Year XLIX, 2007, Number 1, Page 3
The Disunited States of Europe in Today’s and Tomorrow’s World
JEAN MARIE LE BRETON
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 altered profoundly the shape of international politics. Until 1991, the existence of a de facto duopoly had limited the freedom of action of the two world leaders. The duopoly then gave way to the American superpower, which was the only power capable of imposing its will on the world’s big, or fast developing countries: China, Russia, India, and Brazil, and no longer required the Europeans’ support. During the Cold War, the latter believed that they were making an important contribution to the global equilibrium, and the Americans did their best to encourage this belief. The superiority of the United States is not limited to its armed forces, but is equally manifest in the economic and cultural fields, as well as in research.
Until a short time ago, this superiority was exercised with prudence and moderation. At the start of the Cold War, the United States, maintaining its long tradition of non-interference in European affairs, displayed a wise restraint, born of its profound respect for democracy. The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, led to a definite change. The balanced system of international relations is no more. During the Iraqi crisis, the Americans responded with arrogant indifference to the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and showed total disregard for the collective security measures that the UN is bound to enforce, and these attitudes have had serious effects on the international equilibrium.
Another victim of the Iraqi crisis has been the Atlantic Alliance, which protected Western Europe so effectively throughout the duration of the Cold War. It has been deeply affected by the war in Iraq. Once an alliance of equals, it is now an instrument in the hands of the Americans, used to support American soldiers engaged in conflicts outside the geographical boundaries of the Alliance itself.
Finally, Europe — or let us say the European construction — has been the third victim of the Iraqi crisis. Instead of strengthening the solidarity that they have been striving to promote for the past fifty years, the disunited states of Europe have been unable to maintain the resolute and dynamic approach expected of them. Indeed, with the exception of the single currency, the European Union has failed to make any significant contribution to the cohesion of its members. Its enlargement has been pursued in haste and in the absence of a political vision. The Iraqi crisis has exposed a deep divide in Europe, and the split is not between those who are pro-American and those who are anti-American, but rather between those who chose European unification as the means of regaining control of their own destiny, and those who have given up on it.
These crises and divisions have at least served the purpose of highlighting the ambiguities on which the activity of the Atlantic Alliance and the organisation of the Western world are made to rest.
Today’s international situation is characterised by the transition from the bipolar world order, based on the Russian-American duopoly, to a world in which there is only one pole of power: the United States of America. It is a setting in which Europe lacks a voice. All we can now do is strive to create the conditions that will allow the emergence of a multipolar world, and make sure that we are ready, in good time, for its advent. This is an evolution, probably inevitable, that the Americans view with hostility, resignation and anger.
1. Facing up to Reality.
The European Union must also face up to the dangers and respond to the challenges arising from the evolution of today’s world.
The first danger is the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In 1965, during the negotiations that led to the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the efforts of the international community — with the US and Soviet Russia in the forefront — were directed at restricting possession of these weapons to the five permanent members of the Security Council. Faced with this truly one-sided contract, some countries — first India, then Pakistan — asked for, and obtained, exceptional treatment, undertaking, as they did so, to respect the Treaty and to behave with the same sense of responsibility shown by the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the situation has changed radically in the matter of armaments. The restriction on the possession of nuclear weapons favoured by the United States and the Soviet Union has had the perverse effect of boosting the nuclear ambitions of countries, such as Israel and Iran, located in the world’s most conflict-ridden areas. And other countries may well, in the near future, wish to provide themselves with such weapons.
If the United Nations proves unable to ward off this danger, the great regional powers will have to do something about it. In one way or another, the international community will become aware of the need to protect itself against the lethal threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. The new, multipolar world order will be conditioned by this very grave problem — hence the intensity of the current debate on this issue. Europe, in all likelihood, will play its part in meeting this challenge. It must also respond to the expectations of its peoples; and help find an answer to two problems: the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the protection of its own citizens; in other words, how to control the use of these weapons by other countries while retaining the possibility of employing them itself, should the need arise. The threat of a proliferation of nuclear arms raises the question of who should decide whether or not they must be used, and in this regard there seems, even in the long term, to be only one possible answer: a European federation.
There is a second concern: the rapid development of the “continent-states” — China and India in particular — is already affecting the availability of the raw materials needed by the industrialised world. The main problem is that of the probable, and probably imminent, exhaustion of gas and oil supplies and the rising cost of these resources. As a result of higher energy prices, alternative sources, like coal, bituminous schists, and aeolian and thermal energy, will become increasingly competitive. It is however likely that scarcity will generate conflicts. And while the producing nations seek to exploit their advantage, the disunited states of Europe will be struggling to obtain energy at reasonable prices. Shouldn’t the Europeans get together to ensure that they are not crushed between the energy-producing nations and our competitors?
