The deployment on New Year's Day of the blue and star-spangled flag under the Arc de Triomphe triggered a violent polemic, inflamed by the approach of the Elysée election.
The candidates at the extremes thus joined in denouncing a substitution of the national flag, with the LR candidate sanctioning its exclusivity. The next day saw a swift disappearance of the object of the outrage. The vast "artistic" shroud that had previously wrapped up our national glory and its unknown poilu had, on the other hand, shocked no one, excited some and lasted much longer!
Europe has unified its currencies but missed its ownership
Twenty years after the replacement of the franc by the euro, which was also the anniversary, this improvised straw fire against Europe, in which one would look in vain for militant and assertive opponents, says a lot about the persistence of unquenched embers in our country. These twenty years were, however, equivalent to the passage to adulthood. They would have deserved more time to mature. But this jubilee, far from calming the spirits, has seen some people rekindle gunpowder, and others prefer to use it...
The pro-Europeans who have become invisible could have stressed, without any misplaced shyness, that the essential achievements of European construction, which so few believed would ever be realised, are no longer questioned by anyone. For even at the extremes, no one is calling for an exit from the euro, made impossible if need be by the joint indebtedness until 2058 agreed in the face of the covid crisis. In the same way, the multiple post-Brexit hassles and disappointments of the British, including the Irish imbroglio, will have convinced all the others of the merits of the single market without alternative. As for the dismantling of the Iron Curtain followed by the enlargement of the European Union, who today would dare to regret its victory over half a century of division of the continent imposed by the ruthless oppression of Soviet tanks?
Of course, the eurosceptics, who can be found in all camps, including, more or less, in the circles of power, have not disarmed for all that, for two reasons: the anonymity and incompleteness of a Europe about which our own states have never really known what conduct and language to use, never ceasing to blow hot and cold, to add confusion to contradictions and, of course, to claim to be making an omelette while keeping all the eggs...
Europe has embarked on its transformation but denied its identification
The Eurosceptics had no trouble at all in relying on the recurrent passions of a sacralised nationalism that Europe has never been able to adapt or, above all, sublimate on its own scale: Almost all of our leaders have spared no effort to ensure that Europe could never take advantage of this and in turn arouse, beyond the agreed austerity of a project of peace and reason accompanied by more directly material aims and interests, those impulses of the heart that everyone knows play a decisive role in political positioning.
The renunciation so far of any identifiable historical figure or monument on our euro banknotes, the absence of any European sports team, the non-existence of any European honorary order, the anonymity of the European institutional actors whose political work, supposedly intrinsically more arid than all the others combined, does not attract any media attention, unlike national role-playing games, and even the revealing exclusion of any European map from our television weather bulletins: these are all signs, large or small, that do not deceive!
The matter therefore seems to be understood by our public opinions, which are framed in their own pre-squares and their own calendars of anniversaries, parades and national commemorations. Europe today is nothing more than an organisation that is undoubtedly useful but essentially anonymous, always conflicting, structurally technocratic and mainly at the service of national states whose actors are the only ones known to the public and the only ones to have a history and patriotic icons to which citizens are obliged to refer and recognise themselves exclusively. This is the place of Europe today, relegated to the backroom. It is asked to stay there!
Europe has expanded its freedoms but dismantled its protections
The other reason for European disaffection will not be disputed either, even if the solutions to remedy it continue to be more divisive than ever. Impartiality will thus lead us to agree on at least this observation: the positive aspects of European construction in terms of the pacification of conflicts, economic freedoms and a collective framework have been paid for by a profound imbalance in treatment (cf. freedoms, transparency, equity, taxation) between what is mobile and what is not, while the national protections that existed previously have been substantially dismantled without Europe being able to replace them with the collective protection that everyone has the right to expect from it.
