Guy Verhofstadt

Europe’s Last Chance by Guy Verhofstadt: understanding the man with the Brexit veto

With the Brexit talks finally underway, we revisit Guy Verhofstadt’s Europe’s Last Chance for an insight into the man with the power to veto the final deal.

Guy Verhofstadt
At the beginning of the year, the European Union was on the ropes.

Fears of a Brexit defection infection, and a ‘Trump-inspired wave’ of far-right nationalism toppling traditional parties in the Dutch, French and German elections, meant ‘Europeanists’ were contemplating the end of the EU.

Yet, in light of the divisions the Brexit process has caused within the UK – with British citizens’ status in the EU looking uncertain, and multinationals migrating to Frankfurt and Paris – Macron’s injection of pro-EU life-force, and far-right movements struggling to gain ground, the EU seems to be back on its feet.

Despite the refugee crisis on its southern border and Poland’s descent into dictatorship, questioning the Union’s very existence has largely gone out of fashion once again.

In fact, Europeans are feeling rather positive. Statistics from the Pew Research Centre show that the EU’s approval ratings around Europe have seen a sharp increase since Brexit.

For Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgium Prime Minister, the collapse of the EU would have been a catastrophe. The ardent federalist is, he says, “in love with Europe.”

You can tell a lot about someone from how they react to a crisis.

In response, he wrote Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union, arguing that the bloc must pull together, and reform, to resist splintering into divided nations.

In his role as the European Parliament’s (EP) representative in the ongoing Brexit talks, Verhofstadt is a key player. He has the power to veto the final deal.

guy verhofstadt
Tens of thousands joined the #marchforeurope protest in London on 2nd July 2016

So what do we know about him from Europe’s Last Chance?

1. He is not unaware of the EU’s malaise.

Verhofstadt is cast as a eurobuffon in much of the press. Yet the leader of the Liberal ALDE faction is acutely aware of the problems that threaten the European project he so believes in:

“…Great Britain’s decision to exit the EU; devastating terror attacks in Paris; desperate refugees flooding into nations unable – or unwilling – to shelter them humanely; intricate currency issues shaking the foundation of a common market; belligerents like Russia and ISIS promising fearful assaults…”
And his support for the EU is not unconditional. He is critical, for example, of the hypocrisy of the bureaucratic EU.

“Where a rule does not exist, we apply one; where the application of a rule is officially required, we do our utmost to avoid it.”

But unlike many – especially British – commentators, who believe these problems show it’s time to jump ship, Verhofstadt believes in more, not less, Europe.

2. He believes the EU should become like the US – a federation.

 Famous for his outspoken tweets, and for laying into right-wing Eurosceptics in Parliament, the floppy-haired, proudly European Verhofstadt has fast become the poster-boy for European federalists.

“The only way to survive,” he writes, is to give the EU “the powers and means to tackle the crisis it faces.”

How would he equip the EU with these “powers and means?” By creating the United States of Europe.

“Unless Europe emulates its American cousin, it is surely doomed.” For a European politician – with the apparent exception of Emmanuel Macron – Verhofstadt is surprisingly deferential towards the United States.

The U.S.E would mean social as well as economic integration – which Verhofstadt believes should have been done when the Union was founded in 1957 – with a cross-border FBI-style crime-fighting agency, a European Banking Union etc.

The idea is that global problems – such as climate change and financial crises – cannot be solved at an individual state level, so our system for solving them must be international.

Terrorism, for example, is “not hampered by national borders,” he argues, unlike a non-federal Europe.

3. Guy Verhofstadt sees nationalism as a disease.

Verhofstadt makes it abundantly clear that he believes nationalism is “the root of Europe’s problems.”

“Rather than opening their eyes and making the correct diagnosis, the member states – particularly France and Germany – continue to think they can meet the [EU’s] challenges on their own without making use of the full European scale.”

He talks about nationalism in very violent terms – as a “disease.” The same disease that caused the Holocaust.

He also criticises heads of state for the empty promises to their electorates, that – as long as they are concerned about “preserving the sacred cow of national sovereignty” – they will never be able to deliver.

