political revue


Year XLVII, 2005, Number 3, Page 194



Europe today is at a crossroads: either we re-launch the construction of a political Europe through a vanguard, or else Europe will end up on the road to economic, political and demographic marginalisation. The alternatives are, on the one hand, a Europe-market, a vast free-trade area fatally subjected to some protectorate or other, and on the other a political Europe capable of playing a role in the world which has by now become multipolar. The logic of a Europe-market goes hand in hand with the logic of an endless enlargement, which is not preceded by a deepening in political cooperation. The logic of a political Europe passes through the formation of a hard core. On this strategic question of a hard core there is a dividing line in most political parties: there are as many supporters of the hard core on the right (Jacques Chirac, in the debate of 26 October 2005 published on 26 European dailies, Dominique de Villepin, Jean-Louis Bourlanges, Alain Juppé, Guy Verhofstadt, Karl Lamers, Wolfgang Schäuble) as there are on the left (Dominique Strauss-Kahn, François Hollande, Johan Van De Lanotte, President of the Flemish Socialist Party, Joschka Fischer and Günter Verheugen). In light of this very hot topic the Forum Carolus[1] has taken part in seminars,[2] has a dedicated Internet site (, is due to publish a book in 2006 and intends to organise some discussions in Strasbourg, a city that seems destined to obtain a position of privilege, being at the centre of the countries that could become part of the hard core.
Europe-Market or Europe-Power?
Time is running out when it comes to choosing between being a Europe-market and being a Europe-power, because we need to obtain the means of escaping Europe’s economic, political and demographic crisis. Powers are emerging in Asia with which it will often be in our interest to cooperate. History is speeding up and to the east of Europe strategic alliances are being created, as shown by the Turko-Russian meetings in the Kremlin over the problems of Central Asia last June, the project for an Indo-Iranian oil pipeline that traverses Pakistan, the formation of the China-India-Russia triangle following the meeting, again last June, of the Foreign Ministers of these three countries, the reinforcement of the Shanghai group, etc. Faced with all this the European countries risk being left out of history if they do not also organise to take charge of their own strategic interests. And to do that they must realistically take into account the concrete facts of the European and global situation, that is to say the setback that the constitutional treaty has suffered, the impossibility of constructing a twenty-five nation political Europe, and the foreign policy of the United States. Furthermore, after the end of the bipolarity which followed the sudden collapse of the Soviet Bloc, essential issues were addressed, for the first time and in all their importance, such as the final form that the Union ought to take, i.e. its institutional form and its frontiers, European defence, strategic cooperation with Russia, China and India, and the redefinition of transatlantic alliance.
I believe that on the one hand the creation of a political Europe, or of a Europe-power, requires the activation of a vanguard, of a group of so-called pioneer countries, in line with the current terminology, and, on the other, the start of a strategic partnership with Russia. As the commissioners Lamy and Verheugen have often reminded us in joint press conferences, a credible and active hard core other than one based on France and Germany is not conceivable, reasonably speaking. Besides what is usually said about the symbolic value, which goes for the whole of Europe, of the Franco-German agreement, it is worth remembering that France and Germany together have 142 million inhabitants and account for 41 per cent of the budget of the Union. The issue of the hard core and of Euro-Russian cooperation on the basis of the Franco-German-Russian motor (Paris, Berlin, Moscow) are two sides of the same coin, because they are the key to the control of Europe’s strategic interests and the driving force for a truly European policy. Paris and Berlin, furthermore, are able to decisively inspire the policies of the Union towards Russia. For example, Russia could subscribe to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and take part in decision-making on strategies and common action within the PSC (Political and Security Committee, already provided for in the Nice Treaty) — something that would not involve high costs and which would be symbolically and strategically decisive — and it would also be able to take part in the Union’s rapid response force. This important issue of strategic relations with Russia, but also the one about relations with the United States, and that of the nature of relations with Turkey are currently splitting the political class as a whole, as is happening over the issue of the hard core. We find both advocates and opponents of a strategic cooperation with Russia, as much in the Socialist Party as in the UDF or in the UMP, and, as already mentioned, left-wing politicians (like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jack Lang, Pascal Lamy, Günter Verheugen, Joschka Fischer) and conservatives (like Dominique de Villepin, both when he was Foreign Minister, and after becoming Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, Edouard Balladur, Jean-Louis Bourlanges, Jacques Chirac) very clearly declared themselves in favour of the core. The President of the Commission José Manuel Barroso himself ironically commented on the text, already mentioned, of the French President, stating that he could have written the same article without the part about the pioneer groups. Supporters and opponents of the hard core can also be found within the PS, the UMP, the UDF, the Greens, the CDU-CSU, the FDP, and in general in most European parties.