Everyone will agree, from one side of the political spectrum to the other, on the multiplicity, incoherence, injustice and seriousness of the shortcomings of the current Europe. The list is impressive, which explains why it has become emblematic and unbearable for so many citizens: The list is impressive, which explains why it has become emblematic and unbearable for so many citizens: uncontrolled illegal immigration, extension of cross-border trafficking, worsening insecurity, relocation of jobs, accelerated deindustrialisation, technological dependence, fiscal jungle, social underbidding, the feeling of which is aggravated by unrestrained support for anonymous capital, all of which is wrapped up in the opacity of the decisions or obstructions between States and in hypocritical or hermetic communication that is supposed to justify or mask them.
Churchill has been quoted as saying that democracy is the worst regime of all. Europe's great achievements will allow it to deserve comparative indulgence. But how can we ignore all these exasperations? And beyond the divisions, how can we deny that everyone, whether in defence or in criticism, has their share of truth? Didn't Woody Allen sum it all up when he said: "the answer is yes, but what is the question?
Everyone should therefore at least agree on the urgency of not leaving it at that, otherwise Europeans will be further divided and, in the face of the growing challenges of globalisation, will suffer irreversible decline and damage. From that point on, the contradictory debate on the solutions to be provided legitimately takes on its full rights, which does not mean, in the face of stubborn realities, that all options are possible.
Europe can stall in its integration but not go backwards
The Eurosceptics will thus plead for a reclaiming by the States of the rights and powers which experience has shown to be too poorly assumed by the current Europe. Their priority will be to safeguard and protect borders against illegal immigration, growing insecurity and unfair competition. They will also demand maximum sovereignty for these states regarding foreign policy, defence and national security, without forgetting a return to freedom of budgetary, industrial, energy and technological choices.
But these Eurosceptics are condemning themselves, with such illusions, to the impossibility of reconciling such national reconquests with the achievements of the single market and of economic and monetary union, which they claimed they no longer question! Mitterrand's experience of a "reconquest of the internal market" in 1981 had lasted less than two years, less than the three assigned by Beigbeder to love freed from any other contingency. Our president of the rupture could no longer ignore them and was forced to return to the good choice for France which had paradoxically been the slogan of his unfortunate competitor...
For today, even more than yesterday, this apparent political choice between Europe and its states remains an illusory one: without a Europe that is constituted, organised and present in the world, how can our European countries, which have become comparatively small, like Alice in Wonderland (which tends to become our nightmares), hold their own and ensure the future of their peoples in the face of the new global giants brimming with means, vigour and ambition?
For a long time the United States of America, beyond the bipolar tensions of the Cold War, monopolised this role. As a military hyperpower, holding half of the world's arsenal, and the sole guarantor of our European security, the United States is determined to make us pay for this in political, financial, commercial and technological terms. But they are no longer the only ones in the world to be at the forefront.
The Chinese empire, which has become an industrial hyperpower by force, was still surpassed in terms of GDP by France when it joined the WTO in 2001! Today, it surpasses the GDP of the European Union as well as that of the United States, imposes itself at the centre of the commercial and financial balance of the planet, extends its "silk roads" to ensure its supplies as well as its outlets, resolutely takes over from our progressive eviction from Africa, and accentuates by all means, including military, the demonstration of its new power over its neighbours in the Pacific, relentlessly testing the firmness of the American dissuasion.
As for the Russian bear, it is brooding over its ousting from the European continent, returning in force to the scene of a Middle East deserted by the Europeans, taking advantage of American lassitude, and, claiming to be too cramped in what remains its gigantic cave, is proving to be more and more ill-bred and aggressive with its Western neighbours.
India, the world's demographic champion, Brazil, Nigeria and many other young countries with vast potential and rapid expansion, have only one ambition, even if it is to our detriment: to be fully recognised and play their own role in the "big league". Can we blame them?
Faced with these accelerated changes of scale, which are being added on from one end of the planet to the other, the deadlock, which is pathetic by the way, is indeed with the Eurosceptics! "Small is beautiful" is probably better suited to the "smart up" than to the old nations that our thurifers continue to imagine through the lens of a Jacques Cartier, a Louis XIV or a Napoleon, whose virgin cartographies, legendary castles and dominating triumphal arches today better reflect the farewell of a setting sun than the promises of a rising sun!
