Europe seen from across the Atlantic: “The EU is an example, (but) not a model”

, by Florent Castagnino, Translated by Nelly Tsekova

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Europe seen from across the Atlantic: “The EU is an example, (but) not a model”

Interview with Dany Deschênes, analyst at the Department of Planning and Policy of the Ministry of Public Security, Quebec, research assistant at the International Peace and Security Program of the Quebec Institute for International Studies and PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Laval.

The New Federalist: What do you think is the image of the European Union (EU) in Canada and Quebec?

Dany Deschênes: Before answering directly, let me address a broader question: what is the image that Canadians and Quebecers have of the EU? In the minds of the general population, the current image of the EU is concentrated around certain symbols and issues that are present in the media. When I talk about symbols, there’s clearly the euro, especially for those who travel in Europe.

It must also be said that with the debates on the return of an ice hockey team in Quebec, the European Parliament is also present. Slovak MP Peter Stastny was the star of the former city team (Quebec Nordiques) and has participated in several activities to support the return of National Hockey League in Quebec.

There are also the economic problems of some of the European countries like Ireland and Greece that stand out. The news is often the only time when citizens are aware of the existence or evolution of some organizations or situations in parts of the world, Europe in general and the EU in particular, are no exception. For citizens, the EU is a kind of regional cooperation organization different from others, but without really knowing where it can be classified.

The image of the EU in Canada and Quebec is an image of a unique regional integration which of course, provides opportunities to create economic ties. In view of Quebec, there is also the idea that European regions are partners both economically and culturally. These are the main points that citizens typically consider. In fact, EU’s message and visibility remain mostly within small/restricted circles.

You specialize in the democratic transition of the Danube and Balkan Europe. What role should the EU play? What would be its priority?

Dany Deschênes: Huge issue! Even if these are the obvious, we must emphasize, among others, that the EU must be able to support the Western Balkans in the development of democratic and liberal political institutions, I use the term liberal in the sense of Zakaria, for example on the importance of the rule of law for our liberal democratic regimes.

Existing institutions in several countries, for example in Bosnia-Herzegovina, are fragile and this support is essential. However, several issues stand out now: the financial crisis in several countries, the more and more important presence of ‘a right’ less inclined to get involved in these complex issues in the region, and in turn the political parties in this region are putting the emphasis on a rather intolerant nationalism; the thin line between support and assistance of the EU, but also other Atlantic partners, compared to a perception of supervision by the people of the region.

The problem is that even if the media doesn’t pay much attention, I mean obviously from the point of view of Canada, the region remains fragile despite the relative calm. We often forget that strong institutions are not built in a few years. The legitimacy of “everyday” grows with a minimal response to the needs of the population over a long period. Is that the case? I think there is still work to do.

We must also emphasize that this work should also be done in some countries of the former Eastern Bloc, now EU members, but at another level. I would say that the internalization of liberal norms and democratic must continue.

Since we see many tensions in Europe, particularly on financial and budgetary matters, do you consider the EU a success in terms of regional integration? Is this a role model, especially for AFTA and MERCOSUR?

Dany Deschênes: Going back to the goal that gave the impetus to European integration, that is to say, to put a stop to tearing the continent in the wake of two world wars, the answer obviously is yes. European integration is a success.

It has created a situation where the military option is no longer seen as legitimate by members of the EU to resolve disputes. It’s still an amazing achievement in European history and in the world! The EU has also promoted the consolidation of democracy in several states, politically unstable since the 19th century as Spain or Portugal. We shouldn’t minimize these successes according to the present conjuncture.

Regarding the regional integration process, I believe that governments in Latin America and Southeast Asia may use the European way to inquire about the direction that the countries of these regions want to give to the process of regional integration. For the rest, the situations and conditions are different and the policy choices will reflect them. There is no "EU recipe ready to use for other processes of integration. In other words, the EU is an example, but not a model.

Across the Atlantic, what role do we expect the European Union to play on the international scene?

Dany Deschênes: Overall, the Euro-Atlantic relations have been mishandled since the early 21st century. I don’t think it’s necessary to return. The timidity of several European countries in Afghanistan shows a certain limit in the security cooperation of countries in the Euro-Atlantic area. On the contrary, the current negotiations for a treaty of free trade between Canada and the EU represent a positive step.

For Canada, this is another attempt to diversify our trade. I don’t think however that this agreement will significantly reduce the privileged economic relationship between Canada and the United States. Despite the talks, I don’t think we expect something specific from the EU.

The state remains the primary actor in international relations and it’s from the European countries that we expect more intervention on the international scene and if the EU and its actions to coordinate the foreign policy and security of its members are working – better for them. In fact, it is the Euro-Atlantic relations that must be redefined.

Many Quebecers and Canadians go to travel and explore Europe. What do you think makes Europe attractive in their eyes?

Dany Deschênes: For many Quebecers Europe remains the cradle of our country. Quebec’s motto “Je me souviens” is sometimes completed with the following “... to be born under the lily and grew under the rose.”We therefore refer specifically to France and the United Kingdom. Quebecian culture is still inspired by Europe, but its americanization is widespread, hence a unique blend.

There is also the French factor. After Africa, the largest number of French speakers are found in Europe. In short, history remains an attractive force important for Quebecers. Europe is a sort of initiatory journey for many students.

Do not be mistaken, however, young Quebecers no longer grant “to the old country” the same importance as previous generations did. More and more young people are becoming interested in America and Asia.

Source of the image: Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (

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