But there is another line of division to consider: if the Europe of the Six, at the start of construction of Europe, effectively corresponded to a form of hard core, since the project of the Founding Fathers was not exclusively economic but also political, along the path towards the construction of Europe this vision was shared less and less by the new arrivals.
The Progressive Erosion of the Project of the Founding Fathers.
Immediately after the Second World War, six countries, which corresponded to Carolingian Europe, traditionally centrally placed and more developed than the others, decided to give birth to a customs union, with the aim of transforming it into a political project. With the three subsequent waves of membership, the political union project of the six founding countries was shared less and less by the new arrivals.
The initial project of the Europe of the Six only concerned a small part at the centre of Western Europe, a homogenous bloc which neither the more atlantist Northern countries nor the poorer Southern ones joined. The British Isles and Denmark joined this bloc in the ’70s. The old EFTA countries adhered to it (they were almost compelled to) for economic reasons, and have always been distinguished by their delay in taking steps towards integration, compared to the Six. In 1957 they were not ready, thirty year later they did not accept the single currency and for the time being they are opposed to a political Europe. The Mediterranean countries, in the ’80s, joined above all for economic interests, whilst the Northern countries, in the ’90s, did it in order to escape their marginal geopolitical position, accentuated by the construction of Europe. Here, Austria is an exception since it shares a large part of the initial ambitious European political project, and would be inclined, like Benelux, to be part of the Franco-German hard core, which would allow the political construction of Europe to be re-launched. The countries of Central Europe, having just regained their independence, are not prepared, for now, to renounce their re-appropriated sovereignty; they are therefore not ripe for the European political project. The crisis of the construction of Europe is all the more acute and significant since it is the very countries that will profit most from European assistance that are rejecting the political project.
Even the various subsequent memberships were not motivated by the political project of the Founding Fathers. Rather, the new adherents were moved by the conviction of not having any other choice, since neither EFTA nor the Nordic Council turned out to be realistic alternatives. After the first enlargement of 1973, therefore, the new memberships were based exclusively on economic interests, and furthermore the countries that would not have had anything to gain from this point of view, like Switzerland or Norway, decided not to join the Union.
Today most of the countries of the European peninsula are part of the Union, except Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, which are closely associated to it through the European Economic Area. At the beginning of this process, the driving role of France and of Germany (General de Gaulle chose to give this priority as from the end of the Second World War), and then of the six founding countries, was decisive. Since 1993, with the Maastricht Treaty and the three innovations of economic and monetary union, of common foreign and security policy and of the Schengen system, Europe has had a variable geometry. In 1994 Karl Lamers and Wolfgang Schäuble launched the idea of the hard core, taken up once again from those Europeans preoccupied with giving birth and political weight to Europe. Shortly after the recent defeat of the constitutional treaty in France, the same Karl Lamers maintained that the time had come to launch the Europe of Defence through a hard core (“L’Europe de la défence en priorité”, in Le Figaro, 31 May 2005). Since the Union had not proceeded to carry out a reform of the institutions before the enlargement from 15 to 25, this prospect is the only one today that can save the dynamics of the construction of political Europe, and the only credible hard core, even if it is open to the rest of Europe, is that based on France and Germany.
3. Which Countries in the Vanguard?
The heart of the hard core, therefore, is made up of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg. Belgium and Luxemburg, thanks to their position and their twin culture, integrate naturally into the Franco-German tandem. These four countries often have very similar positions on economic (Rhenish model) and fiscal matters, on the problem of defence (April 2003 Tervuren meetings) or foreign policy (common position on the war in Iraq). As regards the remaining two out of the six countries that started the process of European construction, Italy and the Netherlands, one needs to ask oneself if they, in the current situation, have the inclination to unite with the starting group. The Netherlands, as much on economic matters as on those of foreign policy, are much closer to the British position, which limits itself to considering Europe as a free trade area without political weight. As for its own defence, they do not give preference to EU military production and, for example, recently they chose the future American fighter plane (JSF). The question of Italy is more complex: certainly a large part of its political class and of its public opinion shares the European political project, but the fundamental tendency of Italian foreign policy after the end of the Second World War does not tend towards a hard core as a base for a politically independent Europe. This tendency is even starker in the Berlusconi government, very close to the British positions, to the point that the press often refers to the London-Rome axis.