Europe left in its current state will be crushed by globalisation
In the face of such discrepancies, the supporters of Europe would be well advised to denounce not only the backward-looking speeches and aggressive gesticulations of unrepentant Eurosceptics, but even more so the pusillanimity and immobility of the current leaders, especially the 27 members of the European Council.
Initiated by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, the European Council proved to be dynamic in its first period: election of the European Parliament by universal suffrage, establishment of the European monetary system, launch of the large market without borders and the Schengen initiative. Its creation was perceived by Jean Monnet as the long-awaited political beginning of the effective realisation of the United States of Europe, which his Action Committee had been calling for for twenty years, to the point that he hastened to dissolve the Committee, which he considered superfluous! Unfortunately, what followed did not support his enthusiasm, nor did it justify his decision...
The decades that followed these early impulses of the European Council, although more disappointing, were not totally counterproductive. One-off successes deserve credit: the Greek bailout, the exit from the sub-prime crisis, and even the historic decision on the euro solidarity debt of 2020, certainly following unexpected Franco-German pressure and at the cost of intensive haggling in a record-breaking marathon at the summit, worthy of the election of a poorly-elected pope.
But beyond these commendable exceptions, which are themselves always on the verge of breaking points, it must be noted that the European Council increasingly appeared to react belatedly to the crises it faced, rather than preventing them or rising to the occasion by fully assuming the supremacy of European interests over the points of view of each individual. With its enlargement from six to twenty-seven and its systematic search for unanimous compromise, contrary to the dominant rules of the other institutions, the European Council came to abuse the lowest common denominator, or even the deadlock, with communiqués that were as convoluted as they were unreadable. This nuisance was aggravated by an indiscriminate escalation of issues of all kinds, including technical ones, to its level, thus disempowering the competent bodies. Transformed into a court of appeal for doing everything or doing nothing, dissuading the Commission de facto from any initiative that might displease it, the European Council ended up obstructing rather than smoothing the normal course of decisions that had hitherto been subject to majority pressure and discipline.
Thus, in order to dissuade British voters from voting for Brexit, the European Council did not hesitate to promise to renounce the ever-closer Union, the non-discrimination of social benefits between European citizens, the privileged status of the euro over other currencies, and the intangible principle of the non-questioning of a Community decision by national MPs. Only Brexit spared us from such an abrupt change of course, on which no European citizen had been consulted!
Having imposed their effective pre-eminence over all the institutions, our new feudal lords have in the end agreed less often to support integration than to preserve as much and as long as possible a European incompleteness safeguarding, but for how long and at what price, what remains of the powers of the national mandate for which they were effectively designated, before any other consideration, in their own country by their own voters, in successive national elections becoming permanent at the European level.
Europe confined to incremental reforms will be excluded from the big league
At the present stage, Europe resembles those bats that belong to the winged species while at the same time belonging mainly to the rodent species. The European Union has this dual nature, with all the inconsistencies of a persistent refusal to choose.
Without admitting it, Europe is already a real federation in four areas where its decisions escape the autonomy of the states, and even that of the European Council. It is a trade federation insofar as its majority mandates ensure the exclusive defence of the interests of all its states in international negotiations, both at the WTO and on a bilateral level. It also has federal characteristics through the exclusive powers of control of competition by the Commission under the sole control of the European Court of Justice. It has of course been a monetary federation for more than twenty years with the euro managed by a Central Bank independent of the Member States. Finally, the preponderance and initiatives of the latter make it the focal point of European finance, even if the interest rates of its Member States are diversified, albeit tightly controlled.
