Traditionally low voter turnout during European elections reflects more a lack of politicization concerning the European debate than a real disinterest on the part of the population, which has historically expressed a lot of interest in its construction. Today, the European Union stands at a turning point in its history and its future depends largely on the way it responds to the two great challenges facing it at present. On the one hand the blockage of the institutions caused by enlargement into Central and Eastern Europe and on the other hand “blockage of the minds” demonstrated by the resounding “No” from France and The Netherlands when asked to vote on the Constitutional Treaty in 2005. Another challenge arises from differences (economic, political and cultural) between the different societies that make up the Union, these are extremely difficult to resolve as they are perpetuated by a vacuum of ideas and discussion. Is it not this lack of debate that is the reason for our helpless situation?
Conflict and reconstruction in the Balkans has been an excellent test for Europe. The Balkans is a European laboratory where many peoples, religions and cultures are represented in an area of several thousand square kilometres. We have witnessed the disastrous consequences of power hungry nationalists exploiting these differences. It is time to accept our diversity and defend it by finding a model which incorporates our shared values, a model flexible enough to integrate national differences, but sufficiently pro-active to permit Europe to move beyond the current deadlock.
“We, the Peoples of Europe”
It must not be forgotten and we need to remain convinced that our differences are the source of the rich variety of inspirational thought in Europe. Also, the Balkan experience shows us that it is essential to guard against attacks of this kind. It is important to preserve our cultural diversity and to ensure that it is no longer used by nationalists to gain power. This is why be should seek to recognize and document this diversity and highlight it in a future European Constitution.
Numerous official documents use the phrase, “We the people….” But in the case of Europe we should not hesitate to state now: “We the peoples of Europe…” This expression does not mean that Europe should abandon its diversity but should build its unity around the wide diversity using a dynamic thought process. Another pitfall to avoid is a Europe punctually united, expressing solidarity during crises but incapable of uniting in the long term. The history of our continent is littered with the debris of short term alliances hastily created in times of peril. It is now time to pool our strengths and rise above this feudal legacy that persists in the subconscious of our member states. “We the peoples of Europe” are united precisely to ensure the uniqueness and unity of the European Union based on certain key principles that we will try to define now.
The Driving Engines of a Powerful Europe: The four values
To be a European citizen is to abide by the four values: Democracy, Dialogue, Human rights and Solidarity, these are the driving engines of European power. To become a European power capable of counterbalancing the USA, it is necessary to assert ourselves: militarily, economically, technologically and culturally. American power is made up of both Hard Power (most powerful military force in the world) and Soft Power (economic and cultural, with the symbol of Hollywood acting as a true war machine) these combine to make this country into a global power.
This is why the European Union should guard against the brain drain and put policies into place protecting our grey matter! It is worrying to note that research is the sick child of Europe. The cultural aspect is no less serious as it defines who we are. We are not solely an economic entity. To become a global power, it is necessary to have an overall leader and political unity. The draft Constitutional Treaty offered us the possibility of having a Minister of Foreign Affairs who would not be purely ornamental: whilst we have no overall representative to present to the world we cannot aspire to becoming a dynamic world power.
Finally, what also makes a great power is Society itself: it is the desire to adhere to a model. One speaks of the American way of life: it is up to us to promote the European way of life, by delving into our cultures, our philosophers or into what defines us, to find the ideas to create a new social model. Building a European dream is essential as we cannot create a defence force if we do not have the desire from the beginning to live together with the same objectives. This model needs to be constructed and I think that there is still a lack of debate.
What allowed the French Revolution to succeed? One huge united breath, the momentum given to the world by the ideas of many: “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. Men whose status was that of subjects became citizens and masters of their individual and collective destiny. The young Republic was saved by military victories arising from its strong armies and also from the conviction that every soldier was a sword.
A Constitution is therefore needed as a first step in building a European dream made up of our individualities. The renowned “European social model” is a good example of what would be a credible alternative to the American model.
The Brakes on a Powerful Europe
A powerful Europe has certain brakes incorporated into its collective memory or sub consciousness which today can be overcome. “It is time to liberate ourselves of the liberators”: Indeed, just as Eastern Europe was liberated from the Soviet Union, we should also free ourselves of all external models and shed this inferiority complex that paralyzes us. Instead of giving up on our future we should take it in hand. The second obstacle is the return of nationalism and regionalism: the Balkans has seen the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. Recently, Austria, Rumania and Poland have seen a resurgence of nationalist discourse. France is not an exception with votes for Le Pen in 2002 and a “no” vote against the European constitution in 2005. There exists a tangible fear heightened by the lack of debate. This translates into regional and national isolationism. Fear has won the first battle but it must not be allowed to win the final one. Despite the obstacles to European power, the fact remains that a number of projects have been successfully deployed within Europe, notably the structural fund. Countries like Spain and Portugal have seen massive improvements in social and economic development because of these funds. We can make a positive assessment of these European projects, especially that they prompted 12 new countries to want to join the economic union. A certain number of “big jobs” still need to be done, in social and political areas. Resources have been allocated to education and training programs but much remains to be done.
