EU in a world of bul­lies

Philippe de Lara on pop­ulism and ra­tio­nal­ism in world pol­i­tics

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Philippe de Lara

“Build­ing Europe in a world of bul­lies” is the ti­tle of a book pub­lished in France last year by En­rico Letta with Sébastien Mail­lard. M. Letta has been Italy’s PM in 2013-2014, and is now pres­i­dent of Jac­ques Delors In­sti­tute, a French think tank ded­i­cated to Euro­pean af­fairs. Letta’s phrase catches in a nut­shell the sit­u­a­tion and self-per­cep­tion of EU, on a thresh­old be­tween break­down and re­set. EU is in dis­ar­ray: it faces a ma­jor gov­er­nance cri­sis with Brexit and grow­ing ten­sions be­tween “lib­eral” and “il­lib­eral” mem­ber states. More­over, EU, both ci­ti­zens and lead­ers, dis­cov­ered sud­denly that it had bor­ders to be de­signed and se­cured,andthat it was sur­rounded by hos­tile part­ners and even en­e­mies. What is ob­vi­ous for his­to­ri­ans and for Eastern Europe na­tions, notably Ukraini­ans and Balts, re­mained in­vis­i­ble for a “Euro­pean con­struc­tion” in­tox­i­cated by the belief that its “model”, based on free mar­ket, hu­man rights, wel­fare­and piece­meal in­te­gra­tion of le­gal sys­tems, was a heaven who could have only en­vi­ous and friendly neigh­bors, that the rest of the world would­crave for the same val­ues and gov­er­nance,in the long if not short term. Con­flicts of na­tional in­ter­ests and of cul­tures, not to men­tion war as such, had dis­ap­peared from EU’s men­tal map. Even the dis­course on “Euro­pean val­ues”was flawed be­cause it referred to val­ues as some­thing any ra­tio­nal be­ing should and will adopt, and not as val­ues one has to fight for, as did Ukraini­ans in 2014. This was the ba­sis of EU’s in­abil­ity to un­der­stand Ukraine’s predica­ment and to re­act ad­e­quately to the Rus­sian ag­gres­sion. A war in and for Europe, for Europe’s se­cu­rity and in­tegrity — which is ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing in Ukraine —, was some­thing log­i­cally im­pos­si­ble. That’s why Euro­pean sup­port to Ukraine was, and still is one step be­low what it should be, and al­ways vul­ner­a­ble to roll­back, spe­cially the sanc­tions against Rus­sia.

Yet, the good news is that with perils grows aware­ness. EU lead­ers can­not ig­nore any­more that they live in a world of bul­lies and have to be­have ac­cord­ingly. Trump and Putin did a lot to open their eyes. There are still wise guys deny­ing the Rus­sian threat, and elites do not yet fully un­der­stand that the dis­con­tent of mid­dle class and low-in­come peo­ple in face of the dam­ages of glob­al­iza­tion must be taken se­ri­ously and not dis­missed as “pop­ulist”. Now, this dis­con­tent, rather anger, fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on EU (“Brus­sels!”), much more than on na­tional gov­ern­ments. The most se­ri­ous threat against EU comes from the in­side: on one side,use­ful id­iots ap­plaud­ing to the fall of EU be­cause they think that “sov­er­eign” states will do bet­ter, in­tended or un­in­tended Rus­sian agents; on the other side, post-mod­ern lib­er­als who think that glob­al­iza­tion and fi­nance driven eco­nom­ics are good for ev­ery­body, that na­tional iden­tity is the en­emy, that more “rights”, more mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, more “open­ness”(ul­ti­mately self-ha­tred) are the way. Un­til re­cently, Brus­sels’s bu­reau­cracy acted or seemed to act­mainly in sup­port of the later. But it is rea­son­able to ex­pect a dra­matic change in an­other di­rec­tion.