One of the most urgent and worrying problems facing us today is that of the growth of the world’s population. While the developed world — and other, fast developing countries like China — have managed to curb the growth of their populations, in the poorest countries of the world the rate of population growth is still very high. The world has also witnessed migratory flows so strong that they have fostered attitudes of intolerance in those countries that have been affected by them. The nineteenth century saw vast migratory movements, too, and these proved to be the making of America; the twenty-first century, on the other hand, finds itself faced with unwanted migratory flows. The European states are all, to a greater or lesser extent, affected by these movements and will be obliged, before too long, to take adequate steps to regulate and channel them. This, at least, is my hope.
The globalisation of trade has ushered in a new, even fiercer form of competition between the major industrialised nations. The phenomenon has its advantages; it is also fraught with risks. Some companies are induced to relocate their production to areas where the cost of labour is lower, at the risk of pushing up the level of unemployment at home; then there is the competition from Chinese and Indian industries, which, with such an abundance of labour at their disposal, can drive some European manufacturers out of business.
Globalisation and today’s migratory trends threaten to trigger off conflicts between rich and developing countries, in a global setting characterised by the dire poverty of the world’s underdogs, and by the selfishness, mixed with a growing sense of guilt, of its rich populations. There is every chance that racial tensions will emerge, or indeed tensions between groups belonging to different civilisations. The racism/antiracism debate might thus come to dominate the course of this century, just as the fascism/anti-fascism and communism/anti-communism conflicts did the last one.
All these developments, which threaten to make things difficult for Europe, must be viewed in relation to other rivalries, which have not declared themselves openly. The disunited states of Europe will not be able to stand up to China for much longer. Neither will they be able to influence the political situation in the Middle East, even though they are likely to feel the impact of its crises. Europe, if it wants to be heard, and be able to act, must attain an adequate level of power, or “critical mass”. But it will not be recognized as such until it has overcome its frustrations by providing itself with institutions that work and are geared to action.
2. The Means.
Does Europe have the means to make itself heard, and respected in the face of today’s major powers: the United States, but also China, Russia and India? It must be accepted that Europe is no longer the protagonist on the world stage that it was during the five centuries of its hegemony.
I shall not dwell on Europe’s role in the process of industrialisation. Industrialisation, particularly in the nineteenth century, was the true driving force of European power. With the defeat of Hitler in 1945, that power came to an end, and this new state of affairs was illustrated by the failure of France and Britain’s intervention in Egypt in 1956. During the Cold War, the world was dominated by the Soviets and the Americans. Fifty years on, the Russian-American duopoly is gone; it has been replaced by American unilateralism which, in turn, is set to give way to a more complex international pattern based on a global arrangement in which Russia, China, Japan, India and Brazil will all take part.
After 1945, Europe set about rebuilding itself. It is rich again today, and might therefore wield military and economic power. Yet it does not. Is this because the means are wanting? Not at all. The European states spend a sizeable proportion of their gross domestic product on arms that are certainly not inferior to those of the Americans and Russians. Europe has the means, and the question remains: what to do with them?
Since the disappearance of the Soviet threat, various views have been taken of Europe’s defence; but there still remains a built-in contradiction. The point has been made that the European defence system will not be credible unless it is based on the pooled forces of France and the United Kingdom, the only countries whose armed forces are up to scratch. The trouble is that the British give priority to their relations with the United States and want the organisation of Europe’s defence to come within the framework of NATO, which is the same as saying that they do not want Europe to have an autonomous defence capability. But if Europe wants to become an independent factor of the new world order, it cannot allow its defence to be capped by NATO.
All the experience that has been acquired and all the efforts that have been made to set up a Western European defence system have failed to produce any results, because despite the presence of various national armed forces in Europe, what is lacking is one common European will in the sphere of defence. The military means are there; the will to act as one is not. During the Cold War, Europe’s armies were united in a coalition which enjoyed a measure of credibility, since the forces stationed all over Europe were mostly under American command. When the Soviet threat disappeared, they all wanted their freedom back. In the wake of this, efforts were made to integrate them, so as to lend credibility to the new system. Such efforts are certainly commendable as a move in the right direction, but they do not make it possible to take the decisive step towards the creation of a common European army, which requires that the decisions on its deployment should no longer rest with the national governments, but with a supranational authority.