As for popular opinion, he believes the majority of Europeans are pro-EU, but that political decisions should not be contingent on public approval:

“Many of today’s political leaders are followers rather than frontrunners, politicians who stick their fingers in the air to determine which way the wind is blowing rather than mavericks who fly in the face of public opinion where necessary.”

Unsurprisingly, Verhofstadt has not endeared himself to those across the spectrum who see the EU as an undemocratic, meddling, regulatory machine.

He is utterly single-minded in his belief that a federal Europe, free of nationalism, is “the only way to survive.” And ultimately the EU’s survival is more important than what he sees as fickle public opinion.

“The longer we leave our condition untreated”, he argues, “the more difficult it will be to cure.”

4. He is vehemently anti-Brexit.

There is not much love lost between Guy Verhofstadt and the Brexit brigade. Last year he labelled them all “rats

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Verhofstadt sees Brexit as a historic – and highly irrational – mistake, that will harm the UK economically and socially.

Not only will students “be excluded from Erasmus,” but European research funding will decrease, and the poorer areas of the southwest and the northeast will stop receiving EU aid.

He also argues that Brexit was a “divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted,” that it legitimised racism and xenophobia of the right wing press, and cleaved the country in two.

After a “merciless leave campaign that had focussed in the nastiest way imaginable on migration instead of whether to remain or leave,” he says, it is no surprise that there was a sharp spike in hate crimes when Brexit was announced.

“This disgrace of a campaign even motivated the murder Labour MP Jo Cox.”

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Not only does he see Brexit as an ugly mess, but he also believes the EU can’t be soft with Britain. This, he argues, would only embolden anti-EU parties who already see the EU as a “doormat.”

Brexit was a “divorce that only a minority seems to have wanted.”

On top of all that, Verhofstadt has a veto, and he’s not afraid to use it.
He has already made it clear that if he thinks it’s in the best interests of the European Union, Verhofstadt will kill the Brexit deal, threatening to block any deal he feels doesn’t respect the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and British citizens in Europe. Yikes.

5. Guy Verhofstadt is not shy of the limelight.

For what is supposed to be a blueprint for the future of the EU, there’s an awful lot of ‘I’ in Europe’s Last Chance.“I wanted to lend my symbolic support to the people of Paris, who had suffered so much…”

And there is much talk of huge crowds coming to hear him speak.

Verhofstadt clearly sees himself as one of the aforementioned “mavericks,” and his tweeting habits and penchant for making news show he is embracing his central role in the Brexit talks. This is a man who ran to be EP president, after all.

Britons that want a soft Brexit will hope he uses his position to put pressure on both sides to come to a deal that is even-handed and sensible, and that he won’t be too vindictive.

But some fear that his tough stance on Brexit, and his desire not to be lenient with the Conservative negotiating team, may see the UK dumped out of Europe with nothing to soften the blow.

Clearly, Guy Verhofstadt using his veto would be a disaster for both sides.


Frank Andrews.

enrico letta

Enrico Letta’s plan for the future of EU – 7 takeaways

The former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is a full-blooded European.
enrico Letta
Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta

His new book, ‘Through thick and thin’ (‘Contro venti e maree,’ published in Italian only), is his guide to relaunch the European project in the dawn of a new era marked by Donald Trump’s election and Brexit.

Mr Letta, the current Dean of the SciencesPo Paris School of International Affairs, moved to the academic world having held the highest position in Italy’s political system from April 2013 to February 2014 – the coronation of a brilliant political career. He was previously a Member of Italy’s House of deputies and then moved to become a member of the European Parliament (EP) from 2004 to 2006. He also held several cabinet positions in centre-left governments.

Here are the 7 principal changes he believes Europe must make:

Convince the people that Europe is not made for the elites.
Like former French Foreign affairs Minister Hubert Védrine and journalist Jean Quatremer* – both of whom we have recently interviewed – Mr Letta says Europe should show the people that it is not made for the elites. He proposes an extension of the Erasmus program to apprentices, a focus on education, and to help all Europeans adapt to the internet and learn foreign languages, primarily English.