Moreover it is essential to find a way to allow Central Europe to take part in the project for a political Europe. Following an Article of mine published in Le Figaro on 15 June 2005 (“Une alternative au non à Strasbourg”), the Forum Carolus advanced the proposal of the creation of a vanguard of six countries,[3] open to any that want to join, composed of France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, Hungary and Austria,[4] despite underlining that only the Franco-German motor (with the addition of Belgium and Luxemburg) would give credibility to the European political re-launch project.
After the European Council of December 2003 and the partial failure of the IGC over the project for a Constitutional Treaty, and after Dominique de Villepin, when he was Foreign Minister, made the plans on the development for Franco-German union public,[5] Hungary, during a fringe press conference at the European Summit, officially took the position (voiced by its Prime Minister, Peter Medgyessy and the Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, current European commissioner) and demonstrated its will to participate in a vanguard with France and Germany at the base. With the participation, along with these latter, of four small countries of the Union, two in the West and two in Central Europe, an equilibrium would be created in the group of the pioneer countries (Vienna is to the east of Prague, even if, for the record, the Viennese talk about “Osterweiterung”, i.e. eastwards enlargement). Given that Franco-German cooperation is viewed with apprehension by the smallest countries, and particularly by those of Central Europe, it is worth making a credible gesture of openness towards these countries. Hungary and Austria tackle issues linked with Central Europe together officially and systematically. Therefore, Vienna and Budapest, ensuring geographical continuity, could be said to project the vanguard towards Central and Eastern Europe. Furthermore Budapest has been the true centre of gravity of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, whilst even Austria was part of the historical Carolingian core, and was not able to take part in the European political project of the six founding countries due to its ambiguous situation, midway between East and West, immediately after the Second World War. Besides that, as already underlined, Austria has been the only country that, over the course of the subsequent enlargement, shared the original European political project of the Founding Fathers.
The Role of Strasbourg for the Vanguard.
Strasbourg, at the centre of this design, and in collaboration with the other cities that host European organisations, is ambitiously proposing to renew the project inspired by the ideals of the Founding Fathers, constituting a bridge, culturally and economically speaking, between the Latin and Germanic worlds, projected towards Central Europe. As an MEP reminded me recently, a Slovak, a Croatian, an Austrian or an inhabitant of Lvov feel at home in Strasbourg. The main European think tanks in Brussels, or elsewhere, cannot conceive of Europe, and the necessary departure from the crisis, outside of the present form of the Union, confirming that the places and the environments within which one thinks and acts are decisive. Beyond the Kehl bridge, the Republic of Berlin laid the Republic of Bonn to rest. In Strasbourg, instead, Europe is not confused with the Union: The Europe of Strasbourg is contained within and at the same time goes beyond the Union. This city is at the centre of future re-launches based on a vanguard, starting from the Franco-German axis, but it is also the historical, cultural and economic port of entry to Central Europe, across the Rhine, the Danube and the Saône-Rhône axis (and we must not forget that it is also the seat of the Council of Europe, which includes all the countries on the continent, Russia included, with 46 members, and the Assembly of European Regions, with 250 members).
The aspiration of the Forum Carolus is to turn Strasbourg into a place where strategic European issues are debated. Over the course of the centuries this city was at the same time a haven and a military bulwark; today, given that the re-launch can only go through a group of pioneer countries based on the Carolingian core, it can become, if we want, an economic crossroads and a centre for political decision-making. For the first time in its history, as Tomi Ungerer reminds us, Strasbourg finds itself in the right place at the right time, and also has the proclivity to host the hard core’s future centres of decision-making.
Henri de Grossouvre

* This heading includes contributions which the editorial board believes readers will find interesting, but which do not necessarily reflect the board’s view.
** This is taken from the intervention in the seminar on the subject: “After the failure of the European Constitutional Treaty, how to relaunch the Project for a European Federation with a group of States?”, organised by the Committee for the European Federal State in collaboration with the UEF-Alsace section and held in Strasbourg on 12-13 November 2005.
[1] The Forum Carolus is a European think tank based in Strasbourg (
[2] The next one will be held in Budapest on 18 and 19 November 2005 on the theme: “Europe of the future, the future of Europe”, organised by the International Centre for European Training of Budapest.
[4] Henri de Grossouvre, “Alternative au NON à Strasbourg”, in Le Figaro, 15 June 2005, and Karl Lamers, “L’Europe de la défence en priorité”, in Le Figaro, 31 May 2005.
[5] Henri de Grossouvre, “Strasbourg, l’Union franco-allemande, et la relance de l’Europe politique”, in Revue Défence Nationale, 2005, no. 3.




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