In this essay, Belgian political scientist Sophie Heine makes the case for a vision of sovereignty that is liberal both from a political and philosophical point of view, mixed with a dose of cosmopolitanism relegating identities to the private sphere. Borrowing from the 16th-century French lawyer Jean Bodin, she argues that sovereignty cannot be shared and, on this basis, she is critical of the ideas of Kant and Habermas in favour of “multi-level governance” (our translation throughout). The author sets out to demonstrate that “the objective of individual freedom requires a sovereign Europe free from all the dangers of identity- or morality-based politics”. “Satisfying the interests of all should be its raison d’être and the basis of its legitimacy”, she adds, without clarifying what she means by the “interests of all” or, despite her self-proclaimed realism, going into greater detail on how it would be possible to satisfy the individual interests of 448 million people.
The work, which is interesting in many regards, despite a few far-fetched ideas, serves as a useful contribution to the debate on the future of the European Union. A European Union that needs to be reformed root and branch, the author rightly argues. Unstinting in her criticism of the dominant thought in the Brussels microcosm, Heine also challenges the “determinist, even teleological vision of history” defended by the pro-Europeans. “The functionalist and neo-functionalist schools of thought, so influential in European studies for many decades, give rise to this belief in the natural revolution into an ‘ever closer union’. This was also the vision of the founding fathers of the European communities”, she writes, going on to add: “this dream has not, however, come true. The Europeanisation of a great number of areas remains unfinished and this has not been offset by the creation of a sovereign European government that is capable of implementing policies in the interests of the citizens. This has had dramatic consequences in terms of reducing sovereignty and has greatly hampered the capacity for political action. But the dominant thought has not yet moved on. It is time to recognise that this belief in the natural evolution of the European Union into a ‘federation of the peoples’ is built on an illusory approach to social change and takes no account of the impact this process may have on the ability of governments to serve the interests of their citizens”.
“Nationalist and sovereignist forces have steadily gained strength in recent decades, bringing pressure to bear in favour of the fragmentation of the European Union. If Brexit is a clear example of this, it is highly likely that this destabilisation of the European Union will continue in the foreseeable future”, argues Heine, who takes the view that the rise in prominence of these forces is largely down to the “impact of unfinished Europeanisation in many essential public policy areas”. The pro-European movements should now put their efforts into proposing a convincing alternative. In view of the “clear failure of the hybrid system – stuck between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism” – the author calls for a “paradigm shift in favour of a sovereign Europe”. “The proposal for a European constituent assembly put forward by several civil society organisations for years would be one possible democratic option to construct this new Europe”, writes the author, who is actively in favour of a federal system.
Heine argues that “if a sovereign European government can be created, it should control and directly manage the borders of the territory on which its authority applies”. She continues: “this kind of European sovereignty is also a condition for a true European immigration and asylum policy. The public health crisis caused by Covid-19 made clear that a European border management presupposes a Europeanisation of health standards. If we had been living in a federal sovereign Europe, we would not have had disparate reactions with national borders being partially or totally closed to react to the dangers of the pandemic; we would have had a common public health policy and a common external border management policy. This would have allowed us to contain the pandemic on EU territory more efficiently”.
What would this “legitimate sovereign Europe” look like? “First of all, this European raft of institutions should correspond to the criteria of representative democracy: an assembly elected by the population should be the principal source of legislative power and should have controls over the executive. A government holding executive power should reflect the political majority within the legislative and follow the manifesto defended by the winning political parties. Within this overall structure, it would be logical and desirable to abolish inter-governmental institutions such as the European Council and the Council of Ministers”, writes Heine, who also considers that it could be useful to add mechanisms that take inspiration from participative and direct democracy, “such as referendums on essential matters or a closer link between voters and elected representatives, for instance by means of a binding mandate”. One might, obviously, question how realistic this binding mandate would be, taking account of the technicality of legislative texts, and how compatible it would be with the functioning of the political parties.