EU lead­ers (pres­i­dency, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, Cen­tral Bank) and gov­ern­ments are re­al­iz­ing that the EU of rights and mar­ket is a dead-end: be­cause of the mag­ni­tude of “pop­ulism” of var­i­ous brand in all coun­tries, be­cause of the Rus­sian threat, be­cause of Trump’s at­tacks on the lib­eral world or­der. “In a world of bul­lies”, EU has no choice but to act as a re­gional tough power, fo­cus­ing on strate­gic in­ter­ests be­fore val­ues, and build­ing ac­tively com­pro­mises be­tween mem­ber states, in­stead of con­sid­er­ing that unan­i­mous agree­ment will come spon­ta­neously be­tween dis­tin­guished guests, pro­vided they neu­tral­ize the black sheeps (Poland, Aus­tria, Hun­gary).

Who bears this new wis­dom? At this mo­ment EU’s po­lit­i­cal forces and so­ci­eties are on a thresh­old be­tween sober real­ism and child­ish rad­i­cal­iza­tion: des­per­ate con­ser­va­tives who pre­fer Putin to free­dom in the name of “Chris­tian val­ues” and of the fight against “ho­mo­sex­ual deca­dence”, pop­ulists, rad­i­cals claim­ing

that there is no hu­man dig­nity with­out the right of an­i­mals, the right to choose one sex­ual iden­tity, the right of pupils to teach teach­ers, etc. Ide­o­log­i­cal es­ca­la­tion is the cur­rent mood among West­ern Euro­peans. But this mad­ness on “val­ues” may be a tran­si­tion storm on the way back to ra­tio­nal pol­i­tics. Along with the grow­ing (yet in­com­plete) aware­ness of the Rus­sian threat, the driv­ing force of the new Euro­pean wis­dom is para­dox­i­cally United King­dom: Brits are mak­ing the painful ex­pe­ri­ence of the chimera of Brexit. They un­der­stand that, and by this waythey make it clear to other Euro­peans that, in a world of bul­lies, na­tional in­ter­est and wel­fare can­not sur­vive with­out the Euro­pean shield. But the Euro­pean shield must pre­cisely bea shield, not a soil­less bu­reau­cratic agency in a fan­tasy land with­out bor­ders and en­e­mies. In the book men­tioned above, Letta speaks of “de­brus­seliz­ing” EU, that is re­vis­ing the re­la­tions be­tween EU and the mem­ber states, shift­ing the fo­cus of EU poli­cies­from daily reg­u­la­tions to strate­gic is­sues like se­cu­rity, de­fense and en­ergy, and as­sert­ing non-ne­go­tiable val­ues, notably re­gard­ing women dig­nity, lib­eral ed­u­ca­tion and sec­u­lar state, in­stead of ac­cept­ing any “rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tions” with Mus­lim and other mi­nori­ties. This was and, let’s hope, this is Macron’s project for the re­set of EU, this is UK’s hori­zon, Spain moves in the same di­rec­tion, and so do many se­nior pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Brus­sels and in Frank­furt (the Eu­ro­zone Cen­tral Bank). How­ever ten­ta­tive, the com­pro­mises reached re­cently among Euro­peanstates on im­mi­gra­tion and on NATO, and prob­a­bly on the com­mer­cial launched by Trump, sug­gest a po­lit­i­cal shift, or at least the prom­ise of such a shift. The big prob­lem for EU at this mo­ment is not so much the black sheeps as Ger­many:Ger­man al­le­giance to Rus­sia through NS2 and over­cau­tious mone­tary pol­icy are sti­fling EU. Ger­man po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is bit­terly di­vided on many is­sues in­clud­ing these, so the best could come out of Ger­man pol­i­tics, as well as the worse. At this stage, I do not think un­rea­son­able to hope that the logic of the sit­u­a­tion will pre­vail on ide­olo­gies in EU. And, sorry if I sound like a bro­ken record, Ukraine is the key of Europe’s fu­ture: the bat­tle­field of our free­dom and of our pros­per­ity, and the place where Euro­peans will come to un­der­stand them­selves, or not.


Dif­fer­ent tracks. Due to pres­sure of pop­ulism Brus­sels should turn back to ra­tio­nal­ism in or­der to prevent cri­sis

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