Europe’s means are not restricted to the sphere of defence. After the end of the Second World War, Europe rebuilt its economy; its gross domestic product increased significantly and so did trade. There is no doubt that the principles on which the European Economic Community was founded, and developed, contributed in no small degree to this evolution. Great Britain’s change of attitude, from initial scepticism to membership of the EEC, proves it: the British realised that joining the Community would favour economic growth.
The European Community is a success story that can be summarised in a few words: the abolition of customs duties, and a common policy decided by the member states on the basis of proposals put forward by an independent authority — the Commission. Candidate countries are required to accept the set of rules of which the European Commission is the keeper.
Europe, then, has adequate economic means. The question is, could this situation lead to a true unification; not only of the market, but also of economic policies?
Currently, the ultimate responsibility for economic policies is still in the hands of the states and thus there is no true European government of the economy. Those who created the European Community first, and European Union later, were convinced that the work they had done would lead, almost automatically, to a strengthening of the European institutions. The introduction of the single currency has certainly been a big step forward. But until the management of the economy is vested in an independent authority that can be an effective partner with the European Central Bank, the national systems will continue to prevail. Once again, the means are there, but they have not been used to get beyond the intergovernmental stage.
The European project initiated by the Treaty of Rome has been an undeniable success and its results are clearly visible today. But whatever substance has been given to Europe so far is the work of the “community spirit” alone — the initial impetus of fifty years ago. Attempts to extend its powers through agreements between governments have failed. It has been possible to implement the provisions of the Treaties of Rome, but the extension of Europe’s remit in the second domain, or “pillar” (security, defence, CFSP) has failed to get beyond the first tentative while the return to the intergovernmental method in relation to the third “pillar” has compounded the weakening of the Community.
This return — by no means new — to the intergovernmental approach accounts for the gradual decline of the enthusiasm that had marked the years of the European Community’s construction. Today, as the French and Dutch referenda clearly showed, inertia and resignation prevail.
The intergovernmental method returned to the fore when the member states embarked on a new phase in the development of the Union, extending its remit without the fundamental choice having first been made between the intergovernmental approach (which implies the maintenance of the member states’ right of veto) and genuine common policies of a supranational nature.
The competition between those sectors managed by the Community method and those where the intergovernmental approach prevails has not favoured the former. Despite the efforts of the Commission to guarantee adherence to the terms of the Treaties, it has to be acknowledged that there has been a drift, or regression, towards intergovernmental methods. Even the most sincere Europeanists, staunch supporters of the European Union, ultimately find themselves proposing intergovernmental solutions in order to facilitate the working of the Union, putting forth, for example, the idea of a “directoire”, falling back on existing structures, or indulging in power politics. The European Union, like the European Community before it, has adequate means at its disposal, but these should serve a definite project. Instead, to all intents and purposes, it is as though the UK, which (from the time of its initial application for membership of the Community) has always made it clear that it would like to have Europe turned into a free-trade area managed by the intergovernmental method, had, over the years, won its case against supranational integration.
The extension of the areas in which the member states cooperate according to the intergovernmental method has been accompanied by the Union’s geographical enlargement, following the entry of new member states. Initially conceived for six countries linked by their history, geography, standards of living, and social and economic experiences, the Treaty of Rome, which is still the basis of the European political system, now embraces twenty-seven countries. And we are faced with the prospect of admitting more that, from a cultural, political and social point of view, seem to have little that can define them as European. One thing is sure: the enlargement of the EU to twenty-seven countries has radically altered the profile of Europe. And, as already noted, this enlargement, with all its consequences, occurs at the very moment when the member states are extending, and plan to extend further still, the Union’s field of activity through a return to the intergovernmental method. This double enlargement reveals a tendency wholly alien to the bid for “an ever closer Union” which was at the core of the European building project. The fact is that Europe, in relation to its defence as well as its foreign policy, is now going through a severe identity crisis and is up against a fundamental contradiction.
Defence, again, is a case in point. To be truly credible, it should be free from foreign interference — that of the US in particular; but to be truly European, it should be in the hands of a political power, directly invested by the peoples of Europe, not by their governments alone. The fact must be driven home that, in the current situation, strength does not lie in numbers; numbers are, if anything, a source of weakness.
3. “When There is a Will, There is a Way”.
The problem of Europe today, which relates to its place in the world and its historical influence, is still the same problem that emerged in the wake of the second World War. At that time, rebuilding Europe was regarded as the major objective because it was believed that this would give the Europeans the means to retrieve their independence and their rightful place in the world, and in history.
