Most European citizens still believe in the idea of European unification, but are captive to a framework in which it is no longer on the agenda. This is, in fact, the reason why, in recent years, every time they have been called upon to express, directly, their views on the present European Union, they have either responded with only lukewarm support or rejected it. Leaving aside the milestones Europe has already achieved, public opinion is aware that today’s Europe is not a true political union, but only a large reservoir of energies and possibilities that is effectively governed by national policies; it is also aware that this is not enough to protect Europe and equip it to rise to the challenges thrown up by the new world balance.
However, this awareness, on its own, is not enough to prompt the development of a political Europe. Many people, in Europe’s political parties, in the EU institutions and even in the European governments, are in favour of the political unification of Europe, but they still dare not call into question the national power framework. The only way they are ever likely to find the courage to abandon the old order in favour of a new (European) order is if the course of events forces them to make a choice. Only with a crisis looming will they find the strength to beat the inertia of the established power and established interests.
Today, we are on the brink of just such a crisis. The framework of the current Treaties is failing to stand the test of reality. Quite apart from any opinions one might have of it, the Lisbon Treaty certainly embodies, in form and substance, the stalemate that, as far as European unification is concerned, has now been reached by the political powers, the different sections of public opinion, and the national and European institutions. All the states want to hold on to the commercial, monetary and economic benefits, direct and indirect, that they derive from their membership of an integrated Europe, yet at the same time no state is ready to pursue the objective of transforming the various assises that were formed within the European Union in the wake of the first Communities, or at least some of them, into a federation. And this is the reason why the complex national-European institutional system that has been woven together over the years is now so glaringly inadequate.
Therefore, unless Europe changes course it is irrevocably destined to become an increasingly marginal player on the world stage – in other words, the stage on which the decisions are made regarding the world’s future in the fields of military and environmental security and the progress of mankind. This is the lesson recently brought home to the Europeans by the climate summit in Copenhagen and the events of the global economic and financial crisis.
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For the awareness of this state of affairs to be translated into political actions, it is necessary, although not sufficient, to reiterate the reasons why it is so important to build a united Europe in a world increasingly dominated by the effects of globalisation and the rise of new continental powers like China and India. Actually, these reasons are now plain for everyone to see, and they crop up frequently in commentaries and analyses, as well as in official government documents and memoranda. But it is not only the reasons that need to be pointed out, but also the political solutions. And this is precisely what the joint statement at the Franco-German Council of Ministers of February 4, 2010, which approved the so-called Franco-German Agenda 2020, failed to do, as indeed did the latest European summit held, a week later, to discuss the ongoing problems linked to the economic crisis. The Agenda, in particular, instead of striving to elicit more courageous decisions from the EU, not only sealed the end of the era of EU institutional reforms, now considered “derrière nous”, but also totally ignored the possibility of these two countries restarting, together, the process of building a political Europe. In other words, it culpably failed to highlight the political nature of the challenge that the Europeans today face, with two of the fundamental pillars of the whole process of European integration now at stake, i.e., Europe and America’s shared geopolitical interests and the convergence of the interests of France and Germany in their common pursuit and promotion of ever closer union among the countries of Europe.
Since the end of the Cold War, but above all since the end of the brief period that saw the United States as the world’s only superpower, the American and European governments have ceased to have the same geo-strategic outlook. Indeed, relations between Europe and America have entered a new historical phase in which they are more fluid and less certain than they were in the past, and in which both the USA and the countries of Europe are called upon to redefine the framework of transatlantic cooperation. And this is happening at a time in which, on the one hand, Europe is, for the USA, no longer a strategic priority or a credible partner able to share with it the burden of international responsibility and, on the other, the Europeans no longer consider their subordinate role vis-à-vis the American superpower as a sufficient guarantee of their security in the military, economic and energy spheres, for example.
One particularly negative situation now emerging alongside the increasing difficulties in Euro-American relations and the weakening of America’s position of world leadership is the growing Franco-German discord in the European and international arenas. There are now many issues over which Paris and Berlin, rather than cooperating as they did in the past, are now in conflict with each other. From industrial policy to economic-trade policy, from energy policy to foreign policy, France and Germany constantly appear to be running the risk of setting themselves on a collision course. And these are signals that it would be dangerous to underestimate: here, we are not talking about normal debate between partners with differing points of view, but rather a manifestation (albeit milder and more peaceful than that of the past) of the confrontation between European states that retain their sovereignty in the key areas of politics and the economy. And it is a phenomenon that is inevitable when the prospect of establishing an independent framework of power in Europe either disappears from view, or starts to lose credibility.
There are at least two conclusions to be drawn from all of this. The first is that these changing Euro-American relations and the drawing apart of France and Germany, together with the inevitable decline in the role, both political and historical, of the single European countries are not phenomena that have come out of the blue; rather, they are the most obvious consequences of the wrong choices made by the Europeans over the past two decades. The truth of this is now widely acknowledged, also in the European press. For example, Eric Le Boucher, editor of Enjeux-Les Echos, several weeks before the latest Franco-German summit, remarked that thecurrent crisis “signe l’échec de l’Europe des nations”, although not of Europe as such (which does not yet exist) – a Europe that would have come into being had the building of a federation not been deliberately sidelined: “L’idée, celle de stopper toute avancée fédérale, s’était imposée sitôt après Maastricht. Elle a été installée par le couple Chirac-Schröder, France et Allemagne de concert, gauche et droite réunies. Cette « Europe des nations » s’est d’abord perdue dans le long et difficile chemin de croix institutionnel nécessaire après l’élargissement : dix ans d’errements” (“L’Europe sous cloche”, Les Echos 15.01.2010).
The second conclusion is that, despite everything, the favourable time for building Europe is not over. In a European Union now geared towards having thirty or more member states, there is no reason at all why an initiative to create a politically united Europe should not begin with a small number of countries, while nevertheless at the same time finding ways of preserving the acquis communautaire for all the others. A core Europe with few member states is essential both to try andmanage more efficiently the existing European institutions and, even more important, to relaunch, in a concrete sense, the objective of creating true political union. It is, in fact, impossible to imagine that the framework provided by the Lisbon Treaty might be exploited to achieve advances in the fields of foreign policy, defence and the economy without the specific initiative of a small number of states, still through recourse to enhanced and structured cooperations. On the other hand, it is unrealistic to raise the question of creating an effective democratic and federal system of government on a continental scale without considering that of how it might be possible generate the will to enter into the binding federal pact that would mark the birth of the first core of a European federal state. Because, ultimately, this is the only way that would allow the foundations to be laid for a return to more balanced Euro-American relations and an overcoming of the fragmentary tendencies that are now at work in Europe’s key countries and threatening to undermine the European institutions.
No one can say whether or when the German and French governments, perhaps together with some other members of the original Six, will find the courage to take this initiative. Neither can we say whether or how politics and public opinion in Europe will find the courage to ask them to take it.
Nevertheless, it is the duty of anyone who firmly believes not only that we need Europe, but also that the time has come to build a united Europe, as quickly as possible, to remind the former of their historical responsibilities and to gather support among the latter for the creation of a European federation – the only alternative to Europe’s decline.