The president of Institut Montaigne gives Le Figaro his thoughts on the future of a Europe in the grip of all uncertainties. Faced with the great forces that govern the world's march, the survival of political freedoms is, in his view, essential to avert chaos.
How can we deal with the new world disorder?
No matter the era, there have always been four great forces leading world affairs. Climate, which influences the location of human activities: major conflicts and migrations have always been caused by issues of access to resources. Demography, which has two components: birth rate and longevity. Life expectancy was of 30 years at the beginning of the 19th century, 40 years a century ago, and is over 70 years today! Africa has 30 million more inhabitants each year, with an average age of about 30 years. And they lack between four and six million jobs every year to stay in place. It is vital that we understand this!
Technology is the third power. Each technological breakthrough sparks important societal upheavals: this was already the case with the invention of the printing press, which enabled the emergence of Protestantism, but also of pamphlets, which were the "fake news" of the time. And with the arrival of electricity in the 19th century, which revolutionized production processes and accelerated urbanization.
Finally, the last force is ideology, which underpins all of the above and serves as a justification for clashes and confrontations. In Europe, we must preserve the founding fathers’ values, which serve as the bedrock for democracy. Yet we must change the way in which we preserve them, because priorities have shifted. Agricultural policy is perhaps no longer a European priority, as it could be dealt with independently by the Member States. On the other hand, the climate crisis, migration, the regulation of technology behemoths or defense and security issues all require concerted action within the European framework.
Hubert Védrine sometimes speaks of the "European la-la land"
He is right, tolerance should not be confused with weakness, and no one is asking Europe to do so. But we may have forgotten, in our Western arrogance, that other systems and ideologies are competing with us, and can aspire to replace us. The borders of the empire, which are not only geographical, must be protected.
Our Judeo-Christian values are based on individual freedom and the respect for others. The two go hand in hand. They enabled us to invent the rule of law and democracy. The combination of the two is certainly tricky and complex, but it has not worked so badly, since liberal democracy has ultimately triumphed over all totalitarianism. Moreover, individual freedom and freedom of thought allow for innovation, and thus growth, prosperity and social equilibrium. No one is asking Europe to be naive or weak.
All other forms of social organization have failed so far. As for China, it is an emerging and centralized power. The primacy of social stability over individual freedom has created a surveillance society. At a time when technology enables the centralization and process of huge amounts of data, the question is whether the centralization of the Chinese system and its lack of respect for individual freedoms will make it competitive to the point that we can no longer catch up with it. This is a new question, and it is worrying! It is probably too early to provide an answer to it.
There are other entities whose power is comparable to that of states, like the GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple)...
The world is not only composed of sovereign nation states. Non-governmental organizations play an important role in society today. They are part of a heterogeneous group that includes the GAFA of course, as well as humanitarian associations, but also terrorist organizations. We must now think outside the box: we naively believed that the global framework we had imposed on the rest of the world from the middle of the 19th century onwards, and which culminated after the Second World War at the time of the Bretton Woods agreements, was the only one possible, and included only traditional players.
We must now take into account non-governmental, economic and political actors. Europe is not disarmed, but it is disunited. It does not lack assets, but unity. It remains the world's largest consumer market, just ahead of China, and in the countries it gathers, education systems can play key roles in the knowledge economy.
Are we still allies of the Americans?
There have been other previous crises in the transatlantic relationship. The one in 1956 with the Suez Canal, but also Vietnam, Iraq... so the phenomenon is not new, but we still share the same fundamental values. What is fascinating in the current situation is that an emerging power is challenging a dominant power - even if China is actually trying to regain a position it has held for many centuries, as it had long been the world's leading economy. Except that today, economies are more interdependent than ever, and competition is unfolding in the midst of a technological revolution. Technological change increases mutual dependence while at the same time increasing the threat.