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Where is Europe going? French, Germans and Belgians must open the track

by Franck Biancheri

Unlike the experts of all kinds who lament the state of the European Union following the divisions between governments over Iraq, I believe that this crisis has brought some very positive news to Europeans and that it can save the Community project from the shipwreck that had been waiting for it for a decade.

Of course, these positive news will only turn into a historic opportunity if a few European decision-makers know how to make the best use of them. This involves a series of major defence, external relations and economic policy initiatives, in particular from France, Germany and Belgium; while reaching out to other countries, in particular the United Kingdom.

Here are some analyses and recommendations that may be useful to them.

First, let us break the neck of the commonplace that populates our newspapers and expert speeches:

. For the first time, a European public opinion is emerging: there have been no differences between Europeans: there have been differences between European leaders. And it’s not the same thing at all. In fact, for the first time in decades, European public opinion reacted in a very convergent way: we can consider that on the question of Iraq, we saw for the first time “a European public opinion” emerge. From Dublin to Bucharest, she said the following:

“We Europeans believe that international problems must be solved within the United Nations. We Europeans believe that international law must be respected. We Europeans believe that no country in the world, be it the most powerful, can free itself from the constraints of international law. We Europeans believe that the use of force must be the last resort, and under no circumstances a privileged instrument of intervention. We Europeans refuse to legitimise the concept of “preventive war”, which in our view constitutes a major regression in international law. We Europeans believe that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a bloody dictatorship that oppresses his people and that everything must be done to help emancipate the Iraqi people. But we Europeans do not believe that this regime is today a threat neither to the world nor to its neighbours, and even less so to the United States, so we do not see the need to start a war and its attendant misery to counter this non-existent threat.

All the polls confirm this. This is the widely held view across Europe.

. Now, the finger is pointed at national elites unable to speak with a single voice. Second point, Europeans do not understand why their leaders are divided. I am currently doing a series of conferences entitled “Where is Europe going?”, in 100 cities in 25 different European countries. It’s called the Newropeans Democracy Marathon. In fact, several evenings a week, I have the opportunity to talk to Europeans from all over the continent. And what has been regularly in the debates for weeks is a new question: why is it that Europe does not speak with one voice? And not, Europe will never be able to do so. This is not a disillusioned statement, but a direct criticism of the leaders. In 17 years of European debates, this is the first time I have seen this tone take over. So let me not be told that this crisis is dividing Europeans. On the contrary, it brings them closer together and makes them aware that it is at the level of their national elites that something is wrong.

. The United States will not “pay” for its opposition to Europeans who said “no” to the war; the real bill will be on the side of those who said “yes”. Let us now eliminate a second preconceived idea: “The United States will make their opposition to those Europeans who opposed them at the United Nations “pay dearly”.

Again, what are we talking about? Warrior and vengeful statements by some American leaders? Gestures from some members of the congress? Epidermal reactions from some business leaders? Maybe. But the reality is the opposite: the United States will have to ask its allies a lot of things, including and especially those who have successfully opposed them at the United Nations. The United States does not have the financial means to support this war, which will be long (at least in its form of war of occupation) and will depend more and more on its allies. Moreover, this war, its justification and its cost (human and financial) will in a few months’ time trigger a major political crisis in the United States. Washington will have many other priorities than “making” historic Allies “pay” for what they thought; and which is becoming more and more justified every day.

It is rather on the side of the current partners of the United States in this war in Iraq that the biggest bill should be found. Because neither Washington nor the other Europeans will pay it for them (be it political or financial).

Speaking of these European partners of the “coalition of volunteers”, here too, let us look at the reality. They are either politically very weakened or moribund. Let them not pay for words: unfortunately, today we know that this war will be deadly, long and expensive. Three options that they had dismissed out of hand. For several of them, in Italy, and in Spain in particular, voters may do the same. In the United Kingdom, the question is more complex: this country has a real historical and cultural ambiguity about its Atlantic positioning. Blair therefore embodies today only the political expression of this duality. Unlike Aznar who undertook a strange political suicide of himself and his party.

