Year LXII, 2020, Single Issue, Page 96

 

 

EUROPE AND THE LANGUAGE OF POWER

 

 

A surprisingly large number of people believe that the signing of the Treaties of Rome, on 25 March 1957, was the “founding act” of the European project, rather than the 1951 Schumann declaration, or the Paris Treaty of that same year. Actually, this is quite understandable, for two reasons in particular. The first is that the de jure birth of the European Union — i.e., of the institutions constituting one of the most advanced expressions of European integration — in Maastricht in 1992, and all the intermediate stages leading up to that point, derived essentially from the EEC (in fact, the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties amended and extended the Treaties of Rome). The second is that although the process of European integration started with the Schumann declaration, the significance of the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was severely undermined by the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) project, which had been meant to pave the way for political union. As a result of the French National Assembly’s rejection of the EDC project, the governments of the Six (Italy, France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) decided that it would be better to shelve, for a while at least, the objective of political integration, and to focus instead on the objectives of development and economic integration. In this sense, the first ten years of the EEC were, without doubt, a resounding success, given that the progressive merging of the member states’ markets, coinciding with the period of international economic stability and post-war reconstruction ushered in by the Marshall Plan, and unfolding under America’s protective wing, opened up, for continental Europe, completely unprecedented development opportunities.

Today, especially now that the goal of creating a strong European common market regulated directly by EU institutions has substantially been reached, the time has come to rediscover the drive, stemming from shared ideals, that helped Europe to take its first steps on the road to integration. Indeed, the novelty and the revolutionary character of Monnet’s memorandum lay not in the ECSC, whose creation it outlined, but rather in the significance that this new institution would assume going forward. On re-reading Monnet’s memorandum, and the subsequent declaration by the French foreign minister Schumann, there can be no mistaking the idea that lay behind the creation of the ECSC. It was envisaged that this step would mark the start of the global affirmation of a united Europe — a Europe that could act as a third pole vis-à-vis the two superpowers, while also promoting a culture of peace. The creation of the ECSC was also a means of reinforcing the Europeans’ awareness, gained in the wake of WWII, of their common destiny, and of conveying this awareness to the rest of the world. “The cold war, whose essential objective is to make the opponent give way, is the first phase of real war” Monnet remarked, before concluding “In effect, we are at war already”.[1] Today, in the face of stark evidence that the shattering of the Cold War power logic (the mechanism of two opposing blocs) has left the world in a state of perennial instability, it has become necessary to give “the peoples in the ‘free’ countries hope in the more distant aims which will be assigned to them, (…) [in such a way as to create in them] an active determination to pursue those aims.”[2]

From this perspective, it is crucial to draw lessons from the failure of the EDC project in order to strengthen our ambitions as Europeans.

These issues have been addressed by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who, in a recent article, called upon Europe to “relearn the language of power”.[3] He began by underlining the need to recognise that it is still power politics that determines global balances. Indeed, the ruthless and crude use of this instrument (in particular by Trump’s USA, Russia and China) is perhaps the ugliest evidence we have that this continues to be the case. Power politics, being based on the balance of power, allows states that, for various reasons, have assumed global importance to exploit their position, using it, like a weapon, to force their geostrategic interests onto the rest of the world. Other countries, being too small or underdeveloped, do not even have the cards necessary to participate in this “great game”, and must therefore submit to the moves made by the big players. The result of this ruthless logic, whereby relations between states are governed not by war, so much as by the threat of it, is international anarchy. The solutions found to international disputes are often shaped by how and how effectively one state could potentially assert its prerogatives and apply its weight. In short, therefore, international relations can essentially be reduced to the need to weigh up the possible consequences of a hypothetical war among the countries concerned. And this brings us back to Monnet’s consideration, namely that war is always at the centre of political and strategic thought. So, having established the primacy of the power principle, let us return to Borrell’s article, this time to ask ourselves the fundamental, but rather tricky, question of the role the EU should play in the world. As Borrell points out, “It may, at first, seem difficult to face this challenge. After all, the EU was established to abolish power politics.”[4] Certainly, we appear to be faced with a striking paradox: on the one hand, we have an institution, born from the ruins of a war caused by German expansionism, that has always promoted the cause of multilateralism; on the other, “a harsher reality, with many actors ready to use force to get their way”.[5] But this is, indeed, the reality, and it has to be recognised as such. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that any EU role or intervention outside the current power situation is inconceivable. Naturally, it is important not to make the mistake of treating this affirmation as an absolute rule, and thus of elevating it to the status of an eternal paradigm. First, because this would play into the idea that the world is shaped purely by the clash of opposing and irreconcilable interests of states, and therefore has room only for strength and muscular confrontations. And second, and above all, because this interpretation offers absolutely no scope for change: indeed, viewed from this perspective, politics can do nothing more than support a power situation (no longer able to meet the challenges of our times) in which power politics is all that really counts.

