Guy Verhofstadt Exclusive Interview: ‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit’

We spoke to Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, to discuss Brexit, citizens’ rights and Phase Two of negotiations.

What’s the EP’s agenda regarding citizens’ rights in the second phase of the negotiations?

‘There are many outstanding issues that the European Parliament will continue to clarify, from the administrative procedures that will apply for EU citizens in the UK, to the free movement rights of UK citizens in the EU. We need the initial agreement on citizens’ rights to now be put into a legally cast iron treaty and presented for review by MEPs. We will insist that the implementation date of the withdrawal treaty starts at the end of any transition period requested by the British Government. Both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU need clarity as soon as possible and we are committed to ensuring the minimum disruption to people’s lives.

Is the coming negotiation on citizens’ rights going to be limited to the EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit or will it be extended to those applying for residency after Brexit? Same question about the British residents in the EU.

‘A number of outstanding issues remain for both groups of citizens, from free movement for UK citizens in the EU, to the governance of the rights of EU nationals in the UK.

Do you still support a version of the proposal for Associate Citizenship for UK citizens? What would this entail?

‘I will continue to push for recognition that millions of UK citizens are having their European rights taken away from them against their will. Europe should recognise this, in my opinion.’

Recent YouGov polls suggest a growing number of Brits have ‘buyers remorse’ about Brexit. What do you make of this? Do you think Brexit will actually happen?

‘The British Government, on behalf of the British people, has submitted its intentions to leave the European Union and of course we have to implement this, but we do not do so with glee. The British people must take responsibility for their own destiny.’

If Britain changed its mind, how likely would it be that the EU27 would rescind article 50 and welcome them back?     

‘President Juncker, Tusk and Macron have all said the door remains open, but this would require the agreement of all EU member states and the European Parliament.’

Some say the EU cannot officially negotiate with the UK on a trade deal as long as they are a member state. Britain would need to first revert to third country status under Article 218. Do you foresee any problems there?

‘The ongoing Brexit talks will aim to secure a political declaration outlining a possible future framework for trade negotiations, once Britain becomes a third country after “Brexit day”.’

Does anyone in Brussels regret Jean-Claude Juncker not giving concessions to David Cameron before he called the referendum?

‘The European Union offered David Cameron unprecedented concessions, including an opt-out of “ever closer union”. In the end, the renegotiation hardly featured in the referendum debate.’

What has the EU done to remedy the underlying issues that partly led to Brexit?

‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit. Support for the European project has increased profoundly since the referendum. However, I agree the European Union needs to reform if it is to survive; fixing the eurozone, doing less but better, building a real defence union so people feel safe, securing Europe’s external borders and delivering fairer globalisation are our priorities. Too many communities have been “left behind”, but the reasons for this are complex, multi-faceted and in most cases the result of a lack of investment by national governments.’

The Way Back Home: two accounts of life in Germany

Lavenir, a 27 year-old Cameroonian, has chosen a window seat on his flight from Germany to Cameroon. The world is small up here, and the towns, rivers and mountains pass by.

Dschang, Lavenir’s hometown.

Over the phone, Lavenir tells me that he is returning to Cameroon with mixed feelings: “I am happy to see all my friends, to eat my favourite dishes, to be back in my room where I was living throughout my boyhood.”

But there could have been a more joyful reason to take a flight to Central Africa. A couple of days ago his Aunt passed away. When Lavenir heard the news, he booked his flight within minutes, despite the cost. “She had raised me since I was ten years old. I was always close to her. She is also my mother. I could not stay in Germany in that sad moment. I wanted to be with my family back at home.”

Where do you belong when you have two homes? Lavenir has been asking himself this question for years. Since he arrived in the country of roast pork and Oktoberfest, his vow to return to Cameroon one day has never left his mind. “I will leave Germany after my studies,’ he says to himself, “I am sure about it!”

His family are waiting for him at the airport, and they welcome him with a bag full of fresh peanuts. They are curious: how is it, living in Europe?

