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"Leçons de Lumières": What Future for Europe?

Interview with Dominique Moïsi

 Dominique Moïsi
Distinguished Senior fellow

As the European elections approach, Dominique Moïsi, Special Advisor on Geopolitics to Institut Montaigne, publishes Leçons de Lumières, calling on the European youth to wake up: "Faced with the current crises, there is only one answer, Europe; only one weapon, the spirit of the Enlightenment" ("Face aux crises actuelles, il n’existe qu’une seule réponse, l’Europe ; qu’une seule arme, l’esprit des Lumières").

According Institut Montaigne’s Barometer of Territories 2019, conducted in partnership with Elabe, only 34% of the (French) respondents are attached to the European Union - compared to 73% who feel attached to France. Is there such a thing as a magic bullet to revive Europe?

Disaffection with Europe is deeply entrenched, and it is not a new phenomenon. There is no magic formula to relaunch the Union. Yet since Brexit, no one wants to leave it anymore, which is already a good first step. Europe suffers from a serious lack of embodiment. None of the "big countries" wanted to have rivals in Brussels at the head of the Commission or of the Council, yet Europe, in order to exist and flourish, needs to be led by charismatic personalities, by men and women who are chosen on the basis of their merits, not of their limitations.

What role can young people - and in particular the "Erasmus Youth" - play in the reconstruction of the Europe you are calling for?

Do young people still believe in Europe? Three quarters of young French people say they do not intend to vote. Some are disappointed, while many are either indifferent or ignorant. Too many young people see Europe as a dead utopia. Without the support of young people, Europe has no future. To prevent Europe from becoming irretrievably "broken", it is necessary to develop a "pedagogy of freedom" among young people. This requires the compulsory teaching of recent history. The Second World War cannot be taught quickly and lightly, as it too often is.

What role should the Franco-German couple play? Does it still have the capacity to drive the European Union?

The Franco-German couple remains irreplaceable. The engine metaphor is probably more adequate than that of the couple. Without the engine, a car cannot start. It is not a matter of finding alternatives, but rather of finding privileged partners in other countries, such as the Netherlands or Sweden. France and Germany are compelled by different kinds of nostalgia: that of the grandeur à la De Gaulle for the French, and that of the "safe and cozy comfort of the Bonn Republic" for the German. We have to deal with this divide in nostalgia, but it's difficult.

What European or "Enlightenment" values are still shared across the continent?

"There is no Europe without the Enlightenment, and no Enlightenment without Europe" ("Il n’y a pas d’Europe sans les Lumières, et pas de Lumières sans l’Europe") wrote Tzvetan Todorov, the French essayist of Bulgarian origin. European values include the respect of human rights, the cult of freedom, the respect of others, openness to others and, most importantly, the sovereignty of reason. The populist vision of Europe is based on a lie when it actively fights these values while simultaneously claiming to be European. Reconciliation is the very foundation of European integration. It directly stems from a humanistic Christian vision, not a "traditionalist" one. It is open, not closed.

Are we at the dawn of a new and covert Cold War, dividing an even more easterly East, and a fragmented West? If so, in what ways does it differ from the one we experienced in the second half of the 20th century?

The current geopolitical situation does evoke the Cold War, but there are significant differences between what we are experiencing today and the years 1945-1990. The rivalry between the United States and China, which replaced the past competition between the United States and the USSR, is based on economy and trade, and is thus not exclusively focused on an arms race. Moreover, China’s assets are much more significant than were those of the USSR. Nevertheless, a "hot war" between Washington and Beijing, on the Taiwanese issue for example, cannot be entirely ruled out.

To whom can Europe turn to fill the gap currently left by the US, and which the election of Donald Trump symptomizes?

In the long run, Europe can only rely on itself. America no longer is America, and Russia remains close, by its behavior, if not by the means it employs, to what the USSR used to be. As for China, it is as much a rival as it is a partner. No shift in alliance is possible. Europe is at the forefront of all the geopolitical challenges from East to South, and it must decide whether it would rather sit at the table or be on the menu of tomorrow’s great powers - whether it wants to be an actor or just an object of greed.

What can we expect from the European elections to be held from the 23rd to 26th of May?

The forthcoming European elections are the most important the Union has witnessed in the past 40 years. The aim is to prevent the European project from crumbling definitively. Is it possible? The answer is "yes". The far-right party Rassemblement National can win in France, not the populist parties in the vast majority of European countries. More than an event, the upcoming election is part of a wider process. Will it slow or block the obstacles to representative democracy, or rather accelerate the latter’s decline? Only History will tell. The abstention rate, if it is close to or higher than 60% in a country like France, will be one of the decisive elements in answering this question. Can the Democratic camp still remobilize? It is necessary to reconcile lucidity and willingness. The battle will only be lost when we will have stopped fighting.

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