In other areas, however related to the previous ones, Europe depends largely on the goodwill of all the Member States, with frequent arbitration by the European Council. One example is its budget, which has been capped for ages at 1% of GDP, when the states' budgets exceed 45%, and which is financed mainly by national contributions, with own resources being in the minority. In terms of customs, the free movement of goods without borders has been accompanied by a unification of rules and tariffs at the external borders, but their management is exclusively the responsibility of national customs, despite the modest addition of Frontex. Economic union, for its part, has remained far below monetary union, despite the misleading name of EMU. Confined to a rather complacent mutual surveillance, with a very relaxed interpretation of the Maastricht criteria, it has hardly sought to bring the economic and budgetary governance of the States closer together, nor to unify company law, and even less to tackle the extreme diversity of both social and fiscal regimes. Moreover, despite a very usurped reputation, the preponderance of European law remains confined to specific areas, mainly linked to the conditions of competition, despite the recent development leading to the inclusion of common values, with the not inconsiderable risk of contravening the equally intangible principle of respect for national diversities and cultural particularities, while the European rights of citizens, faced with the administrative labyrinths of the States, are still sparingly measured.
Finally, in many other areas, which are difficult to dissociate from the image of a European Union, Europe remains totally subject to the primacy of intergovernmental practices and the requirements of unanimity. At the top of the list is the so-called (or less so-called?) "common foreign and security policy", reduced by diplomatic blunders to the lowest common denominator, with a European "high representative" entrusted with the thankless task of trying to promote its convoluted and often inaudible positions to the outside. Europe's representation to third countries and international organisations is still divided between the embassies, consulates and representations of the twenty-seven Member States, plus the European Commission's own external offices in the twenty-eighth rank.
So there is nothing really new, despite the very modest changes in the Lisbon Treaty, for the successor of a Kissinger who was already wondering about Europe's telephone number, and who runs the risk of being confronted with a stammering, if not gagged, interlocutor, or even a modernised version of the old lady of the PTT dispatching the lines, when he reaches this high representative. As for the security policy, it is mainly summed up in the participation of the Member States in NATO under American control. Molière would have added: "and that is why your daughter is dumb"!
Europe cannot succeed in its completion without a profound break
Let us be aware that remedying these weaknesses will involve for today's Europe, minus the violence, the equivalent of what the Revolution did for France, for many taboos will have to be broken for such a Europe to assert itself. Thus :
On the political level, a federal Europe would require such radical changes as a unified electoral ballot in the European Parliament, compulsory transnational lists in this ballot, the election by this recast European Parliament of a Prime Minister of the United States of Europe, leading a strong Executive, the transformation of the Council into a Senate, implying its merger with the European Council, the responsibility of the European Prime Minister before these European Chambers, the adoption by majority vote of all decisions of European competence.
On the external and security level, a federal Europe would imply a single voice in the UN Security Council and in other international bodies; a single foreign policy in world affairs; sovereignty over its defence, in close partnership with NATO but no longer in subordination; a unified military organisation that could be reconciled with a nuclear deterrent entrusted to France; regained autonomy over security and defence materials and technologies; and federal intelligence, police and civil protection and exclusively European customs officers at the external borders.
In budgetary terms, a federal Europe would imply a tenfold increase in the budget, from 1 to 10% of GDP, with a majority of own resources but also equivalent savings in national budgets and an objective of global fiscal compression thanks to reactivated economic growth and the economies of scale of an unprecedented rationalisation of expenditure and investment, framed by a common fiscal framework with a harmonisation of bases and a 'snake' of rates.
The national states would retain an intangible independence concerning the respect of their own regimes, identities and cultures, starting with their own political organisation, their mode of territorial management, the particularities of their social relations, the respect of the values, practices and systems linked to their own history and their own national feelings, with the sole reservation that this necessary diversity cannot affect the unity and the regal, security and external efficiency of a federal Union on a European scale.
Europe now depends on a Franco-German rethink
Faced with these prospects, which are as divisive today as they are tomorrow for the political survival of Europeans in globalisation, the Franco-German axis becomes a key issue. Yet on such reforms, the axis seems as veiled as it is out of place...