The abovementioned paradox can, however, be overcome if we separate the two sides of the question: on the one hand, we have a harsh global situation, and on the other, a Europe that is not equipped to act in this setting. Therefore, to ensure true affirmation of its founding values, which are already partially realised within national communities around the world — indeed, the affirmation of these values must be neither partial nor confined to certain geographical areas —, the EU must, as the High Representative puts it, “relearn the language of power”. Unfortunately, this is precisely where the greatest difficulties are encountered, and they stem from the EU’s cumbersome institutional structure, but also from the fact that, crucially, political decisions depend on EU institutions, and since these operate according to the principle of intergovernmental cooperation, they generally have to be supported by the national governments unanimously. Borrell, too, highlights this now emblematic situation: “With unanimity rules, it is difficult to reach agreements on divisive issues, and the risk of paralysis is always present.”[6] It is important, however, to view the question from the correct perspective, recognising that the unanimity requirement, which effectively hands the states a sort of “power of veto”, is merely a symptom of the current power situation within the EU, inextricably linked to the issues of sovereignty and where power ultimately resides. Indeed, unless we remember that this power, and sovereignty in general, are still the exclusive prerogatives of the member states, and entirely under their control, then the states’ failure to understand that “using their vetoes weakens not just the Union, but also themselves”[7] will continue to seem amazing.

Two circumstances, in particular, help to clarify all this. First, unanimity voting has often been extended, almost routinely in fact, to areas in which the Treaties make no express provision for it, instead envisaging qualified voting. And yet even if, in these areas, majority voting were applied instead, it is likely that states that voted against the law or legislative act in the European Council would fail to apply it; after all, implementation has always been left to the discretion of the states. It would, in fact, be absurd to expect a government to sacrifice its sovereignty by implementing something it had opposed in the Council. There can therefore be no underestimating the political significance of the fact that, ultimately, unanimous agreements have always been reached in the Council, even at the cost of watering down political solutions, and without ever having to force a state’s hand: ultimately, the states have preferred to avoid opening up serious rifts that would expose the limits linked to the lack of European sovereignty and of a true European government capable of enforcing the decisions taken within the constraints of the Treaties.

The second circumstance is that the European Council, as the forum of the heads of state or government of the EU member states, has in a certain sense arrogated the right to decide even on matters that, strictly speaking, are not within its competence. This situation can be interpreted in two ways: first, as a sort of new version of the concert of nations that shaped power balances in Europe at the start of the nineteenth century, and second as evidence of the states’ growing awareness of the limits, in the absence of European-level management of the most important issues, of the myopic formula of opposing national sovereignties.

However, despite this growing awareness, unless the power situation in Europe can be redrawn, European-level management is destined to remain exclusively the prerogative of the states and, therefore, often inefficient.

Close analysis of the situation in the euro zone provides an even clearer, and more emblematic, illustration of this problem. In this setting, a federal institution, the European Central Bank, is responsible for monetary policy, while fiscal and budgetary policy remain exclusively, and very firmly, in the hands of the national parliaments and governments. The introduction of the single currency, given the inevitably close links necessary between the countries signing up for it, nevertheless created the need for some kind of coordination in the field of fiscal policy. This took the form of an informal assembly of the euro area finance ministers (the Eurogroup). This situation, whereby the Europgroup does not formally make decisions — these are still taken autonomously by the states —, serves as a kind of compass, and it shows us that there has, in fact, been been no change of direction at all: despite the existence of the single currency, the management of power in Europe continues to depend on the relations between states and, therefore, on the balance of power.

In Europe, there is one leader, in particular, who seems ready to take up the points raised by Borrell and willing to work to translate them into concrete solutions designed to effectively stabilise Europe’s position in the world. The leader in question is the French president Emmanuel Macron, who presented his vision in a speech given at the École de Guerre on 7 February, 2020, on occasion of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the French nuclear force (known as the Force de frappe).[8] Macron’s political action in Europe has always been based on critical reflection on the issue of sovereignty, in particular on the crisis of national sovereignty, and the need to rebuild sovereignty at European level. A significant part of his speech was given over to an analysis of the current situation in the world, which, as he sees it, is characterised by three “paradigm shifts”: the first, strategic, as shown by the abovementioned re-awakening of power politics, the second a “political and legal paradigm shift [in the form of] the multilateralism crisis and the regression of law in the face of power balances”,[9] and the third technological. And in the midst of these disruptive trends, which seem destined not to lessen but only escalate, all Europe has at its disposal are the few tools created (from Maastricht in 1992 to Lisbon in 2007) during the twenty years of American hegemony that Macron calls “the era of peace dividends”.[10] Indeed, although Europe’s decision (with the introduction of the single currency) to finally address the issue of national sovereignty, at least in relation to monetary policy, was undoubtedly a revolutionary step, and carried great symbolic value, in other fields, the European edifice still reflects the needs of a world scenario that no longer exists.

