics again and participate in the life of their Commune on a daily basis. Each Commune has to represent a bit of Europe with its cultural diversities which are its real wealth. Integrating citizens in the territory where they live is a necessary and urgent aim. Nobody should feel left out. The Commune should be felt as our home and each one of us should participate in its management for the common good.
Why this name?
The name “Citoyen d’Europe” reflects our ideal: strengthen the European identity among all those who live in the European territory, starting from Brussels, capital of Europe. The citizen of each Commune in the European territory, irrespective of his/her origin, must also see himself/herself as a European citizen. Our initiative is really a hymn to Europe!
Where do you think of presenting your candidates? In which Communes?
Our candidates will be chosen among those who believe in the principles that we defend: Europe, Ethics, Equity. On the basis of these criteria, we will present electoral lists in the 19 Communes of Brussels. The candidates will have to represent the multiculturalism of this city, a quality we believe in.
Why include the idea of citizenship in a European area?
Because considering ourselves European citizens is the basis of the European project.
The main points of your programme?
“Live together” respecting diversity, wide understanding of one another: this is undoubtedly one of the most relevant points of our programme.
Reaching this objective implies actions on several levels, such as: adapting the urban structure of our territory bearing in mind that the citizen has to be put at the centre of attention to contribute to his/her well-being. The environment: cleaning up the territory, respecting nature, preserving biodiversity in the territory also through awareness campaigns aimed at citizens so as to encourage them to contribute to its protection. We also want to encourage intergenerational relationships thus facilitating the exchanges between young people and not so young ones so that the former could benefit from the life experience of the older people and the latter should not be left out. We want to create, in each Commune, a body in charge of “mediating” as an alternative solution to litigations among the inhabitants.
Will you accept as candidates also people who are not EU citizens?
In the present system, Belgian citizens and citizens from the EU member states only can be candidates. Therefore, even if we want to include all citizens living in Belgium irrespective of their national origin we are forced to respect this rule which undoubtedly curtails the choice of candidates.
What kind of reaction did you have from the Communes where you have already presented your project?
I can only refer to the positive experience we had in 2014 (on the occasion of Regional elections that is) which encouraged us to continue with our project. Citizens welcomed us with enthusiasm. People really welcome a political engagement linked to the values of ethics and social equity which we support. People in the more precarious social classes showed a higher interest in our project while the more prosperous classes are the least sensitive to our proposals. Therefore, one of our objectives is to create an interaction between different social classes present on the territory of each Commune to create a system of social solidarity at the grass root level or, to use a terminology now fashionable, to create a sort of “circular” solidarity without falling into a kind of “top-down” paternalistic charitable action or creating a dependency culture.
It is certainly easier to create relationships among the citizens of the same Commune than among citizens from the north and the south of a country and this should be done with the aim to empower the frailer people. All this can be managed at a territorial level. The complete “formula” to reach this objective does not exist yet but should be adapted according to the different realities of each Commune.
Do you have a motto?
This is our motto: “Europe should begin in Brussels, capital of Europe, so that all its citizens can feel European without distinction of geographical or ethnic origin”
Do you ask for gender parity among your candidates?
Gender parity is now a must in the creation of electoral lists and therefore we can respect this principle which we clearly support. However, we have to say that women are somewhat afraid to engage politically and this is a problem that we do not think it will represent an obstacle for us.
How was your initiative seen at a European level?
As soon as we launched the project of our Movement through social media (Facebook) we noticed a great interest especially for our motto: “Movement of the 3 E: Europe, Ethics, Equity”. This confirms that these three values are shared by the great majority of European citizens. We shall see if in the future we will have a support in a wider Europe. For the time being, we will start from Brussels!
Are you the only “local” party talking about Europe in Brussels or are there others?
I believe that we are the only political party that in this electoral campaign at a Communal level wants to support the idea of a Europe of citizens in spite of the fading consensus for the European Union nowadays. All traditional parties, apart from the extremist ones on the left or on the right, one way or another mention Europe but not in the terms that we support, as far as we know. It is not difficult to “say” that we like Europe, but when one has to talk in more concrete terms it becomes more difficult. With our programme, on the contrary, we are engaged to make it happen. We are certainly the only ones who speak clearly of a “Europe for European citizens”.
Are you linked to the European Federalist movement?
Certainly, right from our beginning in 2014. The birth of our Movement started from the example of the French party PFE (Parti Fédéraliste Européen) and personally, I have frequent contacts with the European Federalist Movement (UEF). The weak point of European federalist parties, however, is that they often advocate big projects, such as for example changing the European Treaties, and this does not mean much to the citizens often confronted with the day to day difficulties of their lives. The concrete measures inspired by the European Union (such as the European programmes) that we propose, on the contrary, “speak” to the people like us, that we call “the silent majority”.
What do you think of the pro-European initiatives of French President Emmanuel Macron?
I can only think positively of President Macron’s attitude towards Europe, especially since, thanks to Macron, Europe has avoided the catastrophe that Mme Le Pen represented for the European Union. I feel however that Macron is a little too much linked to economic principles and does not emphasize enough the need for a “social Europe” which is what European citizens demand most. And this gap is unfortunately used by populist parties to undermine the European project. Economics, yes, but aimed at responding to “social” needs for a Europe more and more just and ethical which could become an example for the whole world. This should be the leitmotif of each action of those who call themselves “pro-Europeans”. In any case, this has been and will always be the motto of “Citoyen d’Europe, the 3E movement: Europe, Ethics, Equity”.