Europe: between isolation and solidarity

, by Tim Kaufmann, Translated by Stéphane du Boispéan

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Europe: between isolation and solidarity

Between the Arab Spring and the waves of refugees, it is difficult to find a clear political guideline to the EU. We distinguish far more easily a huge nation-state centred selfishness that pushes countries away from the idea of a united Europe. The reasons for this are varied but can be gathered into 4 groups: rising xenophobia, the crisis of the Euro, the lack of foreign policy and weak leadership within the EU.

The rise of xenophobia

The smoke that was rising from Roma camps in Italy 3 years ago was a warning. Since then, the xenophobic forces have grown stronger in countries such as Sweden, Finland, the UK and Hungary. They control the political discourse, strengthen border controls, make immigration and family reunion more difficult and limit the access to social-security benefits.

Values such as tolerance and openness are endangered. Europe should look in the mirror that is the United States, which was able to integrate foreigners from all over the world. This hasn’t only contributed to their well-being but to the one of the country. On the other side, Europe creates pseudo-problems and proposes solutions that can only lead to its decline. The stupidity and credulity of many racists and xenophobes still prevents some from taking them seriously. Their racist and anti-European agenda absolutely disagrees with European institutions. To stop them, other government would have to take sanctions against xenophobic groups; in the same way they punish countries that violated the stability pact. But the weak reaction from European institutions and national governments to the expulsions of Roma form France, to the violation of the Hungarian constitution and to the baffles against the migrants in Italy shows that we have little to expect from them when it is about standing up against other governments.

The Euro crisis

The biggest risk to the European project doesn’t come form the economic crisis. The real problem is rather the irreconcilable points of view about the analysis on the reasons of the crisis and how we got there. For some – particularly Germany –we are dealing with a crisis that is linked to the irresponsibility of some member States in terms of budgetary policy. The solution is an austerity plan, announced on a moralising and condescending tune, as if a State’s deficit or surplus was the reflect of the moral state of a group of human being. May want a two-speed Europe, not based on performance but on stereotypes: on one side the virtuous Protestants that are saving money and Catholic spenders on the other side. But the fact that countries as different as Greece and Ireland are found in similar situations leads us to a more nuanced conclusion. The current growth crisis is a necessary phase of the construction of a monetary union, in which a single monetary policy isn’t supported by tax rules or a regulation of financial systems. We should in fact discuss how the monetary Union could work more smoothly and efficiently and how its management could be improved by new instruments and by strengthened institutions. Instead of that, we make a distinction between winners and losers, even if some take advantage of the situation in order to impose their economic model to other countries, as if every country had the same conditions and could all function according to the same basic rules. The facilities and other reductions that the aid plans are conditioned to will only make the crisis worse in some countries. If one doesn’t create growth and employment soon, the citizens will revolt against the austerity measures and the enormous debts or the markets and creditors will partially or completely exclude the Euro-zone states that face the biggest difficulties. If such a thing was to happen, the EU would then only be an instrument of implementation of an economic ideology with no legitimacy, which would nonetheless be followed due to the lack of alternatives. This could maybe work, but Europe would no longer be a political, economic and social project but a mere gathering of authorities ensuring macroeconomic stability but showing a great lack of democracy and identity.

The lack of foreign policy

On the issue of foreign policy, Europe only uses a part of its power, even in Mediterranean countries where she could have an important influence. It is the same in the UN, G20 or IMF, in which Europe potentially has a lot of power but doesn’t use its influence. Many European countries but little Europe are represented within these institutions. There are indeed few guidelines in which in which all States have the same interests. More than a year after the Lisbon Treaty, that was suppose to give us a more efficient European foreign policy, not much has changed.

The reaction to the Arab revolutions was the straw the straw that broke the camel’s back. During decades, Europe supported authoritative and corrupted regimes. When the people of the area took their fate into their own hands, Europe reacted slowly, with anxiety. Its leaders seemed more concerned about their economic interests and controlling immigration rather than supporting the democratic transition. A short-sighted decision since, were the revolutions to be successful, the economic benefits of democratization would be so valuable that they would make people forget the costs of the troubles. Europe must restore its credibility in terms of its military strength, as the one of the institutions responsible for its foreign and security policy.

Frustration with the new authorities, in particular over the role of the president of the European Council Herman Von Rompuy, the High representative Catherine Ashton and the new European External Action Service is so important that some government have already begun to detach themselves and work alone. Ironically, where we had hoped for national and European interests to merge, we are seeing an increasingly important rupture between a foreign policy without strength, with little presence other than in the paper. Without any influence in the Middle East, discouraged by the accession negotiations with Turkey, and leaving the Mediterranean left to itself, Europe can no longer stand as a credible actor.

Weaknesses of leadership within the EU

The European project has developed for years with the silent approval of elites and citizens, who considered the integration as beneficial. This consensus is over. Citizens have ended the blank check they had made to governments and European institutions. The economic, liberal and deregulative orientation of the European construction has made the politicization of a project thought to be in good hands in the person of bureaucrats and experts disappear. We are facing at the same time a revolt of the elites. Because German exports to China tend to exceed those to France, southern Europe is seen as a troublemaker that is preventing from generating growth. In the meantime, the memory of European commitment is fading away: only 28 of the current 620 German members of Parliament were already sitting in the Bundestag in 1989.

We are certainly living in a new Germany that lacks of confidence in the EU. Germany exports more suspicion than trust. Europe can not keep developing if Germany doesn’t fully back the European integration. Without German leadership and without other alternatives, Jose Manuel Barroso, Herman Von Rompuy and Catherine Ashton wander in the European fog, unable to rally the Europeanists who still believe in the project. In Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere, we are in front of a generation of prominent personalities among whom no one is speaking from or to Europe.

What consequences?

One question rapidly rises: may Europe disappear? Of course it can. In the same way that certain favourable circumstances made possible a project that was first risky, a certain number of factors could end it. Many pro-Europeans fear to express their pessimism, out of fear to add to the contagion. But it is hard to believe that mere optimism will be enough to free Europe from the spirit of xenophobia and egoism. Without a certain degree of convictions and precise ideas, Europe will fail.

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