Time to choose sides!

 

Anyone can realise that our planet is an unstable and dangerous place; it is surprising that so few ponder over the consequences. Rational behaviour should induce people to make choices, sometimes radical, which entail necessarily painful sacrifices in order to preserve our essential values, encapsulated in the triptych “Liberty – Equality – Fraternity”. Their primacy, taken for granted, confer by default the status of priority objectives to fighting unemployment and improving living standards, weakening the foundations of the social contract and strengthening the appeal of national-populism.

 

Nowhere are the contradictions created more apparent than within European Union. It is tearing itself apart over an increasing number of matters, adopting poorly thought out compromises inducing perverse consequences and inhibiting its capacity to act which puts it very relevance into question. In this globalised multi-polar world, in which information (true or false) travels at the speed of light, Europe is forced to unite in order to exist and to make choices in its alliances in order to count.

 

It is necessary to determine a precise hierarchy between problems to ensure a global coherence of policies as well as forestall manipulations aiming systematically at weakening the EU, if not leading deliberately to its disintegration. I will attempt to confront diverse positions expressed within the EU with a single criterion: membership of NATO and the primacy of the alliance with the USA. I have deliberately chosen a controversial benchmark which, putting to one side ideological or visceral primary anti Americanism, should be evaluated exclusively on its merits.

 

Why such a choice? Because there are only two other options: either we form an alternative alliance, with Russia for instance, in the forlorn hope of a more advantageous equilibrium, or we implement autonomously the conditions necessary to fulfil our aspirations.

 

It is undoubtedly true that the “dependence” of NATO Members on the military might of the USA is resented by a significant minority of citizens; there is, however, no reason to believe – quite to the contrary – that a similar dependence on another power would be more welcome. Ensuring our own “real” independence would, on the other hand, require the mobilisation of a strong unswerving political will, supported by financial, scientific and human resources that are both cruelly lacking.

 

Is it to say that the ambition of establishing a truly independent Europe is sheer utopia? Yes, but only to the extent that one rejects the idea of an integrated Union, capable of holding its own on the world stage. It implies establishing a “Federal Europe” as a relevant economic power (it posses all the necessary attributes) but equally as a military power leading to painful arbitrages in terms of public expenditures. A significant part of the required resources should be generated by the process itself: thus, integrating military and diplomatic services should release significant savings that could be redeployed more efficiently; furthermore, military self-sufficiency underpinned by strong investment in education at European level is a powerful tool for promoting research and development, capable in turn of fostering innovation and economic growth.  

 

The necessary condition to become, over time, independent from a third party is the relentless pursuit of a strong and integrated EU. Once endowed with the appropriate powers in terms of monetary, economic and military sovereignty, the EU will, at last, be able to offer its citizens the choice of options they long for.

 

From this vantage point, the (NATO) partnership with the devil you know (the USA) appears infinitely more appealing than any alternative; even if the past is no guarantee for the future, it relies on the long history of the indefectible support by the  United States in defence of shared values, each time they were under threat.

 

Real utopia lies in the belief that re-establishing full sovereignty of the European XXth century Nation-State is a possibility. That is an illusion swallowed only by naïve pacifists or frustrated nationalists refusing to see the reality of the international conflicts, including their terrorist dimension, that are proliferating under our noses, as well as the need for mustering a level of resources, unavailable at national level, to deal with them.

 

The Ukrainian problem underscores the need to speak with a single voice when confronting the Russian threat; the well publicised differences between France, Germany and the USA on arms supplies is a godsend for President Putin. He can collect on several fronts despite the vulnerability of his weak economic position (oil price).

 

On the regional front he is likely to secure full recognition of the annexation of Crimea as well as the effective neutralisation of Ukraine through the federalisation of the country that will paralyse future independent action by the national government.

 

On the international front he has already been assured by France and Germany that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO or – most probably – the EU, even if such accession is not currently on the agenda. One should also fear that Putin will land the burden of bailing out Ukraine as well as the cost of reconstruction in eastern Ukraine into the EU’s lap; like in Palestine where the USA decides and the EU pays, in this case Russia will decide and the EU will also pay!

 

It is on the European front that he will score the most points: he has considerably weakened the cohesion between EU Members. The Batiks, Poland and other States bordering Russia are supporting the USA within NATO, realising that herein lies the true guarantee of their independence. Through political support of Syriza (Tsipras will attend May 1st celebrations) and financial support of the French National Front (Russian bank loans), Putin is buying cheaply the endorsement of European radical parties: last Sunday’s “triumphal defeat” of the FN in a French by-election was accompanied by an unequivocal plea on television by Marine Le Pen for “appeasement” in Ukraine, worthy of the worst erstwhile Munich concessions, at a moment when, due to an unfortunate coincidence, the concerned parties were convening in the city. Quite a symbol!

 

However sincere the efforts of the Franco-German tandem to contribute to a solution to the Ukrainian drama may be, it is only by insuring unbreakable solidarity within NATO that a satisfactory equilibrium of forces can be established and a lasting peace enforced that recognises the legitimate claims of all parties involved.

