Challenges and choices ahead

Preparing for Europe’s future: options and choices ahead

The European Union does not stem from another planet and is not out of age. She was created by Nation-states and it is by them that the political fabric of the union has been shaped to what it is actually. The founding promise was no more war between European people, not no more crises. The Union was just created to solve crises in mutual trust and common interest, by integration as well as by cooperation. The Union’s vocation is to be suited for crises. In the last ten years Brussels institutions as well as Member states governments have shown an unexpected resilience and a considerably enhanced structural flexibility.

According to financial science and Wallstreet prophecies in July 2012 the Euro had still 3 to 6 months for life. Today, November 2016, the Euro still exists and so does the Monetary Union including Greece. Member states ran risks and came to assistance to debtor countries to an extent never imagined when the common currency was created. True, the crisis is still moldering, though debtor’s countries are slowly recovering the economic, social and financial reforms in Member states and on the Union’s level are still uncompleted. But European solidarity, this amalgam of interest, commitment and cohesion, has proved to be stronger than expected.

Since 2012 when some Member states where cut off from Russian gas supply via Ukraine the Union’s Energy security has been considerably though insufficiently improved by new pipeline interconnections, gas storage, and differentiation of resources, transports and means. Thereby and assisted by low oil prices on the world-market the Union succeeded to reduce dependences from Russia remarkably compared with 2012.

The refugee crisis put the focus on the Union’s failure to cover the Schengen free movement by effective and truly European external border control. Some Member states feel their national identities more troubled than others. They are part of the Union and should not be seen as European pariahs. Instead of redistribution along quotas Member states accepted reducing the number of refugees by fences, hotspots, enhanced outside border control, a disputable agreement with Turkey and on a more flexible policy in North and Central Africa aligned with the Union’s strategic priorities in security and demography. Under intense pressure the Union found a common first best answer to the refugee-crisis - not a solution, to be sure.

Led by Germany and France Member states agreed on a common reaction on Russia’s annexing Crimea and militarily intervening in the East Ukrainian conflict. Rejecting “business as usual” preferred by some member States as well as delivering arms to Ukraine preferred by some other the Union choose sanctions while continuing talking with Russia and reinforcing the NATO trip wire in Easter European Member states - not to force Russia to surrender but to send a clear message to stop. The Union promoted “Minsk” and proved to act coherently and steadfast surprising Moscow as well as Washington. Geopolitics is not back. It has never been absent but simply omitted by the Union.

The Brexit may show to be historically important, politically painful and economically damaging for both sides. The United Kingdom is using the legal procedure foreseen in the treaty. The Union is ready to negotiate the divorce in the clear view of a fair cut without rancor or rebate. Up to now there is no crisis but also no chance for more consensus between 27. If however negotiations turned from separation to remain the Union will ran into a crisis that would fuel withdrawal populism in some Member states. The Brexit will affect the balance within the Union but not destroy her. Poland or Hungary will not leave neither be excluded. Only if France (or Germany) left there would not be a Union any longer.

The Union’s geopolitical surroundings changed fundamentally. USA will continue to be the invincible but vulnerable superpower in the world. They will continue to be Europe’s indispensable ally but undoubtedly no longer be focused mainly on Europe. The Union’s interest is not to be detached but to be distinct. Russia has throughout its history defined itself as European and in the same time as being different. It takes over western life-style but not western values. The Union has to insist on the respect of international rules while discussing disagreements and cooperating where interests overlap. Russia is the powerful perennial irreplaceable neighbor and through its policy of geopolitical restauration a rival. China is more and more relevant for Europe, not alone as economic competitor but also as a political and military power. “We build an Asian-Pacific-Area that the world leads” (President Xi Jinping on the APEC summit 2013) describes China’s increasing ambition. In the middle of the 20th century uniting Europe focused on preventing European people from self-destruction, in the 21th century it must be focused on their self-assertion in the world.

