Europe is in the midst of a veritable political storm. After the Brexit shock, which followed the shock of migrants from Turkey and Libya, generally from the South, it was thought on the Old Continent, for a brief time, that everything will be just as it was before, with small retouches generated by UK’s exit from the EU organisation. Similarly, the shock of the American administration’s first measures and of the launch of its first international action strategies were considered natural for novel President D. Trump’s accommodation to contemporary realities. Only in March 2017, on the occasion of the celebration of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which lays at the basis of the EU, important changes to the future functioning of the organisation – which ensured, along with NATO, the longest period of peace in the history of the continent – were announced. It’s just that, albeit widely open to public debate in member states, the ensemble of these changes may rather, unless carefully managed, strengthen centrifugal trends instead of consolidating the unity of the 27 (28) members.
Who accepts being left outside the “core” of Europe, namely the place where those with the closest development standards are equipping themselves with new institutions and deepening the integration? Doesn’t this rather mean the deepening of the disparity between the core and the periphery? Or, in another note, to what extent is this development disparity reduced by maintaining an illusion of unity, such as the “Europe of defence”?
Last week, in Warsaw, where the ‘Three Seas’ initiative was consolidated, U.S. President D. Trump outlined in a speech (July 6) the elements that define the European continent as a founder of the West, repeatedly mentioning traditions and the need to consolidate values such as freedom, faith and identity, sovereignty, independence, human dignity, all characteristic of the Western civilisation that created “a true community of nations.” He talked about “strong families and strong values,” about “bonds of history, culture and memory,” about honour and solidarity, about respect for the past of the nations that did not bend the knee to foreign conquest and about the imperative to cultivate pride and confidence in such values.
While the head of the most important state on the planet mentioned the importance of NATO and of Article 5 of its treaty, he mentioned nothing about the EU, the European integration organisation with which the North Atlantic Alliance has cooperated in the face of the big challenges of the Cold War and of the period that followed. Statistically, after the Cold War, an entire generation of Western European leaders saw the future from the standpoint of this institutional cooperation paradigm. Also in Warsaw, in July 2016, the NATO Summit occasioned the signing of a historic declaration in which the two Western organisations underscored their future cooperation in order to handle dangers and challenges.
On the other hand, just three days before D. Trump’s speech, another leader of an important Western power that is one of the pillars of the European Union, French President Emanuel Macron, gave an important speech against the sumptuous backdrop of the Versailles Palace, in front of the whole French legislature. His statements on Europe are worth mentioning because they foreshadowed a veritable rekindling of the European spirit of integration which has been recently stalled by the aforementioned crises, but also by still ongoing crises such as the conflict between the two large Slavic states – Russia and Ukraine, or the financial crisis which repeatedly bears its fangs, threatening the stability of the EU. President Macron pointed out that “the building of Europe has been weakened by the spread of bureaucracy and by the growing scepticism that comes from it,” but mentioned that he remains confident in the future of continental integration. “I believe firmly in Europe,” E. Macron said, “but I don’t find the scepticism [toward the EU] unjustified.”
The French President pointed out that the last decade was unfortunate for the EU, that Europe knew how to manage the crises that appeared, but that “it lost its direction.” To overcome this stage, he pointed out that “there’s the need for courage to confront” failure (such as Brexit), but also that “that is why a new generation of leaders must take up the European idea again at its origin, which is essentially political.” In this sense, he pointed out that, by the end of this year, France and Germany will launch “democratic conventions” throughout the EU. What will these “democratic conventions” debate, what they will be at national or regional level (the level of assemblies of this type is yet to be revealed), we know from the recent decisions of the party that the current President rapidly created last year and that propelled him to the highest office in France, the electorate subsequently voting a “Republique en Marche” (REM) majority legislature.
First of all, being mulled is an ample continental mobilisation in order to organise “a great European march” that would launch projects of calibre meant to relaunch the continental project of integration. They, these projects, were and are, so far, the result of wide consultations within the REM party. The projects will tackle domestic issues – from reviving France’s abandoned villages to developing wide popular consultation through “contact points” or “kiosks” at the citizens’ disposal, hence the deepening of the integration’s democratic, anti-bureaucratic character – but also external ones. Among the latter, “a great European march” in preparation of the European Parliament elections of 2019, which would outline the public opinion orientations at EU level. What is being considered is revitalising the optimistic spirit, under the formula of creating a Europe that would protect Europeans, overcoming the old polarisation between integration and sovereignty. “It’s time to affirm the fact that, in the face of the great challenges of the era (security, migration, trade, digitisation…), true sovereignty makes headway through European action within a renewed democratic framework.” And, based on this premise, it’s necessary to develop an action strategy through which “Europe would focus on these great challenges and would defend its interests and values in the world,” hence the assertion of its global role. The founding of such a historical turn and France’s interest in this regard are expressed in the following formula: “wanting to weaken Europe means leaving France to handle today’s global challenges by itself. Europe must be an extra protection for France.” “Europe – Macron wrote on his twitter account – enhances our greatness. Europe makes us stronger” (on 14 January 2017), the message registering almost 300,000 likes and being retweeted 350,000 times. Democratic conventions are understood as the means of debate at the level of citizens, aiming to re-establish confidence in Europe, affirming the dimensions of European sovereignty, strengthening the continent’s own identity through concrete achievements. The targets sought are clear: a confident and united Europe, a continent of sustainable economic growth, that can handle the challenges of globalisation and that protects and respects its values. France offers to militate, in close connection with Germany, to attain these goals.
Such an initiative on the part of the French President, which plans to rekindle the European project on developing continental integration, is both bold and difficult. There are not only the challenges that Europe must handle in unity, but this unity must be forged against the backdrop of an internal diversity more visible than ever and of an international environment in which trends contrary to the European project and its fundamental principles are strongly asserting themselves.