Europeans are like brothers and sisters within a single family.

*However, Mr Letta and Mr Quatremer disagree on several points.

According to Mr Letta, the originality and the force of the European integration project relies on giving every member state the same level of recognition. Whereas, for Mr Quatremer, this is precisely what causes the impotence and decline of the European institutions. He deplores the increase in the number of commissioners to 28, the relative overrepresentation of the small countries in the EP, and the rotating presidency of the Council.

Likewise, Mr Letta says that every commissioner draws their power from his or her remit, not from their nationality, and insists that this principle is the foundation of European integration. Mr Quatremer, however, sees in every commissioner a servant of his or her country of origin, a problem aggravated by the unnecessary representation of every state through a commissioner.

Mr Letta also believes in redirecting European subsidies towards weaker nations.

He would call the plan Dionysus, after the Greek god who is born and reborn again and again. In order for the Europeans to accept change, he recommends that Europe focuses on providing security in the face of change.

Europeans should be rule makers rather than rule takers.
This applies to values. What are the European Values? Our opposition to death penalty is definitely one of them, says Mr Letta. So are gender equality, the promotion of LGBTQI rights, the protection of the environment and heritage, secularism, and the right to work.

The same rules must be applied to all religions.
Mr Letta – a Christian – controversially writes that history shows that Christianity is inseparable from Europe; that Christianity is part of Europe’s identity. But the freedom of religious belief and conscience are among the most cherished European values.

However, does Homo Europeus truly exist, asks Mr Letta? Not as an ethnicity or human race, but as a cultural fact? His answer is yes, although Homo Europeus is hard to define. Europeans are like brothers and sisters within a single family, he says, observe them from outside Europe and their singularity is obvious.

Europe is simply an additional level of identity, on top of the “paese,” – village in Italian – the region, and the country. And the subsidiarity principle is there to help distinguish between the powers of every level.

Facade of St Andrew’s Church at dawn. Kiev, Ukraine. © Mstyslav Chernov

France should resist Germany more actively.
Now that the UK is out of the picture, France remains the only counterweight to Germany’s supremacy. With its position on the UNO’s Security Council, its nuclear weapons, and military capacity, France should play a more active role on the European stage and in its relationship with Germany, says Mr Letta.

Only France can convince Germany to use its fiscal surplus to help relaunch European growth, to get more involved in security, defence and foreign policy and, last but not least, to accept reforms of the euro.

The euro must be more than a currency.
Let’s consolidate the European Stability Mechanism, complete the Banking Union with a single deposit guarantee fund, create a proper European budget, and appoint a European Finance minister, writes Mr Letta.

Let’s increase the scale of the Juncker Plan in the field of innovation, education and research, as well as giving up the unanimity rule for the Eurozone, and harmonising the taxable bases, starting with environmental taxes.

Europe could also get involved in financing countries that wish to combat unemployment, in exchange for an increased effort to reduce it at national level.

The refugee crisis can be remedied in five steps.
According to Mr Letta, the refugee crisis is, to a large extent, the result of President Bush’s wars.

Though he also points to the West’s big mistakes in Libya and Syria, he believes that if the US Supreme Court had ruled differently regarding the recounting of votes in Florida at the end of the presidential election in 2000, the situation regarding refugees would be radically different today.

Like Mr Védrine, Mr Letta bases his proposal on the necessary distinction between refugees and economic migrants.

Refugee crisis action plan enrico letta
Refugees from Syrian and Iraq arrive on the island of Lesvos, Greece.

This may be a convenient distinction from a moral point of view, but those in charge of enforcing the distinction, whether as civil servants or as magistrates, know that it is often hard to determine whether a migrant should be put in one category or the other.

Moreover, benefitting from the theoretical distinction requires whichever state or organization applying it to effectively deport those classed as economic migrants, which usually doesn’t happen in Europe.

Mr Letta’s first recommendation to European governments is to prevent crises in the ‘sender’ countries through responsible foreign policy and development aid.

Second, Europe must harmonize migration and asylum policies.