. This crisis marks a turning point in the United Kingdom’s relations with the United States and Europe: probably in Europe’s favour if France and Germany know how to do it. But since we are talking about the United Kingdom, let us stop repeating evidence that is not there. Everyone seems to be focusing on Blair’s pro-Bush position to conclude that there is an irreparable English attachment to the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. Who would have thought only a decade ago that the United Kingdom would find itself so deeply divided on a fundamental transatlantic issue? What is new is not that the British government is following the United States. It’s a choice that goes back to after-45. What is new is that this decision has generated so much debate, opposition and that it continues. This crisis, in my opinion, marks a decisive turning point in the British vision of their relationship with the United States and Europe. An idea is beginning to make its way, which has nothing to do with feelings, but everything to do with the question of power (which had determined the choice after 1945): In which direction will the United Kingdom of tomorrow find more power? By continuing to be Washington’s loyal second in command? Or by asserting itself as one of the two or three central poles of European integration?

France and Germany have a historical responsibility here. In cooperation with Belgium and Luxembourg, they can sincerely demonstrate to the United Kingdom that this legitimate question can be answered positively in Europe. In a way, a similar question is stirring up the Netherlands. This response must also demonstrate that far from weakening the relationship with the United States, this European response strengthens it by substantially modifying it to adapt it to the transatlantic realities of the 21st century. The most important of which is that from now on the transatlantic partnership must be a partnership between equals (in terms of rights and duties).

. The difficult emergence of Europe as a major international actor is at the heart of this crisis If there was still any doubt that a Europe speaking with one voice is an asset for the transatlantic relationship, and for global stability, the Iraqi crisis has just dissipated it completely. Whether one is pro-war or anti-war, it is clear that it is the division of European leaders that has caused such a problem within the United Nations. Paradoxically, it was not so much George W Bush’s warlike and unilateralist attitude that rocked the UN ship as the division and in this case the opposition of some of the European leaders. If Europeans had spoken with one voice in saying “no” to Washington, Donald Rumsfeld and his team would never have been able to engage in a military deployment of this size because in the end Washington would have known that they would never get a green light from the UN. And in domestic terms, George W Bush could never have “sold” this intervention to his public opinion when we know how important the “coalition of the willing” aspect was in getting American citizens to accept the war, rather reluctant to see their country leave alone in this adventure.

If Europeans had said yes in Washington, Russia, China and the non-permanent members of the Security Council would never have said no. It is therefore clear that it is the emergence of Europe as an essential actor in international relations that is at the heart of the UN crisis brought about by the Iraq crisis. None of the European states could have had a decisive influence (i.e. either lead a UN majority behind the “yes” vote or succeed in preventing this military intervention). The United Kingdom or France and Germany must make a clear observation: their divisions have prevented them from achieving their objectives; whereas their union would have placed them in a position of decision maker. When you have imperial dreams that have not been properly dissipated (such as English and French), it is a reflection worth considering.

And if we want to avoid further destabilizing crises with the United States tomorrow, and for the world order, it is better to think twice than once.

. Boldness and mutual trust will open the doors to the future. So, what path should we take in Europe today to ensure this dual objective: giving Europeans a powerful voice on the international stage; and stabilising Europe-US relations for several decades?

This way exists. It is now within the reach of Europeans. It requires from our managers a double quality:

– be bold
– trust other Europeans.

According to the “experts”, it would be difficult after such a crisis. But fortunately the “experts” do not know much about politics or the future. In this case, it is a question of renewing an approach that is at the heart of the major stages of European integration: taking a major step forward and betting on the partner’s willingness to join you in this way. The creation of the ECSC, the creation of the European Community, the Franco-German rapprochement, the launch of the Euro,… all these decisive steps followed the same logic. We come out of a crisis or deadlock from above. We project ourselves into the future by betting that our partner(s) will do the same.

. Towards the rapid creation of an embryonic European defence and external relations policy and an institution in charge of Euroland’s economic policy We have now reached such a crucial stage in two areas: foreign and defence policy on the one hand and economic policy on the other.

Under the Franco-Germano-Belgian impetus, it is essential to see now the emergence of a series of symbolic and concrete initiatives, open to other partners, that create an embryo of European defence and foreign policy. European public opinion expects only that, even in countries whose governments have supported Washington (and which would never have done so if a structured embryo of a European position had existed).

Under the impetus of the EuroLand countries, it is essential to see the emergence of a common institution in charge of the economic policy of the euro zone. The Euro also plays a role in this Iraqi crisis (for example, it is the first time in an open crisis between some European countries and the United States that it is no longer possible for speculators to separate between European currencies for all countries in the euro zone). Above all, however, before the complete paralysis of the Community institutions following enlargement, it is essential to prepare for the rescue of the euro zone.