The most fundamental aspect of sovereignty is that it needs a government. Today, with the European states powerless in the face of global challenges, and ultimately unable to make their voices heard, even through the method of European coordination, a true European government, and therefore European sovereignty, is the only means of addressing the global issues. Only in this way, i.e., by setting up a new European sovereignty alongside the now powerless national version, can Europe become truly effective. According to Macron, the building (rebuilding) of these two levels of sovereignty must go hand in hand; however, since the creation of a European institution to which to transfer powers and competences in defence matters does not yet seem feasible (“For years to come when it comes to defence, Europe will only draw strength from national armed forces”),[11] it will be up to the single countries to fill the gap created by the growing lack of investments in the military field over recent years, and so contribute to the development of a “a shared strategic culture”, but he warns that “this [budgetary] effort means nothing if it is not implementing a strategic vision”.[12]

In his speech, Macron also offered a possible response to the questions raised by Borrell, strongly reiterating the need for Europe to speak “the language of power”. In just one passage, illustrating this point, he remarked: “For too long, Europeans have thought that it was enough to lead by example and that if they disarmed, others would follow. This is not so! Disarmament cannot be an objective in itself: it should first improve international security conditions.” The French president’s proposals for shaping this European strategic vision — he spoke of “tangible ambitions that we want to establish for Europe's security and defence policy” — [13] move along two lines. The first involves a rethinking of Europe’s relations with its traditional ally, the USA: Macron argues that the centrality of NATO must not be questioned, but “our security (...) inevitably requires that Europeans have a greater capacity for autonomous action.”[14] The second concerns the issue of nuclear deterrence: the Force de frappe plays a key role in the defence not only of France but also of Europe; after all a serious threat to any European country would inevitably affect France and, vice versa, France’s “nuclear forces (…) strengthen the security of Europe through their very existence and they have, in this sense, a truly European dimension.”[15]

Macron’s central point, which is part of the need to create, at European level, “a real policy of sovereignty”[16] able to complement and reinforce national sovereignty, emerges in his formal airing, aimed at countries wishing to follow this path, of the possibility that French nuclear resources might be shared for the benefit of other countries: “I would like strategic dialogue to develop with our European partners, which are ready for it, on the role played by France’s nuclear deterrence in our collective security. (…) This strategic dialogue and these exchanges will naturally contribute to developing a true strategic culture among Europeans.”[17] This proposal is highly significant since it fits in with the idea that the countries of Europe must take the federal leap in order to achieve the transfer of sovereignty that would guarantee them a true European defence policy. This transfer of sovereignty is the only way in which these countries, which currently depend entirely on the American umbrella to protect them, might find a credible alternative approach to the issue of their defence. Paradoxical as it may seem, in order to spread European values in the world, it is necessary to strengthen the defence policies of the member states and create a defensive capacity at European level (potentially also based on nuclear deterrence). But, as Macron points out, the choice facing Europe should not be viewed in such simple terms: “I do not believe that the choice is between a moral absolute with no link to strategic realities, and a cynical return to a lawless power struggle.”[18] In actual fact, in a setting in which the actions of countries such as China and Russia and, in particular, the supremacy that China has achieved on the world stage, are pushing to the fore an alternative model to the European one, and moreover one that could well become predominant, the need for a European player, even only in order to defend the European model, is becoming increasingly pressing. In seeking to “a different international order, with effective global governance which can set up and enforce law”[19], Europeans have no choice but to reckon with the current power situation. When all is said and done, a European federal state will, in any case, have to act in a foreign policy dimension in which relations are shaped by the balance of power. And yet, the very founding of this state will be both a revolutionary act and a demonstration that international politics and power management can mean something different from brutal muscular opposition between states. It will therefore do much to promote this alternative approach.

Paolo Milanesi


[1] Jean Monnet, Memoirs, Introduction by George W. Ball, Translated from the French by Richard Mayne, New York, Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1978, p. 290, https://archive.org/details/MonnetJeanMemoirs/mode/2up.

[2] Discussion paper by Jean Monnet (3 May 1950), https://www.cvce.eu/en/obj/discussion_paper_by_jean_monnet_3_may_1950-en-e8707ce5-dd60-437e-982a-0df9226e648d.html.

[3] J. Borrell, Embracing Europe’s Power, New Europe, February 14, 2020, https://www.neweurope.eu/article/embracing-europes-power.

[4] Ibidem.

[5] Ibidem.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Ibidem.

[8] Speech of the President of the Republic on the Defense and Deterrence Strategy, 7 February, 2020, https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2020/02/07/speech-of-the-president-of-the-republic-on-the-defense-and-deterrence-strategy.en.

[9] Ibidem.

[10] Ibidem.

[11] Ibidem.

[12] Ibidem.

[13] Ibidem.

[14] Ibidem.

[15] Ibidem.

[16] Ibidem.

[17] Ibidem.

[18] Ibidem.

[19] Ibidem.

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