The author quite rightly points out that this federal reform must respect the principles of the rule of law. Among those of her ideas that some, myself included, find mystifying, she makes a case for keeping English as the ‘lingua franca’ to create a manifestly European public sphere. Heine would like to see its usage extended to all pan- European organisations, including civil society. This notion is undoubtedly linked to the author’s propensity to downplay cultural differences and to question the role of identity and political society. Heine believes in a disembodied political system, which functions rationally to the benefit of individual interests, tending to overlook the fact that the general interest is not the sum of individual interests. I believe that any political construction is based on the capacity of individuals to find their own identity reflected in it. An institutional Meccano set, however rational it may be, is not the stuff of anybody’s dreams and, as social networks, reality TV and other avatars of the 21st-century amply demonstrate, Europeans need a little emotion in their lives. This can be for better or for worse, but the Europe of tomorrow will not be emotionless. (Olivier Jehin)
Sophie Heine. Souveraineté européenne – Réalisme et réformisme radical. Academia. ISBN: 978-2-8061-0604-9. 158 pages. €16,50
Europe in the Mirror of the Taliban Rise
“By looking in the Afghan mirror one clearly see the vulnerability and the low level of preparedness of Europe to effectively mitigate the threats which, in turn, stem from the inability and reluctance of the member states to find compromises, develop common approach and jointly act on it as one. The security/military -related disunity is directly linked to the differences in Europe’s economic and political affairs, stemming from deferring visions of the national interest by the individual states”, Marat Yuldashev observes in this article. He considers that Europe must, as a matter of urgency, develop robust joint capacities, including “forces for targeted military deployments in the critical regions”.
It is the author’s view that there is a danger of copycat Taliban-style organisations are springing up wherever extremists of all stripes can expect to find support in the discontent of the populations and anti-Western feeling, starting with the greater Middle East and large swathes of Africa and Central Asia, where old nomenklaturas still hold power. He argues that there are several possible threat scenarios, which may occur separately or simultaneously: (1) an attack sponsored by the Taliban next spring (low probability); (2) attacks launched by other terrorist groups present on Afghan territory and not under the control of the Taliban; (3) destabilisation efforts carried out from within by local extremist groups. The researcher acknowledges that these are currently only hypothetical situations. However, “what is certain is that Afghanistan will become the epicentre of the international illegal arms trading and the point of attraction to the various international terror groups, which might not necessarily be welcomed by or allied with Taliban”, argues Yuldashev, who goes on to point out that according to an American report from 2017, the United States transferred 75,898 vehicles, 599,690 weapons systems and 208 aircraft to the Afghan national security forces between 2003 and 2016. Some experts even calculate that there may be enough weaponry in the country to supply a civil war for another decade. The author also points out that following the freezing of the Afghan monetary reserves and of international aid, the Taliban are in desperate need of resources to respond to the essential needs of the population. There is the risk that much of this arsenal will end up being sold to the highest bidders in an area running from Kashmir to the eastern Mediterranean. The author flags up a major potential risk factor if terrorist groups manage to get their hands on anti-aircraft missiles, should this kind of equipment have been left behind in the country, which is currently unclear.
“Afghanistan today represents a demographic timebomb, with more than half of its population being under the age of 25”, the author also notes, stressing that Afghans made up the second largest group in the migration crisis of 2014-2015. Then, the exodus was related to the partial withdrawal of Western troops, leaving tens of thousands of young people without work. But the author stresses that this time, “the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is a way bigger. It is also important to remember that it is Europe which is the ultimate migration destination for the Afghans. Despite of Iran and Pakistan housing the largest Afghan refugee communities (780,000 and 1.4 million respectively), most of the migrants during the last 20 years settled in Germany (148,000), Austria (40,000), France (32,000) and Sweden (30,000), while the United States received just 2000 people”. He continues by pointing out that “the inability of the Taliban government to handle the internal humanitarian crisis during the upcoming winter and beyond will inevitably lead to domestic destabilisation and mass exodus of people heading westward (Iran and Pakistan have long changed their migration policies and do not allow the Afghans to settle)”.