His short stay in the grass fields of the Western highlands near the border of Nigeria is full of nostalgia. The air is pure, and the rainy season is about to end. Children play football at the end of the street, and young mothers hold their babies as they sell fresh fruit.  

But Lavenir must shortly return to Kaiserslautern, a modest, medium-sized town near the Vosges. “I am also happy to return to Kaiserslautern to have my normal life, my daily routine. Even though I miss my family and the delicious African food – that I still prefer.”

At the end of the week, his flight – via Addis Ababa – carries him back to his home away from home. It’s likely that he will experience the same journey in the coming years. At that point, though, there will be no going back.

Lavenir is one of numerous Africans who leave their country to study in Europe. In Cameroon alone, between one and  two thousand graduates apply each year to Germany, with only a few hundred eventually making the trip.

Germany enjoys a good reputation among young Cameroonians: at a time when millions of refugees are fleeing their homelands to come to Europe, the procedure to get formally accepted as a student  is complicated and selective. Alongside the requirement for a solid grasp of German and a letter of acceptance from a German university, applicants must also have a minimum bank balance of several thousand euros, as well as the contact information of people already living in Germany. In Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, it is not uncommon to wait up to 12 weeks to get an appointment at the German embassy.

“The question is to what extent young African students can give back to their home institutions,” says Dr. Cristina D’Alessandro, a senior fellow at the centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa. “Policy investigations showed financial gaps for African countries caused by brain drain. These people leaving for Europe produce financial income but they pay taxes abroad.”  

Government revenue is not all that’s missing. “Professionals lack in certain disciplines like doctors. They are needed in their home countries.” But there are also those who prefer to return to their home countries after their studies, and Lavenir is one of them.

Unlike some of his fellow German students, Lavenir cannot benefit from a scholarship. Whereas other students will be busy partying, Lavenir spends his entire Saturday working in a factory

For now, Lavenir has settled down in Kaiserslautern. “On Mondays, I am doing some research about where I can work next,” he says. “I like to go my lectures at the university. But to be honest – my occasional jobs are even more important”, he says.

In contrast to many Cameroonians, he knows that life can be as challenging in Germany as in his home country. “I never had any too optimistic illusions about how life would be here,” he says.

Unlike some of his fellow German students, Lavenir cannot benefit from a scholarship. Whereas other students will be busy partying, Lavenir spends his entire Saturday working in a factory. The rest of his time he has to study, and so has little time with his friends. Though he never misses an opportunity to attend church on Sunday – a tradition that seems almost anachronistic in a mostly secularised western society.

His friends support him, and they are always ready to listen to his troubles: “It is not that easy to find jobs in this region. The neighbouring towns are small. Sometimes you only get temporary employment. With the money I earn I can’t help my Cameroonian family financially, as I thought in the beginning.”

Karim

Karim looks tired. He’s at a dead end. Unable to work in Germany, he now has no choice but to return to Benin. The 40-year-old has been living in a tiny town in the east of the Germany for almost 15 years, and hasn’t seen his children since he left Benin. His German is poor, and he spends the majority of time at home.

Karim’s asylum claim was rejected on the grounds that Benin has a stable government, and was therefore classified as an economic migrant: “Since 2004 I am living in Germany but I never got my permission to work. So I am just eating and sleeping. I really want to work.”

His children will soon be able to welcome their father back, as once Karim knew his decision to leave would be financed, it was clear there was no alternative.  “They (the German government) give me 2500 euros within the next months as soon as I’ll arrive in Benin. I take the money to start a motor taxi business. I want to help my family.”

In 2015, the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research (IFO) calculated that the total cost for the integration of refugees accepted into Germany was around €21 billion.

In Germany, social welfare organizations like Caritas are in charge of providing aid to individuals such as Karim, helping them return to their homeland. There are more than 150 such networks, all mandated by the International Organization of Migration. Though only one in seven returning refugees go to Africa or to the Middle East, while many relocate to Eastern Europe.