The new government of Olaf Scholz, which brings together a broad coalition of social democrats, liberals and greens, has included in its programme the clear and assertive objective of a "European federal state". The new Christian Democratic opposition will not worry him in this respect, as it too fully shares this objective. It is therefore the entire German political class, with the sole exception of the AFD, the equivalent of Le Pen's RN, that supports the effective realisation of a federal Europe!
What an unfathomable gap with our political class where no audible voice dares to plead for a federal Europe, unlike so many major actors and parties, from the right and the left, from the government and the opposition! Federal Europe seems to have become for our personalities on all sides as well as for most of our media a convenient repellent, a politically incorrect taboo, and why not soon, by accentuating the line, an attack on the security of the State, in support of Gaullist references and reverences which are now the best if not the only ones shared in France!
In 1994, Kohl's Germany had already proposed the European federal state to President Mitterrand, who was then in a Balladur cohabitation, to a deafening silence. Schröder's Germany repeated this proposal in 2000 to President Chirac, this time in the Jospin cohabitation, with an identical failure. The negative French referendum on the Constitutional Treaty, at the end of a surrealist scramble in France, dealt a serious blow to the Franco-German relationship and undoubtedly prompted our neighbour to refocus fatally on a much more national strategy. And when Olaf Scholz himself, then a minister in the Merkel government, dared to suggest in 2018 that the European Union should one day inherit a permanent seat on the UN Security Council from France, a chorus of recriminations greeted such a provocation in France, like those of the 1er The indignant condemnation of the "confiscation" of our headquarters logically preceded the "replacement" of our flag.
Although the troubled history of our two countries can explain a good part of these misunderstandings, the contradictions appear today more on the French than on the German side. How can France plead for European unity and sovereignty while refusing to share its permanent seat on the Security Council, while at the same time claiming to grant Germany an additional one? And how, under these autistic conditions, can we envisage the involvement of our two countries in a common foreign and security policy that makes sense for Europe?
This apparently unbridgeable gap turns into a surreal paradox when we see France, unlike Germany, indulging in its invocations of "European power" and "European sovereignty". These references were at the heart of the Sorbonne speech, to which Germany opposed the same silence that had been inflicted on its proposals! President Macron recently repeated this in Strasbourg by invoking a "European dream", the lyricism of which hardly masked the absence of any operational political content. How better to confirm the opposition with a pragmatic Germany, which sticks, apart from such flights of fancy, to the clear demands of a European federal state, supported by the majority of its political class?
But why this dialogue of the deaf, of which we no longer know whether it is the tragedy of Racine, the comedy of Molière or the grotesquerie of Guignol? And how can we cut this Gordian knot of European impotence before we have reforged together this sword of Charlemagne buried deep in the Rhine by some curse that will have plunged Europe into a thousand years of divisions, marked yesterday by our wars and their tragedies, today by our impotence and our inexorable decline?
Europe still has a choice: dust off its taboos or marry its own state
In a world of continental states where naivety is hardly the order of the day and power is the ultima ratio, today's Europe knows how to destroy our national protections but is hardly equipped to dissuade those of others: a cruel but pertinent image of this "herbivorous Europe in a carnivorous world". Let us not look for any other reason for the rise of Euroscepticism in public opinion!
Pasteur once said, referring to his persistent faith in a transcendence, "a little takes away, but a lot brings in". How can we not apply this conviction to Europe? Is it not time to abandon our diplomatic dithering in favour of collective reconstruction? Is it not time to break our taboos, cross the rubicon and surprise the world by inventing our own European state, finally able to provide credible protection for our sovereignty, our security, our interests, our jobs, our citizens, our values, in short our future?
In this continent, which was once home to the builders of cathedrals, the explorers of the unknown, the free thinkers of a new world, the inventors of the unprecedented, in short, the achievers of the impossible, this is the only conquest that has always eluded us to this day, but also the last one we have yet to achieve. So, at a time when globalisation is reshuffling all the cards, will we be able to reshuffle ours and draw from Pasteur's observation the faith that moves mountains?