Finally, the author notes that according to certain reports, the Taliban are believed to have resumed the lucrative market in opium/heroin, 80% to 90% of which is exported to Europe. (OJ)
Marat Yuldashev. Europe in the Mirror of the Taliban Rise. In Depth, Volume 18, Issue 5, October 2021. Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs. ISSN: 2421-8111. 4 pages. The information letter of the University of Nicosia can be downloaded free of charge from the website: http://cceia.unic.ac.cy
La compétition internationale en recherche et développement
“The public health crisis has highlighted the role of scientific research in society, but also its weaknesses and Europe’s dependence on imports of strategic raw materials (for the production of drugs, for instance) or materials, such as semiconductors”, Pierre Papon observes in the introduction to this article on the state of French and European research.
“The national dynamics in the funding of research and development (R&D) differ throughout the world. According to the OECD, for instance, France spent 2.2% of its GDP on it in 2018, but this put it in just fifteenth place out of all OECD countries in terms of the proportion of GDP spent on R&D. For South Korea, the figure was 4.5% (at 5%, Israel holds the world record), Sweden and Switzerland 3.4% and Germany 3.2%, with figures constantly rising. The ratio has increased slightly in France over the last ten years (having stood at 2.0% in 2007) and actually dropped a little recently (it was 2.28% in 2015). The OECD notes that in current prices, France and Italy are the only two countries in which the level of public spending on R&D was lower in 2019 than it had been in 2007”, summarises the honorary Professor of physics at the École de physique et chimie industrielle at the Paris Sciences et Lettres University (PSL). The last research programming bill “admittedly set out to increase the public research budget by 5.8 billion euros up to 2030 (…), but it will not be enough to allow France to catch up with the most R&D-intensive countries”, states Papon, referring to a decline in French research.
The author also observes a clear disparity in Europe in public spending on research in universities and public research bodies over the period 2014-2018: “spending represented 0.8% of GDP in France, 0.94% in Germany, 1% in Switzerland and Sweden, but just 0.55% in Italy and the United Kingdom”. “While the public health crisis has highlighted the key role of biomedical research in tackling pandemics, it is apparent that the funding of this fell by 28% in France over the period 2011-2018, whilst rising by 16% in the United Kingdom and 11% in Germany”, the author goes on to note.
Under Donald Trump, Congress managed to preserve the budgets of the federal agencies financing research, with the exception of those working on the climate and the environment. With the arrival in the White House of Joe Biden, research is clearly a priority once again: the draft budget for 2022 comprises an increase of nearly 15% in the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health. Both houses of the Congress have already voted through laws making provision to double the NSF budget over five years (rising from 8.5 billion dollars in 2021 to 18-22 billion in 2026), Papon explains, reiterating that these efforts come as part of the scientific rivalry with China, whose R&D budgets have consistently risen (2.4% of GDP in 2020 plus the expenditure of industrial groups, which have increased by a factor of 9000 since 2005).
“The European Union is facing this Chinese-American challenge and, in a document on its ‘strategic dependencies’, the European Commission stresses that compared to that of its competitors, the EU’s research and innovation performance creates concerns over future technological dependencies (…). Even though it accounts for 20% of global R&D, it is threatened in many key innovation indicators” (see Commission communication “Strategic Dependencies and Capacities” of 5 May 2021: Ed): the author writes, continuing by pointing out that “in 2021, it launched its new framework programme for research, ‘Horizon Europe’ (2021-2027), with an envelope of 95.5 billion euros (a 30% increase on the previous version), the aim of which is to reinforce its scientific and technological bases, to improve the competitiveness of its industry and to respond to social challenges (such as health and energy). It is the first part of an answer to these dependencies, but the implementation of true R&D strategies at European level has yet to get off the blocks (with the thermonuclear fusion programme being the sole exception)”. (OJ)
Pierre Papon. La coopération internationale en recherche et développement – Le déclin français (available in French only). Futuribles, edition 444, September-October 2021. ISBN: 978-9-8438-7457-4. 132 pages. €22,00