The European Union: a glimmer of hope!
“Brexit” is dealing a new hand.
The uncertainty resulting from the British vote and the fears it fosters, offer an opportunity to polarise public opinion on the future of the Union. The disarray of the British people, in the face of the lies and lack of preparation of the “Leavers”, has led to an immediate reaction by Europeans, many of whom are questioning the relevance and the credibility of the promises and the programs of Eurosceptic nationalist political parties.
Rather than listening to those advocating postponing any deep reform of the EU, under the guise of largely hypocritical prudence and moderation, it is without any further delay or consideration of forthcoming electoral deadlines (Austria – Italy – France –Germany), that the case should be put forward that Europe is the solution rather than the problem in advancing the cause of economic, social and cultural wellbeing for Europeans in general and its youth in particular.
The European question should lead to a fundamental realignment of sclerotic and discredited national political parties in order to strike a decisive blow against extremist movements whose programs are limited, more often than not, to underlining the (real) failures of governments and the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between the policies of traditional parties (as evidenced by the highly effective French acronym UMPS). Progressively the EU (or “Brussels”) has become a convenient scapegoat used to shield national Authorities from their own incompetence and indecisiveness. Nationalist parties present themselves as the sole alternative to the failure of successive government administrations. The disgusted elector feels that he must choose between a discredited EU, receiving scant support from its divided political elites, and the allure of “national sovereignty” that was last put to the test in Europe in the dark years of the 1930’s.
In France, more than anywhere else, it is imperative to capitalise on the yearning for change that is emerging. A redrawing of the political landscape around the future of the EU – an option put forward by Emmanuel Macron – could coalesce a large majority, stretching from the “left social democrats” to the “right wing supporters” of Alain Juppé and including the “centrist Modem and UDI”, capable of extracting the country from its institutional and political stalemate. President Hollande has often declared that “Europe constitutes the future of France”. “Now is the time” – paraphrasing the inspirational speech of Barak Obama in Dallas, to “replace words by actions” because”… deep in our hearts, we know that solidarity is the only antidote to hatred and that it is such a Europe we crave”.
The consequences of Brexit are highly uncertain and largely unforeseeable, as is demonstrated by the volatility of financial markets which react (often excessively) to the slightest item of news. Thus the quick designation of the new Prime Minister opens the welcome but still uncertain possibility of accelerating the start of negotiations, but brings no further clarity with regard to their content, length or consequences. It behoves the EU to make the defence of its own interests a priority, independently of Brexit because, unless its own future is assured, the single market protected and the governance of the € strengthened, negotiations with the United Kingdom will be pointless.
Within this context it is useful to recall the determination with which Greeks fought to remain in the Eurozone and the considerable sacrifices they accepted. A year later, Greeks must continue to face severe restrictions in the freedom of payments as well as credit controls. These difficulties are, however, insignificant compared with the consequences of the €’s implosion which would be the harbinger of competitive devaluations in conjunction with severe exchange controls, having devastating effects on the European and world economy.
If Brexit, Greece’s plight, the problems of the € or of immigration as well as the geopolitical risks surfacing on our eastern borders (see the NATO summit in Warsaw) are conducive to encouraging Europeans to reassess their attitude concerning the merits of the EU, one should strenuously avoid to base the case for a reformed EU on “fear”: a consensus built on what is to be avoided rather than on what one aims to achieve can only lead to deadlock and failure.
Will statesmen emerge with sufficient political courage to put at risk, in the name of the general interest, their comfortable privileges and their thirst for power? Shying away from the confrontation or finding excuses to delay decisions guarantees the victory of opponents and the end of the European adventure with its impressive achievements carried out patiently over the last 70 years.
Only a European Union founded on the principles of solidarity, responsibility and democratic accountability will be able to secure its rightful place in the concert of world powers and offer future generations the hope of a better life in a safer world.
Brussels, 14th July 2016
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
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