Year LXII, 2020, Single Issue, Page 8



Europe: the Testing Ground for a New Model of Political Community



The curtain has just come down on 2020, leaving us facing a huge and challenging task. The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly and dramatically exacerbated the crisis that has long gripped our societies as they grapple with complex transitions, both economic and social (linked to the need for a green transformation of the economy and the effects of the technological revolution), and also political, following the collapse of the old order. It has become more necessary and urgent than ever to redesign the international system and affirm a new doctrine for governing global interdependence, to address together the challenges facing the entire planet, and to define the necessary framework of reference values.

The latter part of 2020 brought the first developments that may help us to move in this direction: the creation of vaccines to free us from the grip of the pandemic; a turning point in Europe in the form of the EU’s decision to implement (innovative) new common financial instruments; and Trump’s defeat in the US presidential elections. These constitute initial steps, which could be good foundations on which to build, but only in the course of 2021 will it become clear whether we have the capacity to develop and consolidate this evolution; and it is above all within the EU that this capacity must be displayed, because many aspects of the post-pandemic world will be shaped by the EU’s moves and by the role it manages to play. The United States has long been struggling to uphold its once established position of global leadership, and now even the solidity of its democratic institutions has been called into question. The shocking storming of the US Capitol on January 6, an attack fomented by the incumbent president, desperate to stop the democratic process by refusing to accept the results of legitimate elections, was the manifestation of a deep-rooted rejection of the country’s democratic institutions. It is universally agreed that while Biden’s election constitutes a necessary step towards bringing the country back together, the fragility of the American system is so great that there is certainly no guarantee that this difficult task can be achieved. Internal divisions have been allowed to deepen precisely because the political thinking behind the US institutional approach has increasingly fallen short of what is required to tackle the problems that have emerged over the past three decades. Internally, American institutions and policies, which, moreover, when seeking to introduce change, have often been weakened or impeded by these same internal divisions, are inadequate in the face of the scale of the ongoing social crisis that has created a profound rift cutting across entire swathes of the country and categories of citizens. At international level, the USA is inevitably obsessed with the rise of China, to which it can respond only by aiming to rebuild its network of alliances, and its old vision of the international equilibrium, around containment of this new power. From this perspective, the EU could do one of two things: either opt for a subordinate role, in which it will struggle to manage the pressure applied by its American partner, or seek to enter the global stage as a player with a project of its own, thereby helping the world to move beyond the construction of a new bipolar order. The choice depends on how it intends to develop and shape its future.

In November, shortly after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the US elections, French president Emanuel Macron gave a lengthy interview to Le Grand Continent, a magazine founded just over a year ago as the voice of a French independent think tank that deals with geopolitical studies and is based in Paris, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, and in Brussels. His reflections centred, in fact, on his conviction that US doctrine is no longer able to act as a positive driving force in the world, and that Europe therefore needs to overcome its overreliance, both psychological and political, on this powerful ally. Macron, not for the first time, was at pains to stress that the time has come for Europe to start reasoning on the basis of its own vision and interests, also in order to defend the values it believes in and to prevent the world from sliding into a devastating bipolar confrontation. It is worth quoting a few excerpts from Macron’s extensive interview with Le Grand Continent, as they clarify, effectively, the terms of the question and clearly underline the urgent need for Europe to develop its own strategy and become aware of the added value that it can and must represent at global level.