The years after May 9th, 1950 saw enormous progress, above all in terms of reconciliation among the Europeans. This required, first of all, the forging of new relations between France and Germany, based on the fact that the two countries now shared the same destiny. However, to prevent this reconciliation from being a mere flash in the pan, it is now imperative that these two peoples reaffirm their will to unite. And they must not be the only ones to do so. The three Benelux countries, Italy, France and Germany all narrowly escaped destruction in the turmoil of the Second World War.
For Europe to succeed, it must steer away from the intergovernmental formulas which may occasionally give the impression of allowing progress, but in fact do not make it possible to build a strong and enduring political entity capable of offering its citizens the exciting prospect of recovering the place on the world stage that, historically, is theirs.
We need to dispel the ambiguity attached to the term “Europe”. Europe is a geographical area whose borders are far from clearly defined, as shown by the hazy limit of the Ural mountains, and by Turkey, which, while an integral part of the European “concert”, is truly alien to Christian Europe, as our forefathers realised in the second half of the fifteenth century. The ambiguity of the term “Europe” was apparent again when, after the internecine wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, efforts were made to restore the so-called “European concert”. The Europe of the Vienna Congress, of the Paris Congress, of the Berlin Congress, and of the Treaties of Versailles has little to do with the political notion of Europe. Where does Russia fit in? And what about Turkey?
I believe that the Europe whose advent we hope for should be one that delivers a political message, is powered by a common will, and is known as “Europe” just as the US is known as “America”. Europe is built around a project rather than a geographical area. Just as the United States developed the idea of a “clear destiny”, so the time has come to promote a Europe based on a conjunction of wills, in other words, a federal Europe, a European federation.
In 1950, Europe was born of a great ambition: to regain its rank, power, and influence through the pooling of its resources. Today, on the contrary, it lies dormant, unaware of impending dangers. To be present, and active, on the world stage, it must once again find the will to shape its own destiny.
The European Union of today is not the Europe that we dreamt of, and are still dreaming of. It is a disunited Europe that Washington does not take seriously and its own citizens deride. The time has come to find, once again, the drive and energy that allowed the advances of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and to create a European federation with a great, new ambition. It must necessarily rest on three pillars.
The first and most important of these is independence. This has become an absolute priority since the end of the Cold War era, when the world had to wake up to the fact that there remained only one superpower. Until then, the transatlantic bond had mattered more than independence. General De Gaulle was in fact ahead of his times when he made independence a priority, as the Bundestag’s separate protocol to the Treaty of the Elysée (1963) showed. Independence means not being at America’s beck and call. Independence conditions and signals the European federation’s bid to control its own destiny, which means standing apart and, if necessary, opposing the US.
The second pillar is Europe’s standing: the European federation cannot be confined to a lower-profile, subordinate role — that of second fiddle to the world’s leading power. Rank, of course, must be based on realities: a large population, a high national income, the highest possible level of know-how; but the pooling of the factors of power — currency, defence, diplomacy — is bound to enhance the federation’s standing in the world.
The third pillar is the achievement of stability. The Europeans, from 1990 up to now, have acted in the belief that a country’s stability could be guaranteed by granting it entry to the European Union. Given that the EU has succeeded in ensuring stability for its institutions and their activities, it has been felt that the most effective way of guaranteeing the stability of countries torn apart by vicious internal conflicts (one need only think of Turkey, Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia) was to open the doors of the EU to them. In my view, stability cannot be achieved by taking on the problems and tensions of a few countries that see Europe as a way of escaping their own responsibilities. The important thing is to create, within the European federation, a centre of power that, through its influence, will be the best guarantee of stability for all the regions around it.
The fact remains that Europe finds itself up against the intrinsic limitations of the new international society. In the course of history, Europe has left its mark on the two Americas and, to a lesser degree, on India, Indochina, Indonesia, China, Japan and Korea, the very states that are now challenging it for a place which, owing to the disproportion of the forces in the field, they once allowed it to have. Europe once held sway over the Arab-Muslim world and black Africa. What are, then, the chances of its rising again to a place of eminence?
The Soviet Union died fifteen years ago, and, in its absence, Europe — first the twelve-member and then the fifteen-member EU — has followed America’s lead, giving the impression of being its “brilliant deputy”. The disunited states of Europe have failed to come up with any ideas of real value, particularly since the Eastern European states broke free from the dominion of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the only meaningful project that Western Europe has advanced has been that of a “confederation”, independent of the United States, which, however, the newly liberated countries would not accept. Europe found nothing to say in response to the crises that hit the former Yugoslavia, even though France and the UK could have taken the initiative. It has kept silent, too, over the more recent problems of weapons of mass destruction and of the Middle East. It is true that there has been strong opposition to the war in Iraq in some of the major Western European countries, but this has gone no further than public demonstrations of hostility and anger. More alarming still is the impression that Europe has lost the will to enforce its own point of view. It often seems to be pulled along in America’s wake, at the mercy of its ally’s moods. Can we really can be surprised, then, when some people conclude that, fine though it is, the European dream no longer appeals to the younger generations?
