Europe Daily Bulletin No. 12885

8 February 2022
Contents Publication in full By article 24 / 24
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No. 053

L’Europe: changer ou périr


In her latest offering, the former director of the EU Institute for Security Studies underlines the highly uncertain nature of the world and the threats facing the European Union. The EU must as a matter of urgency submit itself to its own scrutiny to allow it to adapt to the new geopolitical situation, argues Nicole Gnesotto, who goes on to deplore the growing degree of underlining conservatism, which she sees as the source of all Europe’s ills.


There is a single central starting point for her observations: “the European Union adapts, sometimes at the expense of the populations, it resists, it innovates, also in defence of the single market and the euro, but it does not succeed in sketching out an overall strategy that will set it apart from other players and restore the citizens’ sense of ownership and trust. Many member states do not even want it to set itself apart and it is here that the major risk to the future of Europe undoubtedly lies. The dilemma is quite clear: either the Europeans decide to become diluted within the Western camp, tackling the major challenges of our time, such as the rise in power of force and the Chinese model, alongside the United States. Alternatively, they invent a second option: building the elements of a sovereign Europe, which will obviously be loyal to the Western camp, but which is capable, if called upon to do so, to defend its interests, its culture, its model of growth and society” (our translation throughout). In the view of the author, the latter option is the only one that will allow the European adventure that began some 70 years ago to continue. “But this is possible only if we change the mould: – of Europe and of power”. She continues: “a sovereign and powerful Europe in the chaos of the world, a Europe capable of defending its interests and attempting to shape globalisation in accordance with its values, will never grow up from models set in place more than 70 years ago”.


The word “geopolitics” contains the word “politics”. And it has to be observed that the European institutions and “elites” are less and less political. Technocracy has taken root everywhere, in Europe and throughout the world, producing mountains of rules, many of which verge on the ridiculous, also applying neo-liberal principles and rules, even counter-productive ones, without taking any account of the consequences for the people, just as long as they serve the market, the world of finance and free trade. At the peak of the economic crisis of 2008, democracy and the interests of the people were sacrificed mercilessly on the altar of finance. “The new economic dogma is not subject to appeal: only structural changes will allow us to get back to a minimum level of growth”, argues Gnesotto, going on to add that “governments must submit to this if they hope to be able to count on European aid. This budgetary extremism supported by the troika will wreak havoc: for nearly a decade, the Commission’s demands have, in practically all countries in difficulty, starting with Italy and France, fuelled populist campaigns against European elites, their collusion with the wealthiest, their lack of understanding of the ‘people’ of Europe. If one wished to demonstrate that globalisation brings about a contradiction between the unbridled market and maintaining democracy, one need only refer to the victory of Salvini in Italy in 2018, the election performance of Marine Le Pen in France in 2017 or the Yellow Vests movement in the same country in 2018 (and, I would point out, we may very soon be able to add the results of the French presidential elections of April 2022, which are still anyone’s guess). As if (national?) leaders and European Commissioners no longer knew how to connect the requirement for economic rigour – which is necessary – and the spirit of political finesse – which is indispensable”.


Since the crisis of 2008, “the European Union has run out of its own breath, it is running after history and trying to find some way of responding to dynamics that have been created by others”, Gnesotto observes, adding that “from all points of view, globalisation is moving faster than the world of Europe. Be it climate risks, conditions of growth, the digital technology revolution, financial mathematics or global strategic threats, including China, the EU is having its agenda and priorities dictated to it by developments over which it no longer has any influence. In the last two decades, Europe has been essentially an enormous effort continually to adapt to a world for which it was not designed (…). In the shadow of a powerful Atlantic Alliance which is convenient, economical and comfortable, the Europeans have (…) un-learned the world, the concept of risk, war, the desire to play a political role in history. Regardless of the fact that they created one of the greatest economic and commercial powers of globalisation, they are still refusing to make the leap towards the creation of an equal political power”, the author observes.


So what is to be done? “If economic globalisation becomes geo-politicised at top speed, the European Union must include geopolitics in its commercial practices, regardless of the partner. This common-sense conclusion presupposes, however, that arrangements may be made which run counter to the ideals of the Commission, but are nonetheless necessary: the return to a degree of regionalisation of critical industries, a healthy dose of strategic protectionism over sensitive technologies and sites, defending European sovereignty from the single-minded quest for profit (…). What the EU needs is a thorough intellectual revolution. The return to power of geopolitics should mean the end to its strategic evangelism: towards China and to America, and particularly with regard to its own power”, she writes.


Deconsecrating defence in the construct of the EU as a political power is (…) both necessary and indispensable”, in the view of the author, who points out that the Atlantic Alliance is backed by 80% of European citizens to provide collective security and that the slow speed of progress in European defence has amply demonstrated that “making European defence a prerequisite for the political power of the European Union is a red flag, a recipe for disaster”. She also points out that the “list of threats piling up inside the European Union and on its doorstep rarely entails military options: global warming, technological dependency, popular revolutions, pandemics, cyber-attacks, financial crises and other predictable disasters cannot be resolved by missiles”. “When we talk about managing external crises, it is clear that the military component remains necessary to ensure the credibility of the EU as an international player. But Europe has already achieved a sufficient level of practice, collective experience and necessary resources, following more than 30 external operations: in one sense, the CSDP no longer desperately needs to be reinforced, particularly if this is to be done by politico-institutional acrobatics that are so subtle as to be unusable, to avoid scaring the horses”, Gnesotto argues. She goes on to stress that “an account of the world in which we live, European defence without common European diplomacy misses the mark. If it is to be credible and useful to the world that is coming apart before our very eyes, Europe needs to invest far more seriously in foreign policy and the quest for creative diplomacy”.