And, in the spirit of public opinion, a twofold advance, on the external relations front and on the internal, economic front, will be well perceived and better understood. Countries that so wish undertake to speak with a single voice in all international fora In terms of external relations (European Defence and External Relations Initiative), what would it take to see to seriously embark on this path for the future?

First of all, a very strong, symbolic and concrete statement: France is committed to preparing, with the countries that are associated with this entire initiative, each major decision that it will take in the Security Council. France is thus setting the bar very high and demonstrating its commitment. From this, we can design a double series of ads:

. collective decision-making by the countries associated with EIDRE in all international organisations. joint preparation of decisions taken within the European Union.

In short, in the EU, as in the world, these countries have decided to speak with one voice, regardless of the megaphone. As far as defence is concerned, the same logic prevails: a single voice. Hence the need for joint decision-making within NATO. At the same time, the strengthening of the commitments already made with regard to the European Armaments Agency and Joint Military Programmes must be affirmed. It also seems essential that these countries decide to increase the funds allocated to defence, in parallel with a rationalisation of their defence instruments (common weapons systems, network of application schools, joint training of specialists, etc.). ). In terms of military engagement (including in former colonial “fields”), common engagement should prevail. In other words, no more sending troops in a purely national logic.

In the economic field, it is essential to double the European Central Bank as a common political authority in charge of the economic policy of the euro zone. Here again, France, Germany, Belgium in particular, with others, can take the initiative to create this new institution. All elements are available. It’s just a political decision. In this respect, unlike defence and foreign policy, there is no need to worry about countries outside the euro zone. On the one hand, the Euro has already created a real differentiation between the countries in the area and the others, which require rapid and concrete action if we do not want to see citizens get involved brutally. On the other hand, it is a policy already in place that does not need to wait for those who hesitate outside.

New initiatives, new institutions, new capitals As with the ECB, it is essential that these new policies are embodied in new institutions outside the EU’s institutional triangle. For reasons of visibility (not initiatives with 25 members), for reasons of efficiency (building more flexible, more effective institutions than those of the EU) and for reasons of operational and democratic legitimacy (placing these institutions where they can benefit from the highest added value in terms of both human and political resources). In this case, if the United Kingdom is willing to invest in IEDRE (which would imply, in particular, that its seat on the Security Council would be subject to the same constraints as the French seat), it might be useful to provide for the establishment of the IEDRE headquarters in London (otherwise another capital will do). It will also confirm that this new institution and policy is not designed against the United States; it is designed to ensure a new stability in the transatlantic relationship, by creating a strong European pole. In the economic field, it would be useful to place the headquarters of the institution in charge of the economic policy of the Euro zone in Paris. In addition to the high geographical visibility, this corresponds to a double balance (with Germany and Frankfurt for the ECB, and with London if the British join the European Defence and External Relations Initiative).

In any case, Paris, Berlin and Brussels must move quickly. There is no organized opposition to such an initiative. And all public opinion on the continent will follow them. But we have to move fast. Not only on defence and external relations, but also on the Euro. And they must do so very quickly to take advantage of this crisis and the expectations of European public opinion. At this stage, the Convention will certainly not lead to an important political decision if such a boost is not given to the political construction of Europe. Imagine what would have happened if the Convention process had been a year early! We would have found ourselves engaged in referendums and parliamentary debates on a European constitution, probably involving a European Minister for Foreign Affairs and decisions by qualified majority… at the very moment when this Iraqi crisis would have caused everything to explode. I leave it to the reader to draw his own conclusions on the political consequences of such a situation.

On the Convention side and the Europe of 25, let us rather prepare a short-term European Declaration; and let us leave time for a long-term project of constitution. Fortunately, this is not the case. Let us therefore acknowledge that, at this stage, the exercise of the Convention at 25 is useful, and even necessary, but that if major initiatives such as those mentioned in this text are not taken very quickly, we can consider that it will not lead to much. In any case, nothing that will allow a real breakthrough.

Moreover, the fluidity of the time and the Community process make it possible to question the purpose of the Convention today:

. in a Europe of 25 that will be paralysed for many years, at a time when a group of countries will probably take the lead in a major new step forward, drafting a constitution for the EU is useful but may not be able to cross the political threshold for several years. On the other hand, European public opinion is ready to validate a declaration of principles that would solemnly recall the main orientations that Europeans wish to promote by uniting. It would be a preamble for a future constitution, a preamble to the political maturation of Euro-citizens and a preamble to Europe’s future role in the world.

Here too, we will have to decide quickly because history does not wait.

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