Third, the ‘Dublin’ rule – that forces migrants to apply for asylum in the country of arrival – must be changed. (That’s Italy’s ex-Prime minister speaking.)

Fourth, Europe must agree on a common, and shared, refugee relocation policy.

If the US Supreme Court had ruled differently regarding the recounting of votes at the end of the presidential election in 2000, the situation regarding refugees would be radically different today.

Fifth, the European Border Control Agency must secure the continent’s external borders.

Mr Letta believes that the scale of the EU migration policy must be kept within integration limits. “It is clear that diversity becomes a problem when the original population of a country ceases to be the majority.”

However, he doesn’t say whether a limitation based on proportion should be implemented.

It’s time to debrusselize.
Enrico Letta sees in Brexit an opportunity to review the role of the EP. It is time to give the EP what it lacks the most: the power of legislative initiative. Likewise, Mr Letta suggests calling the commissioners ministers.

Mr Letta wants to change practices, not rules.

Deputies should be elected at the European –instead of the national – level.

Consequently, the European Council should draw inspiration from the European Central Bank, whose president is the only one who speaks to the press. There should be fewer summits and more lower-level meetings, while every summit should take place in a different European city.

In order to remedy to the so-called democratic deficit, deputies should be elected at the European –instead of the national – level.

Here, Mr Letta has a bold proposal: the 73 seats about to be given up by British MEPs could be replaced by Europe-wide candidates, and voted in by the single European constituency. Another progressive proposal is to involve the national deputies in the European decision-making process.

enrico letta
President Barack Obama greets Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.
© Pete Souza

We have saved our favourite proposals for last. Civil society is weak because of the barrier of languages, says Letta, so let’s make the learning of foreign languages compulsory and reduce the gap between the multilingual happy few and those who only speak their mother tongue.

And finally, he says, we need Pan-European media outlets.

We couldn’t agree more.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with the Chairman of the German SDP and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt

Problems with the EU according to Jean Quatremer

It’s an unfortunate fact of life: there are some bad people out there.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with the Chairman of the German SDP and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with the Chairman of the German SDP and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt

And for French journalist Jean Quatremer, the European Union is home to more than its fair share.

In his new book, The Bastards of Europe, the EU expert puts numerous high-profile Eurocrats on blast for sabotaging the EU – like current President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker ‘who spent 25 years turning his country into a tax haven’ – or for using their mandates for personal gain, like his predecessor José Manuel Durão Barosso, who is criticised for working for the Goldman Sachs, a notoriously unscrupulous bank.

In our recent interview with Mr. Quatremer, he described such ‘bastards’ as those who ‘deliberately act against the best interests of Europe and the European public.’

It is they who are responsible for the poor functioning of European institutions, he says, and the deterioration of the EU’s public image. In short, they are the baddies.

In The Bastards of Europe – which is yet to be published in English – Mr. Quatremer unpicks the ten biggest criticisms levelled at the EU and explains the mechanisms that the ‘bastards’ have been able to exploit.

Jean Quatremer, author of 'The Bastards of Europe.'
Jean Quatremer, author of ‘The Bastards of Europe.’

1 Europe was made behind closed doors

This is true, says Quatremer, but how else could the EU have been founded? “History shows that Europe was built not as the result of the peoples’ will,” he said in our interview, “but rather of a combination of internal and external circumstances, of political momentum and tactics.”

2 Europe is the new USSR

The argument that Europe is a new empire being constructed against the will of the people was popular in France around the time of the referendum on the Constitutional treaty in 2005, and has since been adopted by many European demagogical political parties.

But the EU has none of the characteristics of the USSR ‘empire.’ It was not founded by a state that forced its authority on others by military force. On the contrary, the EU is a voluntary association of sovereign states, and Brexit shows that any state can leave the Union.

There is no central European power; all decisions are made by the member states. The supreme body in the Union is the European Council, composed of heads of state or government, and the Commission only executes the European Council or the Council of Ministers’ decisions.

There are only five federal domains in the EU: monetary policy, the customs union, competition, trade, and conservation of marine biological resources. All other jurisdictions are shared, and who decides on how they are distributed? Again, the states.