In 2016 the German state subsided both the Reintegration and Emigration Programmes for Asylum-Seekers in Germany (REAG) and Government Assisted Repatriation Programme (GARP) with €10 million – a fraction of what is spent by public and private institutions. In 2015, the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research (IFO) calculated that the total cost for the integration of refugees accepted into Germany was around €21 billion. In addition, the EU contributes to these programmes via its €3.1 billion Fund for Asylum, Migration and Integration (AMIF).

The way back

Individuals such as Lavenir who have been at least partly educated abroad have a strong chance of finding a job back home. For Dr. Cristina d’Alessandro, this is a reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of Sub-Saharan Africa: “Cameroon universities are improving decisively; the question is raised how much they are capable to reabsorb the brain drain. But you have a variety of institutions that are more and more internationally competitive. As much as the political situation improves and also the quality of life, I am confident that the brain drain will come back to its country.”

Lavenir will most likely be a part of this group, but the time hasn’t come yet. “Five years after my graduation I would like to return to Cameroon. I think it would be good if I start working here a bit for a few years to acquire experience. But then I want to return. I want to start a project back in my home country.” Upon returning, he will belong to what he calls the “privileged ones”, those Cameroonians who have been fortunate enough to study abroad. In Cameroon, there is a belief that this privilege is followed by a duty to put into practice what you have learnt some thousand miles away.

Which was exactly what two other Cameroonians did after returning home. Morene and Chief Charles Morfaw concluded their studies in Germany in the 1990s, and when they returned home they started a business – the business of education. Their project, ‘Educate the Generation of Tomorrow’ began with a humble primary school, and later a secondary school. The institutions are based in Lavenir’s home town, Dschang, and are famous in the region for producing high-achieving students.  

Lavenir outside the Morfaw family’s house in Dschang.

In Dschang, everyone goes to Church on Sunday. The service can last up to four hours – life is different here.

Back in Germany, Lavenir turns on the television. He could not vote in the recent German elections, but he sensed a change: issues over immigration are causing tension and harsh divides in German society. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AFD) party in Kaiserslautern won ten percent, which worried Lavenir, but not enough for him to return home prematurely.

~

by Luis Nicolas Jachmann

Interview: Charles Goerens on citizens’ rights and Brexit

The PanEuropean recently interviewed Charles Goerens, an MEP for Luxembourg and proponent of the Associative Citizenship proposal. We asked Mr. Goerens to explain the European Union’s stance on citizens’ rights, as well as why his Associative Citizenship proposal has been postponed.

Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens

Where are we with Brexit and citizens’ rights?

It must be said that much progress has been made on citizens’ rights. The negotiations started from the British immigration law, and the British Government is now ready to concede a special settled status to EU nationals.

The European Parliament’s (EP) only weapon to fight for citizens’ rights is a means of pressure – namely to threaten with a negative vote on the final text of the withdrawal agreement. On the 8th of November, the Brexit Steering Group (BSG) issued a statement outlining its red lines on the latest UK citizens’ rights proposals.

“Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line”

This week, a resolution supported by five political groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens and GUE) has been put to the EP’s vote on a plenary session. The resolution discussed the state of play of the negotiations.

However, major issues still need to be addressed to secure equal and fair treatment for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. Our most important concern is the UK proposals for settled status for EU citizens in the UK, including the administrative procedures as set out in a technical note published by the UK Government on the 7th of November. It is our firm view that acquiring settled status:

  • Must be an automatic process in the form of a simple declaration, not an application which introduces any kind of conditionality (for example a pro-active ‘criminality check’).
  • Must enable families to make one joint declaration, not separate declarations for each individual family member.
  • Must place the burden of proof on the UK authorities to challenge the declaration and this only on a case-by-case basis and in line with EU law.
  • Must be cost-free.
  • Is a system that can only enter into force after any transition period, if requested and agreed, has concluded. Before that, the freedom of movement should apply.
  • On family reunification, Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line.
  • We do not accept that there has to be any status difference between the members of a family born from different relationships or between those born before and those born after Brexit.
  • On the export of benefits, we insist that this cannot be limited to pensions only, but should include all benefits defined in the EU legislation.
  • Last but not least, we insist that UK citizens currently living in the European Union continue to benefit from the freedom of movement after Brexit. These are our red lines.