On the strength of my long acquaintance with European history, my equally long experience of international affairs, and the fifty years in which I have been able to observe the European institutions at first hand, I feel qualified to suggest a new departure — a solemn call by the six founding member states of the European Community to set the process of European unification going again. An uphill enterprise to be sure, but a thrilling one; and the other ways lead nowhere…
In order to make proper headway, the process must, in my opinion, be restarted by a small group of countries. The European Union as defined by the Nice Treaty need not be abandoned, but the pace must be quicker and bolder; there should be no second thoughts, and priority should therefore been given to the drawing up of a federal pact by the governments of the Six with, if necessary, a new Treaty within the Treaties.
Why not, in the spirit of the Messina Conference, restart the negotiation of a federal pact? Why not bring it home to the populations of Europe’s six founding member states that Europe is not a tangle of rules that blurs its true aims? Why not insist on the importance of subsidiarity, leaving it to the national institutions to look after their own affairs in less crucial areas? Why can’t the Six devise a common foreign policy? Why not create the economic government that the single currency is crying out for?
Whenever it has been followed, the federal way has always brought success, whereas the intergovernmental approach has always led to compromises, hesitation and weariness. The European idea is so strong that, even where the intergovernmental approach prevailed, some progress was still recorded. However, the reality before us now is a stark one: without a fresh injection of energy, we are bound to witness the death of the European project and a return to the past.
Who on earth can believe that the EU, with a budget amounting to just 1 per cent of its GDP, has the necessary means to meet the challenges of the modem world, when a federal state like Canada devotes 50 per cent of its resources to the federal budget, nearly as much as is allotted to the budgets of the provincial states?
The defeat of the referendum in May 2005 is not to be attributed to too much federalism but rather to the sense of disappointment caused by the ridiculous wasting of a great ambition on issues like the hunting of migratory birds in southeast France, or clam fishing. This is why we must pin our hopes on a federal pact negotiated among Europe’s six founding member states and ratified by their peoples.
Huge difficulties face us, it is true. But can we honestly believe that they were less on May 9th, 1950? Are reconstruction, wealth and harmony really greater obstacles to progress than ruin and quarrels? When shall we realise that failure to move ahead means moving back? Can the peoples of Europe be really so blind as to believe that their former rank and independence can be regained without their relinquishing a part of their sovereignty? Such transfers of sovereignty, if they are not made in favour of Europe, will in any case be made in favour of the major states making up the new international community.
The federal pact must create institutions that rule out a return to the past and design policies which will chiefly be supranational. It is time to embark, once again, on a bold policy of movement and to stop lamenting over our weakness. The time has come to appeal to the peoples of Europe’s six founding member states. Of course, their citizens are no longer the same, and circumstances, too, have changed. But what hasn’t changed is our history, which revives our dreams of greatness. It is essential now to point to a way forward that is certainly more difficult, but also more thrilling, than those of the past. The time has come to show our peoples the path leading to federation, the way that involves vast transfer of sovereignty. It must be understood that without such transfer of sovereignty, Europe will not regain its historical place in the world. It will be a puppet in the hands of the great powers and its citizens will remain as disillusioned and disheartened as they are now.
It is time to propose, to them, a radical reform of the institutions, which must become federal institutions based on an agreement vesting in a supranational authority the responsibility for the management of currency, diplomatic relations, foreign policy and defence. This pact must be ratified by the different countries and submitted to a referendum.
Clear limits will be set on the federal power. The supranational power need not take care of everything, far from it. Indeed, it should not involve itself in minor issues, like clam fishing, which so often trigger off disputes, and pay more attention to the really big ones, such as the reconciliation of France and Germany. Isn’t this, after all, Europe’s major political achievement of the past half century?
It might be specified, for example, that only the main problems (weapons of mass destruction, collective security, international relations, war and peace) should fall within the remit of the federation. Local crises could be dealt with through missions entrusted to a single state or group of states, without necessarily involving the federation: this would be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. If the steps taken at national level were to prove inadequate, then, and only then, would it be necessary to appeal to the higher — federal — level.
Our objective today is to try and inspire a new ambition in the Europeans engaged in the federal adventure, to make this prospect of recovering control over their destiny an exciting one. Federation does not mean renunciation. Quite the opposite. But it demands firmness of purpose, the will to be independent, to keep one’s rank, to be once again in charge of one’s future.