The gap that separates the USA from Europe, Macron says, concerns basic social values: “Our values are not quite the same. We have an attachment to social democracy, to more equality, our reactions are not the same. I also believe that culture is more important here, much more”, but also geopolitical interests: “we have a different worldview, which is connected with Africa, the Near and Middle East, and we have different geography, which can mean our interests are not in line. Our neighbourhood policy with Africa, with the Near and Middle East, with Russia, is not a neighbourhood policy for the United States of America. It is therefore not tenable that our international policy should be dependent on it or be trailing behind it”. There are also marked differences between the respective political doctrines. The Washington Consensus is no longer able to offer solutions to the profound crisis of contemporary capitalism (now at “break point” to use the French president’s expression). The American model also lacks tools to address both the green transition of the economy and the fight against growing inequalities. Basically, Macron says, “our societies were also built on the paradigm of open economies and a social market economy, as we used to say in post-war Europe, which became less and less social, and more and more open, and which, following this Consensus, basically turned into a dogma whereby the truths were: less state intervention, privatisations, structural reforms, opening up of economies through trade, financialisation of our economies, with a rather monolithic rationale based on the accumulation of profits.” And this rationale, “based on the accumulation of profits (...) does not help us address and internalise the major changes in the world, in particular climate change, which remains an externality in the Washington Consensus”; instead, to govern a problem of this importance and this scale, it absolutely has to be “put back into the market”, as the European model aims to do through carbon pricing, for example. Similar arguments can be advanced with regard to the problem of the increasingly unsustainable inequalities that underlie the crisis of consensus currently afflicting our democracies. The exponential growth of these inequalities is destroying the democratic social pact, undermining the confidence of the middle classes, and fueling populist and nationalist forces. American politics struggles to think in terms of instruments geared at social protection, even though these, in such a complex phase of transition, are indispensable. In this area, too, Europe, unlike the USA, bases its approach on a model that makes social justice a priority, and has indeed developed political sensitivities and tools in line with this.

In general, the multilateral system built by the Americans after 1945 has entered an irreversible crisis. The very values on which this system was based are now being questioned, beginning with democracy and even the values of “[universal] human [and citizens’] rights, and therefore of universalism based on the dignity of the human person and of the free and reasonable individual”, Macron confirms. Today, we are even witnessing an attempt, by some countries, to bring about a “reculturisation” of the foundations of the international system, so that this system is no longer designed to promote sharing of the principle of universal rights, but rather to affirm relativism of values, justified also on the basis of different religious views. Given America’s espousal, under Trump, of this “reculturisation” idea, not to mention the propaganda-based promotion of the concepts of sovereignism and white supremacy, it would be a mistake to believe that the United States under Biden will have the strength necessary to rebuild a cooperative international system grounded in the “universalism based on the dignity of the human person and of the free and reasonable individual”, especially if it is left alone to lead this endeavour. Conversely, the universal principles that underpinned the birth of the EU and can form the basis of international cooperation are tightly woven into Europe’s DNA; and in Europe there are ideological orientations and political forces that believe the way forward lies in the creation of global public goods, as in the case of the efforts to develop anti-Covid vaccines.

This is precisely why, Macron says, there is such an urgent need for a strong and united Europe, aware that it is called upon to shape the responses demanded by the challenges of the new era that is emerging, all the more so because the individual European states are now powerless. None of them has the strength to positively affect the construction of the new global system. Our nation-states are gripped by “a crisis of scale and efficiency”; and if boosting efficiency depends on the ability to make democratic systems more efficient, the difficulty, more generally, lies in the fact that “many of the problems are not at the level of the nation-state”. Therefore, Macron insists, only if we prove able “to build a much stronger Europe, the voice, strength and principles of which can carry weight …[will it be possible ] to get back on track with useful international cooperation that prevents war and addresses our current challenges” — a Europe with the capacity for “much more useful and stronger action”, as this is “the only way to impress our values, our common voice, to prevent the Chinese-American duopoly, the dislocation, the return of hostile regional powers.”