Admittedly, the Commission holds the monopoly on legislative initiative, but 95% of its initiatives relate to applying the European Council’s decisions. Moreover, all propositions are prepared with groups of experts delegated by the states.

All high-ranking officials are nominated by the states, and last but not least, members of the European Parliament (EP) are selected by national parties, as elections to the EP are held within the individual countries.

“Member states are everywhere, they narrowly control whatever happens in Brussels, consent to share their sovereignty only in domains where common action is more efficient, and are free to leave whenever they want.”

European Parliament Strasbourg
European Parliament, Strasbourg

3 Europe is undemocratic

‘EU democracy’ certainly keeps citizens at arms length, says Quatremer.

In a democracy, the people must be allowed to choose both the Government and the Legislator through free and egalitarian elections (based on the one-person-one-vote principle), while any democratic government must vulnerable to to lose its power through elections.

The EU doesn’t meet these criteria.

However, as Quatremer points out, the EP has become progressively empowered. The Single European Act of 1986 granted it consultative powers, while the Maastricht Treaty provided it with the power to make joint decisions with the Council of Ministers in a limited number of domains, which have expanded over time.

Despite this breakthrough towards more democratic rules, the EP remains deprived of the legislative initiative that is formally retained by the Council of Ministers, and informally by the European Council. It doesn’t have a say on budget, and its amendment power remains limited by the Commission’s ability to request a unanimous vote from the Council on any amendment it does not agree with.

Last but not least, the Eurozone does not come under the remit of the Commission.

4 Europe despises the peoples

The referendum is an instrument of direct democracy within the jurisdiction of the member states, not that of the EU, argues Quatremer, who is critical of the referendum’s capacity to settle complex matters.

It is true that the Constitution rejected by both the French and the Dutch in 2005 was then incorporated into the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, against the apparent will of those that had been consulted. However, the EU was not responsible for that, France was.

After losing the referendum – for internal reasons that were largely disconnected from the Constitutional treaty – this was the only way the French Government felt it could worm its way out of the deadlock it had caused.

Quatremer is critical of the referendum’s capacity to settle complex matters.

5 The Commission is technocratic and disconnected

This is undeniably true, says Quatremer. Both the role and the reputation of the Commission have declined since Jacques Delors left the presidency. Reasons for that decline include the constant nomination of political heavyweights with poor technical knowledge as Presidents and Commissioners, as well as the Commission’s Kinnock reform, which forces general directors to move every four or five years, and forbids the recruitment of experienced and skilled civil servants.

The situation has not been helped by the coexistence of 23 languages, which has lead to “cultural impoverishment” through an increasing use of English – or rather ‘Globish,’ English’s degenerated avatar – as a working language. It was not until 1995, the date of the EU’s enlargement to include Sweden and Finland, argues Quatremer, that English started to prevail over French in the Commission.

The process accelerated from 2004 with the extensive enlargement that occurred that year. 95% of the texts produced by the Commission are written in English. This is an evolution fraught with dangers, states Mr Quatremer, a strong advocate of multilingualism.

Among the dangers to be feared, he argues, is the growing prevalence of English concepts in European law.

This is one of the rare occasions on which Mr. Quatremer’s analysis feels a bit thin. He doesn’t recognise that having English as a common second language promotes cross-border communication, and encourages a shared sense of community.

European ultra-liberalism is a fantasy of the French left.

6 European elites are corrupt and incompetent

Make no mistake about it, writes Quatremer, moral corruption lies first and foremost in the states that send their candidates to Brussels, as the Neelie Kroes affair demonstrated: “it is the greed of the states’ elites that damages politics.”

The real problem with the UE lies within the European Council, which seems now to be composed of leaders without zero concrete beliefs. There is “mediocrity at every level” writes Quatremer, who is nostalgic for the time when Mitterrand and Kohl, supported by President Jacques Delors, led Europe.

