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Why It Is Essential to Still Believe in Europe

Why It Is Essential to Still Believe in Europe
 Dominique Moïsi
Distinguished Senior fellow

Europe is currently facing a dual existential challenge. The first is external and essentially geopolitical in nature. The second is internal and of a political and social nature. Geopolitics pushes Europe to unite ever more. Politics makes this evolution more difficult than ever. How to transcend this dilemma? This is the question that Europeans will have to answer in the coming weeks.

In a world that many are still trying to describe as apolar, a new bipolarity is slowly but irresistibly taking hold. Russia can score points in the Middle East, forge links on the African continent, support Maduro's "legitimate regime" in Venezuela, it does not have the means to become what the USSR was yesterday. It is China that has de facto taken its place alongside the United States. Europe is not included in the "Big League", which does not mean that it should not exist at the international level. In fact, it is exactly the opposite.

A real geopolitical influence

Today, the two countries that pose the most serious threat to Europe, both commercially and technologically - two essential areas - are precisely the United States and China. America is no longer the strategic protection it once was and is behaving in an increasingly aggressive way in terms of trade and supposed legal matters.

Europe is resilient and has thus a real deterrent power, which surprises both its opponents and rivals.

It is precisely in these last two fields that Europe is making its mark. When it remains united to impose sanctions on Putin's Russia after the annexation of Crimea, or to maintain a common position on Britain's attempts to divide it in the post-Brexit era, Europe exists. It is resilient and has thus a real deterrent power, which surprises both its opponents and rivals. You can't just treat it like you would treat a fly on the back of a jacket.

"There are two categories of small countries in Europe, the small countries and those who do not know they are small," noted former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta. In the age of Trump and Xi Jinping, of global warming and migration challenges, not to mention the fight against terrorism, Europe can only exist in the world if it is united. If we are optimistic, we can assume that a majority of Europeans are slowly becoming aware of this reality.

Nothing is written, but everything is accelerating

The problem is that this first challenge, of a geopolitical nature, is as if suspended by a second challenge, of an internal nature. Europe can be perceived, especially by the British, as a classic alliance based on common interests. Others would say it is primarily a "Union of values". In this respect, there are now two sides in Europe. Proponents of classical liberal democracy pay the price for the blindness of their elites leading to the excesses of capitalism, if not those of democratic processes, in the age of globalization. The other side, from the far right to the far left, is driven by a desire to transform the Union from the inside, which poorly hides its plan to destroy it.

It is the simultaneity over time of these two challenges, external and internal, that makes the situation we are facing so worrying, but so fascinating as well. History (with a capital H) hesitates before us and can go in either direction: the restart or the final break-up of the European project. Nothing is written, but everything is accelerating.

If there is "one" reason to remain optimistic and still believe in Europe, it is certainly the resilience of the Franco-German couple. More than ever, it is the best, if not the only, response to Europe's external and internal challenges. The opponents of the project have understood it well. They are spreading the most absurd fake news against it, as they did for example when both countries signed the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle a few days ago.

"Propaganda is a basic thing. All you have to do is say something very big and repeat it often," said one of Jean Anouilh’s heroes in his play "La Répétition ou l'Amour puni". But Anouilh's characters did not have access to the Internet, nor did they have social networks to multiply the impact of their lies.

History (with a capital H) hesitates before us and can go in either direction: the restart or the final break-up of the European project.

In reality, there is nothing really remarkable in the new treaty signed by France and Germany. But its positive impact is not just symbolic. Germany committed to making further efforts in the field of security and defence. To understand the German reluctance in this area, it is necessary to consider a historical and psychological reality. It is not that Germany is losing interest in the world, nor that it does not want to compromise its economic growth through security and defence efforts. This second dimension undeniably plays a part but becomes irresponsible as soon as it is imprudent to rely exclusively on the United States. The fact is that Germany is above all afraid of itself. What if it regained a taste for power, in the most classic sense of the word - a passion and a talent that led her to her downfall yesterday?

As well as being a response to external challenges, the Franco-German couple is a response to challenges coming from within Europe. It is far too early to make any predictions on the outcome of the European elections in May. But it is not unreasonable to be cautiously optimistic. Between the German Greens and the French centrists behind President Macron's party, the "party of reason", that of the pro-Europeans, is far from having lost the game. At worst, populists will have around 160 seats in the next European Parliament. That's a lot, but it's not a landslide victory. The European project is not dead. He lives and still resonates.

With the permission of Les Echos (published 28/01/19).

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