A Union that is not a State and lacks strong political and military leadership is unable to be or to become world power acting on an eye-to-eye-level with powerful States like USA, China, and Russia on the global theater. Her diplomacy may show some relevant impact here and there but as definitely not covered by relevant military power, she will remain a “soft power” condemned to “second order policy”. French/German leadership cooperation is a substitute but not an equivalent, indispensable yet incomplete and insufficient. There is no relevant political will in the Member states to remedy that lack of performance.

The draft EU Global strategy paper is not requiring an institutional reorder of the Union but a new understanding of the Union’s structure and capabilities. European States will matter in the world only through the Union. Only the Union plus Member states mainly the four or five able to strategic thinking and military action has a strategical clout.

Yet, the Union’s global performance is not as poor as it is frequently seen. She has relevant clout in meeting the world’s economic, financial, ecologic and climate challenges. See also up to 30 interventions outside Europe including 8 military actions, albeit in cooperation with USA and NATO in the last ten years. Europeans must be better equipped to take over greater responsibility for their own security being able to deter, respond to and protect themselves against external and internal threats.
To that end the Union will have to invest to a much higher degree in the resilience to the East and to the South stretching into Central Asia and Central Africa.

Neighborhood policy can no longer mean “enlargement policy in the cache”. Enlargement to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldavia, Turkey and others would be geostrategic megalomania confusing size and significance. The Union has to look for a multi-instrumental, multi-level and multi-lateral framework of distinct and balanced cooperation showing that there are more things in Europe and Union, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our federalist philosophy. The composition of the Union is no longer instrumental for spreading security, democracy and market economy it has become existential. The larger the Union the more it is far off peoples.

A Union that is not a state has to have its own democratic system of checks and balances not a copy of state democracies. The Union’s democracy is not made to replace national democracies but is complementary to them - under the condition that they do not show to be depraved to vetocracy. The Union’s democracy is certainly not perfect but is nevertheless considerably increasing people’s control and influence in cross border political issues and in arias far beyond nation state democratic competence: The European Union is the first and unique Trans state democracy in the world.

The Union is certainly unfinished but not insufficient. She has to put her ambitions in line with her possibilities. For this the existent treaty provides a lot of different choices of closer cooperation which have not yet been fully used by Member states. So, as an example, Defence cooperation that as a norm will remain voluntary but must be based on the real commitment of those who can. A single institutional core composed by some Member states would split up the Union. The appropriate solution is composing various cores of Member states acting together on various policy fields.

Member states could envisage some minor treaty repair but there is not any will or consensus in favor of substantial treaty changes empowering the role of the Union, let alone in favor of a new treaty. But there is also no consensus on reducing the Union to a simple and pure internal market place. Decreasing the Union’s political significance will not increase her attraction in people’s eyes.

None of the popular critics on democracy, bureaucracy, incapacity and overcapacity of the Union would be met by new constructions. No new institution or competence would revive the anemic economic growth, remediate the migration drama over the Mediterranean Sea, coordinate the economic, financial and social policies of Member states, spread social justice European wide, improve the competitiveness on the world markets, free the cooperation in security matters from mental reservations and national jealousy Peoples are fed up with debates about new constructions and institutions.

The public debate in Member states is turning from left wing to right wing Europe, from integration to cooperation, from political Europe to a neo liberalistic market place, from more Europe to no Europe at all. In the foreseeable future a substantial treaty reform or the construction of a new treaty would open Pandora’s Box. The time for a new Convention will come, not as a precondition for but as a result of crises solutions.

In history there are times to go for progress and constructions. And there are times for standing firm against roll back and decline. Our ambition for the time being is steadfastness and constancy. The actual crises are certainly threatening the Union’s existence but up to now did not test her beyond repair. The silent weight of overlapping interests, the mass inertia of European institutions, and the mental, cultural and social ties created in more than half a century of uniting Europe will prevent from collapsing or fading away. Cassandras may whisper of dusk and doom, Leaders look into the shadows for a glance of hope.

Klaus Hänsch, Brüssel, 9. November 2016, Colloquium “Preparing for Europe’s future: options and choices ahead” des Vizepräsidenten des Europäischen Parlaments Alojz Peterle