Remodelling the united Europe project
Impetus for relaunch - Brexit, Trump & Macron
As the existential crisis confronts the united Europe project, 2017 is already looking to be a turning point. A new beginning is taking shape as a consequence of three political forces. The first two are external: the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump which both took place in 2016. These choices are forcing the European Union to react.
One year on, political disarray as well as economic and legal uncertainties which have arisen from the British referendum’s decision to leave the European Union are discouraging other countries from going down the same path. On the contrary, Brexit has raised an awareness of the importance and highlighted the benefits of belonging to the Union.
At the same time, the Trump presidency, marked by political unpredictability albeit with a clear preference for unilateralism, is leading Europe to rely evermore on itself. As Angela Merkel acknowledged last June “the Europeans have to take their destiny into their own hands”.
The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement together with Donald Trump’s protectionist threats are, a contrario, moving Europeans to assert themselves more strongly in the fight against global warming and reminding them of their commitment to opening up trade as well as multilateral frameworks.
However, the current revival of the European project is not only taking place in response to Brexit and Trump. These two factors boosted, by way of reaction against, the election in France of Emmanuel Macron on the 7 May, this being the third political force behind the renewal in interest for Europe. The clear victory of the most proudly European candidate against the candidate who was most virulently opposed to the European Union, Marine Le Pen, has given a renewed legitimacy to the pursuit of integration.
The German federal elections on the 24 September should further consolidate this momentum, leading to a new affirmation of the Franco-German partnership by whoever is the winner in Berlin. A major initiative is expected from this traditional engine of European construction, and there is no turning back.
But a Franco-German impetus, even if initiated at the highest level and covering such essential subjects as European defence and integration of the Eurozone will not be enough to put a European project, which is suffering from a serious lack of a sense of belonging, back on track. The European Union will be able to use all its skills and show itself to be a key player on the international stage only if it is able to remodel a project for all Europeans.
Further conditions required for success - Tackling social exclusion, respecting national diversity and developing vision
In order to succeed, the first condition required for the relaunch is that it must be guided by inclusiveness. The French presidential elections, the Brexit vote as well as other elections in Europe have shown the deep-rooted sense of exclusion felt in many countries, the division between the winners and the losers of globalisation. The European Union tends to be associated with the winning side.
This division is not simply social or generational, it is mainly territorial. It is between open and multicultural urban towns and cities and rural or former industrial regions which see themselves as having been abandoned. European institutions and national governments have to open up new horizons to these areas. This united Europe has to produce tangible evidence of its connection with the least educated and least developed populations. European funds, aptly named “globalisation adjustment funds” and the so-called “cohesion” policies are the most accessible means by which this can be achieved.
Another condition for enhancing the European project among public opinion is to develop its connection with its nations. The extreme right opposes both of these conditions. To paraphrase the European Union motto, European union is built through the diversity of nations. In 2009, Vaclav Havel told the European Parliament “The fact that I feel myself to be a European doesn’t mean that I stop being a Czech. On the contrary, as a Czech, I am also a European. I tend to say, somewhat poetically, that Europe is the homeland of all our homelands”.
In other words, no one is a European citizen ex nihilo, but as a consequence of his own nationality. You can inherently prefer what derives from your own country or region without being called a nationalist. In the same way, love of homeland does not prevent one from putting aside self-interest and from seeking, in accordance with the aim of the European construction’s founding members, a “merging of interests” over several subjects. A state does not only take from Europe, it gives to it as well. This is a balance which has all too often been lost from sight.
The third condition and by no means the least, is to give a new meaning to the united Europe project. As we know, the original meaning of a Europe for peace has been eroded over generations. Peace between European nations is now taken for granted. However, we must not underestimate the strength of national prejudices and the patient work towards reconciliation between peoples which constantly seeks to establish an improved climate of confidence, essential for the pooling of resources. However, beyond this internal peace which we are constantly seeking to consolidate, Europe can anchor its revival in a new fundamental ground: that of “serving as a reference to the rest of the world”.
In his speech before the European Parliament, Pope Francis invited Europe to serve as a “point of reference for all humanity”. In an increasingly uncertain world in which new power dynamics are reshaping spheres of influence, Europe must show its collective preference for the rule of law, openness, the social market economy and environmental protection. This list will have to be extended and refined but it shows, without any sense of arrogance, how to create a Europe for the world today.
The role of Christians in remodelling Europe
The “democratic conventions” which President Macron wants to launch in Europe at the end of this year could act as a highpoint for the remodelling of the European project. This remodelling also requires the precious support of Christians who have supported the European ideal from its outset. The “Rome Dialogue” which will be hosted by the Vatican at the end of next month presents itself as an opportunity to be seized.
Director, l’Institut Jacques Delors
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.