  

Let us now consider the deeply interwoven matters relating to austerity, Greece and the survival of the €. Here, once again, contradictions are plentiful. Many of the arguments that are bandied around, regarding the responsibilities for the current state of affairs, appear fully justified; here are three examples:

 

Excessive austerity (imposed by the Troika) can have perverse effects on growth and the level of indebtedness.

 

The “generosity” of loans to Greece (€24O billion) allowed essentially the bail out the Eurozone financial system (indirectly the world financial system).

 

The fragility of the Euro results from the failure to complete the process of integration which, beyond the sharing of monetary sovereignty, shied from implementing an economic and fiscal Union in favour of a rule book (Stability Plan, Budgetary Treaty, European Semester…) and a series of new instruments (EFFS, ESM, Banking Union…) all of which were difficult to abide by in case of economic difficulties and inefficient to foster the necessary structural reforms.

 

Such examples can be multiplied at length, but the mere admission of a collective responsibility for past mistakes – though helpful – does not contribute to resolving the problems. It is the institutional framework of the Union and in particular of the EMU that is thrown into question; it is a waste of time to cry over spilt milk. Endowing the EMU with a federal structure (and extending it subsequently to the EU) is the only sensible path. It would allow more flexible European economic policies in coordination with fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies benefitting the entire Union and loosen the stranglehold of rules which have become unbearable for some Members in both the ordinary and figurative meaning of the word.

 

Establishing a federal Authority would eliminate all uncertainties linked to the €’s survival, reinforcing its status as a fully fledged currency as well as the world’s second most important monetary reserve asset. As prevails in other countries, the ECB would – at last – interact with a single political authority while conducting its monetary policy independently within the framework of its mandate. Finally, as far as resolving the Greek question, it would appear far easier to agree to a transitory solution that would rely for credibility on a strong political commitment by Members making the completion of EMU their overriding priority.

 

The strong armed discussions between Greece and its partners is looking more and more like a giant game of liar’s poker in which it is nigh impossible to distinguish between reality, bluff or intimidation contained in declarations that seem more crafted to placate national public opinions than to contribute to constructive negotiations. There is a risk of losing control over events, either because financial markets might interpret them erroneously, or because external actors (Russia) or internal ones (populist parties) find therein a god sent opportunity to foster further discord. One has heard that Russia is prepared to consider a request by Greece for aid while Marine Le Pen is pointing to the ongoing logjam as a justification for dismantling the €.

 

In this climate of discord pervading the EU, membership NATO remains an essential element of the continent’s security, anchored in the solidarity between its members.

 

The Middle East and African conflicts and their terrorist implications in western countries are as many additional theatres where the geostrategic interests of the protagonists confront each other in a web of asymmetric alliances emphasising their internal contradictions. These are all the more difficult to reconcile that means of prevention and intervention are scarce implying hard if not irrational choices.

 

This was demonstrated by the muted EU support given to France in its African interventions; the call for solidarity was only ever to be audible within a European framework of joint decision making as a condition for sharing the costs of deployment. Another example is given by Turkey, torn between its internal problems with its Kurdish minority and supporting the anti Daesh coalition, while simultaneously closing its eyes on the traffic of human beings, arms and oil that transits through its territory and finances the pariah state. NATO, of which Turkey is a key member, is the ideal forum through which we can express our views and in which American influence (and interests) to which due attention should be paid, can be a determining factor.

 

If one desires seriously to give a chance to an integrated Europe, it is necessary, in parallel to the required institutional reforms, to convince its citizens profound changes in governance are underway. The succession of scandals, the most recent of which (“Swiss leaks”) is only the latest in a long series, revealing rampant unacceptable behaviour. The huge amounts involved, which far exceed the deficits blamed for austerity, make the public deaf to pleas by politicians, whatever their object, and lay the ground on which often crazy national-populist ideology and rhetoric can thrive. 

 

Public opinion is demanding stronger accountability: how can one expect “sacrifices” from a population if those guilty of flagrant transgressions (as beneficiaries or intermediaries), with at least the passive complicity of the body politic, enjoy quasi impunity? If the legal repressive arsenal must be strengthened, violations of current legislation should nevertheless be pursued relentlessly. The growing inequalities within society are becoming unbearable when they are grounded on a flagrant disregard for “equality”, organised by the rich and the powerful for their own exclusive benefit.

 

In this environment, polluted by dishonest and highly questionable practices, no deep reform of the EU has the slightest chance of getting the necessary support of public opinion. A dubious compromise over Greece or even a temporary improvement in the economy will only postpone the moment of reckoning unless, in the mean time, other events in Ukraine, the Middle East or in the financial markets will have swept away the emerging EU with the bathwater of international discord.

 

In such a dangerous world, reform requires “security”, a condition that must pre-exist to enjoy the privileges of “freedom”. That is the reason why maintaining the partnership with the USA under the NATO umbrella appears inescapable in order to buy the necessary time to redesign and implement the institutional architecture of the future EU.

 

No doubt that many voices will challenge these conclusions. They do not imply on my part a blind submission to American positions with which, in several respects, I am in disagreement. Nevertheless, time is now upon us to choose sides. As far as I am concerned, I have!

 

Brussels, February 12th 2015  

 

Paul N. Goldschmidt

Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.

 

 

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