The Need for Political Union
The Union confirmed at the Nice summit its willingness to enlarge from the year 2003, admitting new members who met the conditions of accession. We are now 27! However we must ask ourselves the question that has yet to be answered, what will be the geographical boundaries of Europe? If we do not develop a “hardcore” of members as the vanguard of the political union we will lament the dilution of the Union as it enlarges.
The pressure of enlargement should have made the EU take a qualitative leap by strengthening the common policies, allowing new members to integrate into a reformed institutional framework. Through a complete institutional shake up and the creation of a hardcore of members we could bypass the blockages accumulated since the signing of the Maastricht treaty and stop condemning Europe to impotence. We could avoid a crisis which reveals our weaknesses and may lead to setbacks or even a collapse of the building which began in 1957.
However the idea of a hardcore of members is not welcome to some countries. Perhaps the new members will be reticent at the thought of integration into a federated Union when they have just escaped from the domination of the Soviet Union. Again, we must initiate a genuine political debate across the EU explaining to and inviting comments from countries and their citizens.
Faced with the strategic challenges of the 21st Century, the construction of a politically unified Europe is necessary. The new challenges cannot be handled by individual states neither by a system of intergovernmental cooperation. The latter showed its limitations in the ex Yugoslavia. We really need to organize the building of a political Europe in successive steps.
On centre stage, would be a few states which have chosen to go further in the political union, governed by a constitution. Members of this small group would be members of the EU and share common policies involving internal security (Schengen) and external security (defence). In addition they would jointly manage foreign affairs and the economy. In the first outer circle of states would be those interested only in free trade. However some states in this zone could choose to participate in common policies, including security policies (CFSP) Finally, there is the last group of candidate countries who meet the criteria of a political Europe. The “hard core” would drive the whole Union. This integration within geometric concentric circles would be a realistic way to construct a political Europe. Each country would be able to prepare in its own time for admission to the federation. There would be a shift from total integration to continued sustained influence.
Europe must propose a federated civilization and the creation of a new society. Its constitution should be included in this approach if it wishes to be better understood and accepted. Everywhere in the world, peoples are searching for an alternative to the American model. This is an historic opportunity to be seized by our continent.
Many nations are beginning to dislike receiving American aid as they feel it puts them under enforced trusteeship with Washington. The war in Iraq has increased this negative sentiment. There should be several models of development and society in this world so that everybody can find what suits them. We should propose a project which fights precariousness, respects the environment and allows individual citizens to flourish in the pursuit of happiness. We must accept that realistically, the market economy is the only one that functions, but we can adapt it to suit any economy so as to serve the population and not the other way around. Let us hope that the destiny of the European Union will be different to that of the Greek League of ancient times, which vanished with the disappearance of the threat from Persia. We have all the means to become a geopolitical power. The future will demand it if we are to face up to the challenges. We need to build a more humanistic European society whose values give rise to a dynamic federation. A constitution is an essential component to forming any sort of political Union.
Groups of European Thinkers and the Atlantic-Ural College
There is a real lack of Think-tanks in Europe. For a Think-tank to be efficient it should be broad scoped not elitist in order to convey its ideas. Thus, an idea is not imposed but discussed. Think-tanks should exist in Europe as sources of inspired proposals powered by the broad scope of their composition. Broad scope should mean drawing members from all areas, professional, generational, social, political……….Also broad scoped in the subjects covered (the economy, associations, military matters, academic, artistic etc.) We should follow the example of Anglo-Saxon Think-tanks and draw members from all corners of society, from business leaders to artists.
The Atlantic-Ural College, aims to examine issues related to the challenges of our modern societies through discussions and joint work involving all the human richness of Europe. Several nationalities come together in their shared desire to find a common path drawing from the experiences of every European nation and the nations linked to Europe, to intermingle the diverse cultural perspectives.
Human richness because the College brings together different personalities: employees from industry, military personnel, diplomats, University professors, artists, students…. All are involved in enlarging the project for a common defence policy based on the principles of Democracy, Dialogue, Human rights and Solidarity and all are working to better understand the issues, challenges, expectations and possibilities of this vision.
This year the College aims to diversify its activities and make them more current. At this time, it is working to set up a web site. With this system, the college hopes to quickly implement new activities among its members to further enrich its pool of ideas. The College Atlantic-Ural aims to develop into a veritable European “Think-tank”, not to impose its views but to consider the complexities and make valid proposals for the Europe of tomorrow.
If Europe was the theatre for the century of enlightenment it was also the setting for two world wars and some still partially unresolved dramas; these experiences should feed our thoughts and help us to develop a new humanist conscience. As in the drawing rooms of the 18th Century, we would like to debate together with the purpose of envisaging tomorrows’ world and take our destiny into our own hands.
Professor at the IESEG School of Management, Catholic University of Lille. Lecturer of the European Commission (TEAM-EUROPE France). President of The Atlantic-Ural College.