But to allow Europe to live up to this historical task, the EU must, crucially, build both its own strategic autonomy and its own sovereignty (also based on political identity and democratic legitimacy). Macron seeks to define these key aspects, too, clarifying, first of all, that strategic autonomy is “the idea that we [Europeans] choose our own rules for ourselves.” He explains that addressing this aspect “means revisiting policies that we had become accustomed to, technological, financial and monetary policies, policies with which we, in Europe, are building solutions for ourselves, for our companies, for our fellow citizens, which enable us to cooperate with others, with those we choose, but not to depend on others, which is still too often the case today”. For Europe, pursuing strategic autonomy does not yet mean “talk[ing] about European sovereignty (…). [This]is a term that is a bit excessive (…), because if there were European sovereignty, there would be a fully established European political power in place. We are not there yet.” Strategic autonomy refers, rather, to the content of sovereignty. He also explains that before being able to build democratic European political power and sovereignty there has to be, in his opinion, a step devoted to structuring a European people: to have “European sovereignty, we would undoubtedly need European leaders fully elected by the European people”. Today, Macron points out, we have “a European Parliament that defends European citizen representation,” but in his view “these forms of representation are not totally satisfactory. That is why I strongly defended the idea of transnational lists”, considering these to be the right tool for helping the European people to emerge and develop transversally. In this way, a “new form of sovereignty (…) not national, but European” can take shape on the basis of true representation of the European people (in the European Parliament), alongside representation of the national peoples (in the Council and through the decisions of the Commission).

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Macron’s considerations certainly show the size of the challenge facing Europe. Only by building European sovereignty can Europe hope to become capable of acting politically on a whole series of fronts relating to foreign policy and security (and of building “solutions for ourselves, for our companies, for our fellow citizens, which enable us to cooperate with others, with those we choose, but not to depend on others, which is still too often the case today”). Mere cooperation among member states, precisely because of their weakness, is not enough to allow Europeans to develop an adequate strategic vision that makes the EU a leading player not just as a market, but also on the global political stage. At the same time, sovereignty, meaning the democratic kind, where laws are approved by representatives chosen by the people, can be exercised only within the state. No other juridical-institutional formula can guarantee popular sovereignty; the only possible alternatives are autocracies or the opaque power of big economic and financial interests. All this explains why building a democratic state at supranational level, in order to create political power on the scale necessary to be able to address today’s problems, while also respecting the principle of democratic popular sovereignty, is the real challenge of our times, and above all for Europe. It is a new historical experiment. Indeed, while it is inspired by the precedent of the birth of the United States of America, the context is far more complex. In Europe, unity (thus far pursued through partial experiments, successful in terms of integration and the development of a very strong interdependence, but insufficient to create political power) must be achieved in the following setting, which combines very specific conditions, both political and cultural: first of all, there is no major external threat (on the contrary, for 70 years now, “global governance” and  European security have been entrusted to external friendly powers); on the other hand, Europe is still prisoner to a cultural and political inertia that keeps the concepts of state and people tied to the idea of nation that developed in Europe after the French Revolution. A condition conducive to the building of European unity, on the other hand, is the presence of a single market model that, as it develops, demands (as shown by currency issues and the need for fiscal and political union) the creation of instruments of political governance; also conducive in this sense is the current crisis of American leadership and the collapse of the old-world order, with all the attendant risks for Europeans in economic and political as well as value terms.

These particular conditions are unprecedented in history, and make Europe, de facto, the testing ground for a revolutionary experiment that must culminate in the birth of a political community of a new kind — a community of destiny and values, or, put another way, a federation representing a new type of State of States. The European federation will have to ensure the coexistence of national and federal (European) sovereignty, defined and organised on the basis of a federal constitution capable of guaranteeing unity, also through the coordination, together with the autonomy, of the different spheres of government. Alongside the national identities, which will remain fully recognised, there will have to take shape a new, common identity, able to capture the features of a new (European) people that feels able to identify with and support a common project, a common vision, and specific shared values, as well as institutions capable of promoting them.

In the process, now under way, of defining the future of the European Union, the conceptual tools developed by federalist theory over decades of political struggle for a European federation can provide invaluable support. It is also with this in mind that we have decided to include, in this issue of The Federalist, the contributions presented during a debate organised in October 2020 by the Debate Office of the European Federalist Movement on the topic “Federalism and the concepts of political power, power, statehood and sovereignty”. We hope they will help to feed and drive the debate that has to unfold in Europe in order to allow the European federation to finally see the light.

January 2021

The Federalist

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