Former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors
Former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors

Quatremer fails to mention that today’s leaders are dealing with the consequences of what their predecessors implemented, regardless of how dedicated they were to the European project. A failing euro, unmanageable enlargement, an incoherent and costly institutional set-up, and a failing Schengen area are the problems today’s EU leaders inherited, with half of Europe drowning in debt, and international economic competition growing ever fiercer.

7 Europe over-reaches

Despite its increasingly large influence upon national Parliamentary activity – the EU accounts for between 60% and 80% of member states’ legislative production, but on average makes up 20% of national laws – EU edicts remain peripheral to the core of state sovereign power, Quatremer argues.

Education, research, labour legislation, social security, justice, defence, foreign policy and fiscal policy are still decided by the states, whereas Europe’s exclusive competencies are actually limited to the five domains mentioned above: the customs union, competition, trade, currency and the protection of marine biological resources.

8 Europe is ultra-liberal

This criticism, says Quatremer, is a fantasy of the French left.

Jean Luc Mélenchon
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left ‘Unbowed France’ movement

Europe is socio-liberal. Free and undistorted competition was imposed on Europe, more specifically on Germany and France’s coal and steel industries, in order to undermine industrial monopolies. The aim was to regulate market competition, but also competition between states, which is the exact opposite of ultra-liberalism.

Quatremer does admit that the Commission should broaden its narrow conception of which markets to scrutinise for infringements of free competition – the smaller the market, the more likely a company is to appear in a dominant position – and that its worship of free trade has proved detrimental to the emergence of European business leaders.

9 Europe doesn’t deal with real problems

This reproach is true, says Quatremer, but only because member states have decided to leave the thorniest questions to the EU, which lacks consensus between member states on most of the crucial questions of economics, social affairs, foreign policy, defence and security.

History has shown that only in crisis do states relinquish sovereignty. It was true for the creation of a European Central Bank (ECB), which was founded at a time when Germany needed France’s support for its unification process while the latter needed to prevent Germany’s supremacy. It was also true more recently when control of banks was given to the ECB, under the Banking Union, which wouldn’t have happened without the banking crisis.

There were missed opportunities, though, such as the rejection of the European Defence Community in 1954 – which France was responsible for –, or the failure of the Fouchet plan in 1960 – which was caused by Benelux – the consequences of which can still be felt today in the reluctance to build any form of common defence.

Only in crisis do states relinquish sovereignty.

10 We need a different Europe

Both political extremes in France – the National Front and the Left Front – are fascinated by the prospect of starting anew from a clean slate. This is perhaps the legacy of the French Revolution, but whatever the explanation, such extreme parties are not able to present fully consistent and realistic political platforms.

The reality is that European states would struggle to survive without the EU.

What would France’s economy become without the euro? It would return to high interest rates, inflation, and a strong dependence on foreign currency, while the French would see a drastic reduction in the value of their assets.

The French state would – in all likelihood – go bankrupt.

The EU may be home to a good few ‘bastards,’ and it may be in need of serious reform, but on balance, Quatremer argues, member states – who haven’t always acted in the EU’s best interests – have no choice but to stick with it.

They need it more than they might care to admit.

Hubert Verdine

Save Europe – A book by Hubert Védrine

Is it possible to reboot the European Union?

And is Jean-Claude Juncker the rigJunckerht man to do it? After all, this is the man who, as PM of Luxembourg during the financial crisis, said ‘we all know what needs to be done, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.’

Hubert Védrine has no such issue. Unhampered by the constraints of office, the former French Foreign Minister has weighed in on the Future of Europe debate with a series of radical proposals.

Védrine, once a vocal proponent of European integration, is urging a complete overhaul of the EU.

As a diplomatic advisor to François Mitterand, then Foreign Minister under the Jospin government from 1997 to 2002, Védrine was there at the birth of today’s EU: the creation of the Schengen zone and the Euro, in particular. But it seems even he has since had a change of heart, arguing in his new book Save Europe that the EU is in need of major reform:

‘This self-righteous European entity, full of good intentions, is waking up to a painful reality,’ he writes, ‘in a sort of Jurassic Park.’