Along with European defence, social Europe is one of the hackneyed issues hampering European construction. It is often talked about, sometimes progress is made, but always in the shadow of the law of the market as priority”, the author laments, suggesting that a stratum of European financing be added with, for instance, a youth unemployment allocation fund for vocational training: “in addition to the benefits they are paid by the social institutions of their own country, jobseekers could be entitled to a European nest egg, paid directly to the unemployed person. Social Europe must be extra social, rather than national expropriation”. The author also takes the view that social affairs at the heart of the European model must become one of the very greatest priorities of the EU. She therefore suggests increasing the share of social and health care expenditure in the European budget, which could “help to feed into a European Health Bank, along the lines of the existing European Investment Bank, to be fully given over to the funding of medical and pharmaceutical research European level”.


As for the crisis of the pandemic, “this confirms that it is impossible to maintain the great European illusion: economic integration does not create any political solidarity”, states Gnesotto, going on to point out that “in Europe, as is the case everywhere in the world, we share only in times of abundance. In the event of famine or disaster, the survival of the fittest takes over. In this way, Europe gave the world the pathetic spectacle of disagreements at the summit of heads of state or government, the national requisition of masks by the French and the Germans and the initial opposition of the so-called ‘virtuous’ countries to the idea of European collective debt”. She calls upon the European Parliament and the Commission to look at how the institutions could be reformed and organised upstream so as to “embody a duty of European solidarity in the times of the worst crises”.


The author rightly stresses that self-criticism and self-questioning do not exist in the European Union. “It is certainly very difficult to find an official analysis originating from the European institutions that recognises an error of policy or decision-making (…). This inability of the European institutions to engage in self-criticism is largely responsible for much of their discredit. But they all share this taboo of contrition. By dint of embodying the common good, the European ideal has ended up embodying good, full stop. A sort of collective faith in the righteousness of the project, in its unbelievable historical scale – all of which are truths which I share – prevents us from even thinking about the possibility of error. Criticising Europe even becomes suspect: it would play into the hands of the populists and anti-Europeans by giving them extra arguments, complicating the landscape when the general public needs to be reassured and the European project defended, etc. Is this reasonable? How can anybody believe that leaving the criticism of Europe up to the Eurosceptics serves the cause they have set out to defend?” She seems to be speaking from her own experience and it is one that I have also shared at times. Criticism is, in reality, a prerequisite for progress. Without it, one goes round in circles, which is what Europe does most of the time. But there is worse to come, due to fear of criticism and the assumed reactions of the general public, we are in a situation in which the institutions “try to keep the arsenal of measures to reinforce integration as quiet as possible”. “But what an odd definition of democracy if lies are prioritised over political truth!”, Gnesotto comments, adding: “what a terrible anticipation of the future: if, one day, they get the feeling that Europe is hiding further assumptions of sovereignty, if they discover that it is moving forward cloaked and masked, with the hypocritical consent of the states, Europeans could be moved to a further rejection of Europe, which has plenty of parties and extremist groupings able to exploit this. The reinforcement of integration is possibly the best solution to meet the many challenges globalisation brings with it, but if this is the case, then it must be stated, explained, laid claim to. The shameful federal option is the worst of all options”.


These are just a handful of extracts taken from a book that deals with many other subjects and is deserving of careful reading. It is preceded by a preface by Jacques Delors, who states that “calibrating the European adventure in light of global disorder and the challenges of globalisation has, in my view, become the priority action. We need new architects and firefighters to get us out of crisis! It is this priority that will allow Europe to respond to the concerns of the citizens in a global order that leaves far too much by the roadside”. (Olivier Jehin)


Nicole Gnesotto. L’Europe: changer ou périr (available in French only). Tallandier. ISBN: 979-1-0210-4592-7. 318 pages. €20,90


La relance post-Covid face aux enjeux des transitions et de l’équité


In this study, the economist Dominique Perrut takes stock of Europe in 2021, which shows the “aggravation of the differences between national economies and increasing social precariousness”, leading him to identify “three major challenges for the EU of today: - bringing the economies closer together by means of rebalancing; - carrying out environmental and digital transitions; - fighting social dumping and exclusion” (our translation throughout).


The author reports that “Europe was hit harder than its principal competitors by the recession of 2020”. “The drop in GDP reached -6.1% in the EU and -6.3% in the euro zone, compared to -3.4% in the United States and -4.8% in Japan. For its part, China saw only a slow-down in its growth (+2.3% in 2020, from +6% in 2021). At the end of 2021, the United States and, to an even greater extent, China exceeded their production level of 2019, whereas the Eurozone is still below it, as is Japan”, he notes. Among the consequences of this, he stresses the increase in youth unemployment, inequality and numbers of people exposed to the risk of poverty (between 20% and 30% of the population in the countries of the South, but also 18.9% for France, 20.4% in Belgium and 22.5% in Germany). The risk of poverty or social inclusion affected 98 million people in the EU at the end of 2020 and energy precariousness 34 million.


Based on this observation, the researcher recommends: (1) reinforcing economic governance with a view to consolidating the Eurozone (with a revision of the rules of the Stability Pact, the immediate creation of the position of Minister of the Economy and Finance of the Eurozone, a renewed campaign of public investment for the transition and social coherence and the creation of the European unemployment insurance tool); (2) stimulating the transition with, amongst other measures, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism; (3) evaluating the capital integration programme with a view to the need for transitions; (4) implementing a genuine European social policy (with, amongst other things, a minimum salary set out in European law and a strategy to bring Europeans out of energy precariousness). (OJ)


Dominique Perrut. La relance post-Covid face aux enjeux des transitions et de l’équité (available in French only). Confrontations Europe, 13 January 2022. 38 pages. This study may be downloaded free of charge from the website : https://confrontations.org