Salvini, Orbán, Kaczyński, Trump, Putin, May… the European Union has so many enemies one wonders more and more frequently if it’ll survive. Yet these challenges may turn out to be opportunities instead.
Donald Trump, in truth, represents a great stroke of luck for Europe. His repeated casting of doubt over the American military protection granted to the old continent since the end of the second world war is a powerful invitation for us to construct at last a defence and security policy independent from the US. What’s more, this is a terrain on which France is well-placed to play a leadership role in Europe. At the same time, Trump’s aggressive trade policy vis-à-vis countries showing trade surpluses in their commercial dealings with the US might finally force our German neighbours to accept a change in economic policy in Europe so as to grow domestic demand here to avoid the possibility they are no longer able to sell cars across the Atlantic.
Vladimir Putin’s aggression towards the EU does not simply pose a serious geo-strategic threat on its eastern flank but also prevents countries in central and east Europe from pushing their euroscepticism too far and taking head-on west European countries. Moreover, Europe’s current very strong dependence on Russian gas is a powerful incentive to join in speeding up the energy transition in order to get rid of that dependence.
Orbán, Kaczyński and co won’t push their countries to leave the EU as they fear being left alone with the Russian bear. And the economy of all these countries is today very tightly bound up with that of west Europe. On the other hand, the deep Euroscepticism that is obviously there for the long term in central and east Europe eases a serious difficulty. So far, the Germans have been pretty lukewarm about the idea of a multi-speed Europe and a deeper integration of the eurozone so as not to isolate the Poles. Now they’ve understood that from now on there’s no other solution if they want to pursue European integration.
As for Brexit, it removes from the game the British who have effectively blocked European integration for 40 years by successfully limiting Europe to a single market based on all-out mutual competition and fiscal and social dumping. Their departure, moreover, deprives Germany of a privileged spare partner when it wants to oppose French initiatives.
Finally, Matteo Salvini is forcing the other Europeans, especially the French, to stop burying their heads in the sand as regards to migrants and draw up a proper common policy in this area even if, right now, such a policy is more than likely to turn out to be profoundly unsatisfactory. Equally, Italy’s refusal to carry on playing by the stupid budgetary rules imposed on the eurozone by Wolfgang Schäuble and the Eurogroup hawks who have brought the country to a dead-end economically, might call these rules into question because Italy isn’t Greece. Indeed, you cannot treat the zone’s third biggest economy, founder signatory of the Treaty of Rome, with the same off-handedness and spite as meted out to Greece since 2010.
Last of all, Angela Merkel is profoundly weakened internally. And Germany’s economic domination in Europe is no help at all geo-politically: militarily and diplomatically Germany is still a dwarf. When it comes to trade, it cannot cut the mustard alone confronting Donald Trump. After Brexit and the eurosceptical shift in central Europe, Germany has no option but to reach an understanding with France if it wishes to pursue European integration. That won’t always be the case but, for now, there can scarcely be any doubt that the great majority of Germans still favour it. If Germany has put European construction at risk with its catastrophic management of the post-2008 crisis this has been involuntary, through ideological blinkeredness and not through any determination to smash the vehicle.
Might Emmanuel Macron be the one, as he proclaims, to seize this bundle of opportunities to finally relaunch European construction? That’s clearly desirable since it is he who, as president of the French Republic, could start doing so straight away but nothing is less certain, however. His obsession with advancing the Franco-German tandem is counter-productive because it seriously rubs other Europeans up the wrong way. His ‘Jupiter-like’ manner of intervening in Europe, as he does in France, raises the hackles of all our neighbours who still fear, after all the havoc wrought over the entire continent by Napoleon Bonaparte, French ambition and imperialism in Europe.
What’s more, the way in which he has continued at home the irresponsible policy begun in 2015 by his predecessor on the question of migration – whereby France refused to take its share of welcoming them in – significantly contributed to the turn towards Euroscepticism that took place in Italy. Last but not least, economically and socially he does little more than back the continuation and heightening of the deflationary policies that have prevented Europe from recovering post-2008 and have fed everywhere Euroscepticism and the rise of the populists. If we are to profit from the present cluster of factors that favour a relaunch of European construction we unfortunately need to find, without delay, another engine…
Guillaume Duval is editor-in-chief of the monthly french magazine Alternatives économiques, a left-leaning economic magazine edited by a co-operative with a circulation of 85,000 copies a month.
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