Huber Verdine
Hubert Vedrine

Unlike most EU politicians, with the notable exception of Juncker and his Vice-President Franz Timmermans, Védrine doesn’t conflate being pro-EU with being a euro-federalist ‘Européiste’.

Take the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, for example. While he agrees with Védrine that Europe is ‘in the throes of an existential crisis’, the solution he offers in his new book Europe’s Last Chance is a devolution of further powers to the EU.

Védrine, however, advocates minimising the EU’s legislative powers, promoting national sovereignty, and most importantly, making the EU work for Europeans.

‘The most dangerous problem’ facing the EU, Védrine argues, is the divide between Europeans and the decision-making elite, and an ensuing ‘sense of democratic dispossession’. Brexit is just the latest sign of this disengagement, he argues.

Unsurprisingly, he dismisses the ‘arrogant’ idea of ‘punishing’ Britain for Brexit.

In Europe’s Last Chance, Verhofstadt refers to the ‘nationalist delusion’ that ‘haunts Europe’. Védrine argues that this Européiste demonization of the inherently democratic aspiration to conserve national sovereignty is often – ironically – what leads people to vote for far right parties like the Front National.

Marine Le Pen Front National
Marine and Jean Marie Le Pen at a rally in honour of Joan of Arc, Paris

Védrine posits that the out of touch federalists running the EU make up less than 1% of Europeans. He estimates that roughly 20% of Europeans are actively anti-Europe, 20% are pro-Europe, and 60% are sceptical but swayable.

‘Rather than stopping to analyse people’s discontent or engage in any kind of self-criticism’, he writes, ‘proponents of “More Europe” stubbornly continue to stigmatise public disengagement’.

Unsurprisingly, he dismisses the ‘arrogant’ idea of ‘punishing’ Britain for Brexit.

Védrine instead suggests pausing the relentless expansion – which has left the EU stretched, fragmented, and unresponsive – to re-evaluate its role.

Whilst it would take courage to decree such a pause, he argued in a recent interview with RFI, ‘it would take an even greater lack of awareness to do nothing.’

The next stage would be a conference organised by the ‘most determined governments’ to agree on the Union’s new role. The aim would be to define ‘a few key missions [for the EU], with the goal of preserving the European way of life in tomorrow’s world’.

EU Parliament
European Parliament

The EU would base all decisions regarding its function on the ‘will of the people’. While British Remain voters still have nightmares about this phrase, Védrine asserts that ‘most European peoples are open to a European project’. This may not be true for much longer, however, if the disengagement he highlights is left to fester.

Védrine advocates adopting an ethos of genuine subsidiarity – so that the EU only deals with what nations can’t do alone – as well as the harmonisation of fiscal and asylum policies, and more EU military cooperation.

Védrine is clearly a believer in compromise – a quality no doubt instilled in him during his time in government. But at times his proposals can feel cynical. For example, he justifies trading with nations with poor human rights records saying foreign policy shouldn’t be ‘missionary work’ and ‘diplomacy is about dealing with the world in a way that advances our interests’.

And though he argues for ‘a more generous response to asylum requests’, his inaccurate claim that most of these come ‘from Syrians’, and his careless reference to ‘waves of economic immigrants from Africa’ is Védrine at his most dispassionate. When we asked him about this in our interview (published next week), he replied that he was free not to abide by ‘political or linguistic correctness’.

Refugees wait for a train to Serbia on a track near a train station in Demir Kapija, Macedonia.

But for all its policy proposals, Save Europe is less a manifesto and more an alternative ethos – ‘a major shift in mentality’ ­– for European Union to live by. And while his brand of realism may not be to everyone’s taste, his idea of aligning public opinion with legislation would certainly gain popularity, one thing today’s EU is severely lacking. Fears about immigration must be reflected in EU migration policy, he argues, however justified those fears may be.

Védrine sees the EU’s new role as extranational, not supranational: ‘suggesting, encouraging, fixing goals and showing the way, without regulating everything in detail.’

Once an outline of a reformed EU exists, he then proposes putting it to a referendum. Given the disastrous history EU referenda have between Brexit and the doomed EU Constitution, that’s unlikely to be a popular suggestion, but he’s not wrong that some kind of democratic legitimacy is required.