Will there be a difference of treatment between EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit and those applying for residency after Brexit?

It’s a key question. The status of future EU residents in the UK will be discussed in the second phase of the negotiations, once an agreement on Brexit has been concluded. The current negotiations are exclusively for the benefit of current EU residents in the UK.

Is your proposal on associated citizenship still on the agenda of the EP?

Unfortunately, I had to withdraw my proposal of an associated citizenship, which was fought harshly by those in favour of Brexit as well as by those in favour of strict reciprocity between the UK and the EU in the matter of citizen’s rights. My view as a Luxembourger is that reciprocity is not needed. I can tell you that the associated citizenship remains in the minds and hearts of most of the remainers. We will see in the next phase of the negotiations whether it is appropriate to revive this proposal, possibly on a reciprocal basis.

Interview: Daniel Roeder on the future of Germany and Europe

The Pan European recently caught up with Daniel Roeder, a lawyer by trade and co-founder of the Pulse of Europe (PoE), a grassroots initiative started in Germany that aims to promote the European Union at a local level. From Albania to Sweden, the PoE has held rallies across the continent to speak out in favour of the European project.

Daniel Röder at a rally in Frankfurt, Germany.

As you might have heard, coalition talks to form a new German government have so far been unsuccessful. Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was not able to reach an agreement with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party over the refugee crisis and the environment. Daniel told us what the ramifications could be for Germany and Europe.

So, the liberal FDP recently pulled out of coalition talks in Germany. Were you surprised?

Absolutely, what happened was totally unexpected. We still don’t know the exact reasons: progress was made in certain areas, and I haven’t heard anything specific – just very broad, abstract phrases like ‘we were on the wrong path’. It remains to be seen what the real reason was.

What’s next for Merkel?

Well, it’s difficult to guess…there are two options. Either new elections, or she will try a minority government, which is a difficult thing and is probably very unstable. Maybe the Social democrats will change their minds…the situation is new: the parties need to accept their responsibilities, because I don’t think new elections will bring new results.

Which outcome is more likely?

It’s impossible to say right now, but the situation for Merkel is even more difficult than before.

What is the current mood on the ground?

People are shocked and surprised. No one knows why the talks failed – if there had been one topic during negotiations that the Liberals had said, ‘that’s a no-go topic for us and we won’t deal with it,’ it would have been understandable why they walked away. But they had made progress over the last two days – politicians were tweeting that progress had been made, and then the next day it was the opposite.

If a snap election is called, do you think the far-right AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) will gain an even bigger share of the vote?

Possibly. The CDU haven’t managed to form a government, so obviously that could provide potential support to the AfD. Similarly, if a snap election is called, the FDP may lose votes because they are apparently the ones to blame. However, I expect that the outcome would be similar, maybe a little shift here and there, but I doubt any party would gain significantly more votes than they had in September.

AfD voters are quite heterogeneous: they are not one-of-a-kind. There’s a certain percentage of former CDU voters who wanted to show their party that they are dissatisfied with the policies of the last few years, particularly in regards to the refugee crisis…the Christian Democrats haven’t done enough, simply.

This is why I believe that the parties must try and form a government now: they have to deal with the outcome of the elections. It’s a duty, in my opinion.

Do you feel that the parties have an obligation to making this coalition work?

Yes. To a certain extent I can understand the SPD reaction right after the elections, but there are two ways of looking at the results. Voters expressed that the Grand Coalition should not continue, but on the other hand they [the SPD] gained roughly 20% of the vote: they’re the second strongest party in parliament.

‘I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years.’

All parties want to avoid losing voters, I understand that, but there’s something above party interests…a duty to the people, and that goes for any party. It’s a difficult situation for Germany and Europe.

Many of AfD’s voters come from East Germany. Why is that, and how can the government reconnect with those people?

