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For a Comprehensible Europe

For a Comprehensible Europe
 Dominique Moïsi
Distinguished Senior fellow

From Germany to Catalonia, to Great Britain, electors’ inspirations are becoming more and more complex. Among this large kaleidoscope, Emmanuel Macron is given credit for offering a clearer vision and strategy to revive Europe. Dominique Moïsi, senior fellow from the Montaigne Institute, looks back at the turmoil Europe is currently going through.   

Germany? Troubled. France? Regenerated. Spain? Fragmented … and Great Britain? Entangled.

Following the German elections, Emmanuel Macron’s speech on Europe at La Sorbonne, Catalonia’s attempt to hold a referendum and while confusing negotiations between the EU and the UK are currently taking place, it seems that Europe just turned into a very large kaleidoscope. Indeed, some countries are moving forward while others fall behind. But hasn’t this always been the case? Yet nowadays and especially according to the current international context, variations seem much more dramatic. 

In the late 1990s, Germany was considered the “sick man of Europe.” In 2005, while London had just secured the 2012 Olympic Games, the UK – despite the terrorist attack that had just struck its capital – was confident in the future. France, on the other hand, seemed embedded in a feeling of gloom that ended up lasting until spring 2017. 

Reason and wisdom must prevail 

The future of Europe takes a crucial turn today. Meanwhile, our minds go through various scenarios from resignation to the break down or the implosion of Europe. Yet let us keep a cool head regarding the future of the EU – we should neither fall in the meanders of the darkest pessimism nor show the most blissful optimism. Of course, the elections’ results in Germany are very disturbing, around 13% of votes favored the radical right! Emotionally speaking, that is the equivalent of the 35% of votes received by the National Front last spring in France. Nonetheless, two Germans out of three are pro-Europeans while less than one French out of two endorses the EU. Though populism, which combines anger towards the elite, xenophobia and nostalgia of a more homogenous world (before the globalization era), could genuinely not spare Germany forever. 

Yet, despite the natural erosion of her leadership and of her costly but courageous decision to welcome one million refugees in Germany, Angela Merkel was reelected for a fourth mandate. Germans can feel ashamed, and rightly so, to have let 94 deputies from the far right enter the Bundestag. However, any comparison made with the 1930s is simply absurd. Angela Merkel’s Germany remains a pillar of stability and growth in Europe. Let us not harbor any useless fear. Especially when France is waking up from its long torpor, thanks to its news president, and restoring both its self-esteem and its confidence at the European level. 

Reengagement for the European project 

Macron’s speech at the Sorbonne – and this is why it is bound to make history – aims to reengage with the European project, concretely and precisely, by providing an exhaustive list of all the changes to implement in order to adapt the model of the EU to the ongoing challenges – economic, geopolitical, climate … This is of course not a pro-European drift, as some disgruntled minds might say, it is in fact a rational, proactive, and optimistic response to the current threats Europe is facing. All suggestions from Emmanuel Macron will genuinely not be implemented but most of them will, and, regardless, the key point lies elsewhere, which is in fact in the very essence of the message he sends. Indeed, nearly seventy years after its first steps, the European project appears to be as necessary as ever. 

This positive voluntarism is even more important since it goes against a wave of pessimistic and cynic minds, reinforced by the risk of fragmentation within certain European countries. We can indeed regret the strategy chosen by the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, in order to hinder the rise of the Catalan separatists. Less legalism and more dialogue or concessions to strengthen federalism would have been much more helpful. Yet the creation of a new state within itself is the last thing that Spain and Europe need. The multiplication of independent entities is not a good thing at a time of both globalization and fragmentation of the world. 

In fact, the Brexit is as irrational as Catalonia’s desire to become independent. By voting in favor of independence on 23 June 2016, British citizens, especially English citizens were guided mostly by identity politics at the expense of their own general interests. Throughout a year, the gap has not stopped growing between the two parties. On one hand, there are those who are glad to have left the Union before it collapses or moves towards a “limitless federalism.” On the other hand, there are the others, who denounce this poor decision to leave the EU, which they believe was made only based on a short majority of voters.  The UK will stay in Europe but will leave the Union, as advocated by Theresa May. Yet, what does that mean?  And most of all, why take such a decision precisely when the US decided to pull away from Europe in terms of values and policies?

The UK seems to be locking itself up in some form of chronic schizophrenia: the Brits are prisoners of their decision to leave the EU and seduced more than the French could ever be by a growing Marxism, which took the lead of the Labor Party. By wanting to be efficient in France and in Europe, Emmanuel Macron is right. He knows that the credibility of Europe relies upon him and his legitimacy in France, as well as his capacity to implement his ambitious reform agenda. At the same time, he is also very aware of the fact that the figure of hope he embodies in Europe largely contributes to his popularity in France. 

Translated and published by kind permission of Les Echos (published on October 2nd)

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