The Eurodeputies arguing for further political integration are no doubt convinced that history will be kind to them, but if the European electorate sees no change in this mulish Européiste stance, their scepticism may soon turn into something far more ominous for the EU.

Save EuropePro-Europeans will point to Western Europe’s support for a ‘two-speed Europe’ as a sign that the EU is capable of adapting to a changing political landscape, but the myopic “More Europe” argument has been the Brussels line for so long that the worry is this is too little, too late.

Indeed, the malaise afflicting the EU has as much to do with reputation now as anything else.

‘The modern EU was obviously primarily designed to give middle-aged men something to do once they have finished governing Belgium or Luxembourg,’ wrote Roland White in The Times recently.

Perhaps the most crucial of all the problems Védrine’s plan would address would be the EU’s ruinous public image.

Emmanuel Macron

Books: Revolution by Emmanuel Macron – an optimistic vision of the EU’s future

In the battle for the French Presidency, Emmanuel Macron is flying the flag for the European Union.
Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron

Despite far-right candidate Marine Le Pen stoking strong anti-EU sentiment amongst her supporters, the former French Finance Minister has outlined his belief that a strong EU is a necessity if France wants to be able to wield enough influence to compete with the likes of the US & China as a global superpower.

An alarming diagnosis

In his campaign tie-in book, Revolution – which has already sold over 200,000 copies – Macron states that, 60 years after its creation, the European Union seems to be floundering.

The essence of the EU has been lost, he argues, to procedures and treaties. He believes that almost nobody cares about this decline though, as the three core European values (‘Peace’, ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Freedom’) have progressively weakened.

According to Macron, the ongoing unsolved crises in the Ukraine and Syria and the problems mass migration poses have jeopardised ‘Peace’, the promise of ‘Prosperity’ has been undermined by a 20% unemployment rate amongst 18-25s, and for reasons of national security, ‘Freedom’ has started to appear unattainable.

Macron states that, 60 years after its creation, the European Union seems to be floundering.

An ambitious vision.

While Macron’s gloomy diagnosis is hardly ground-breaking – the European Union increasingly bears the brunt of national economical frustrations – his position is notable for its ambition.

He is optimistic for the future of Europe, and believes that the EU is of fundamental importance. In his book he outlines three main ideas.

1 – Sovereignty vs. Nationalism

According to Macron, someone who is truly in favour of national sovereignty is also pro-European.

He justifies this seemingly paradoxical viewpoint by explaining that sovereignty is about the freedom given to a country to choose how best to respond when confronted with issues such as mass immigration and dumping.

Macron questions how strong or diverse a state’s options could be without cooperation with neighbouring countries, and recommends renegotiating with the UK on EU immigration policy. He also argues for stronger anti-dumping policies, saying that Europe should be as strong as China or the US in these areas. That, for Macron, is the only way to regain the trust of the EU populace.

2 – Economic Ambition

Macron argues that the EU should combat sluggish growth with a more decisive plan of action, namely a stronger European investment plan designed to address the lack of fibre optic infrastructure and to increase spending on renewable energies, education and research.

No specific figure is given, but Macron would elect a Eurozone Finance Minister in charge of an investment budget whose activities would be monitored by the European parliament on at least a monthly basis.

Macron would create a committee for energy as well as fiscal and social matters with a group of primary nations – say France, Germany and the Benelux Union – as well as an extended group of secondary nations.

Macron argues that the next French president will greatly influence the direction of the EU over the coming years, and in turn have a marked impact on Europe’s long-term future.

3 – More Democracy

Finally, Macron believes that the European Union needs more citizen involvement, arguing that in Autumn of 2017, after the French & German elections, EU member states should encourage participation in democratic debate, which would form the basis of concrete action plans that each country would be required to implement within the next 5 to 10 years.

Furthermore, he declares that if a member state did not agree with a collective European agreement it would have the power to veto it in its own territory, but that this would not affect legislation in other countries.

Only by taking these measure, Macron believes, can the EU can become more dynamic.