It’s a very difficult question… it’s not only Eastern Germany, it’s a phenomenon that has in different degrees spread all over the country, but the AfD is particularly strong in East Germany. I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years. This is true not only for Eastern Germany but the whole of Eastern Europe.  If you look at Poland or Hungary or other countries where populists and nationalists are regaining power, I think that they are looking for their Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc. identity. Many countries were elated after the Iron Curtain fell, and they then tried to connect with the European Union, but perhaps it was too fast. I think it was still the right decision, but in a way they are still suffering from that experience…they seem to find an answer in nationalism.

A Pulse of Europe rally in Cologne, Germany.

What can the government in Germany and the EU do?

Well, they must re-engage with people, and listen more carefully to the problems that they are raising. A large part of this is addressing globalisation: people are overwhelmed by it, and a natural reaction is to withdraw to a smaller unit – the village, the neighbourhood, the nation. Germany and the EU need to provide solutions for creating a world in which globalisation doesn’t leave people feeling lost.

Obviously, Germany is not alone, and this ties into a larger movement of populism sweeping across Europe. Can grassroots organisations such as the Pulse of Europe tackle this?

I hope so, yes. When we started off at the end of last year, the mood was quite dark. Everybody thought that there was no real answer to Brexit, to Trump. But we proved that there are thousands of people who believe in a united Europe, in democracy and the rule of law. The problem now is that many people thought ‘job done’ after the French elections. Yet for me it’s now an even more critical situation – we need to create a new future and there needs to be a quick response to Macron’s suggestions.

I’m not saying Germany or other European countries should exclaim, ‘oh great, Macron, we agree to your catalogue of 40 plus topics.’ No!

The only thing he is saying is, ‘let’s have a serious discussion about Europe,’ yet so far there has been no response. That’s part of the problem with the coalition talks in Germany. There needs to be a quick response, otherwise Macron will have an internal problem in a couple of years.

Do you feel Macron is a lone figure in Europe?

Yes, that’s the problem. He has very much linked his personal success with the European project. Macron knows that he has to undergo a lot of social reforms within France, which is a difficult task. Certainly, he needs success within Europe – but obviously that requires assistance.

The Franco-German relationship is often seen as the heart of Europe. What effect do you think Macron has had on this relationship so far?

I think it’s been quite positive. The perception in Germany is also quite positive. But there are also some voices who raise doubts: the traditional German narrative is that we don’t want to pay for France. But that twists the story around…no one is saying we have to pay them, and if we want to improve and protect the European project, we need to invest money.

This narrative doesn’t consider the counterpoint: what would Germany have to pay if the European Union fails?

What’s on the agenda for the Pulse of Europe in 2018?

Many things. We still believe that Brexit can be avoided, but there needs to be some kind of push from the UK.  We would love to interlink with the anti-Brexit movements, but they need to take the first step.

‘We still believe that Brexit can be avoided…’

We are focusing also on Eastern Europe and civilian movements. Macron has said that there should be a civilian participation project in renewing Europe. We’ve made contact with him over that and have asked what exactly is his vision for the project. Maybe we will join in, provided we remain independent.

We also want to help other civilian movements in Eastern Europe to fight for democracy because it’s a serious situation there. I know from our people in Poland and Prague that it is already difficult to assemble demonstrations – freedom of speech is at stake, and that is obviously fundamental for democracy.

Also on the 6th May there will be a Pulse of Europe day in Frankfurt… the City granted us the Paulskirche, which is an honour. We will try to create a huge demonstration for all things Europe, and possibly issue a manifesto.

We will send a message to all European politicians that the European project is moving forward, through the people.

~

Max Caskie

Interview: What does French media treatment of Pulse of Europe show?

Ever seen those photos of the massive pro-Europe demonstrations in Germany?

Pulse of Europe French media
The Pulse of Europe movement campaigns for a ‘strong, functioning European Union.’

Then you’ve already been acquainted with Pulse of Europe.

Launched in Frankfurt in 2016, the movement campaigns for a pan-European identity and ‘a strong, functioning European Union,’ but endorses no particular politician or party.

In Germany, the movement has quickly become immensely popular, with tens of thousands of people mobilising to show their support for the European project.

Pulse of Europe recently launched in France, yet the reception seems to have been rather tepid.

Is that because the French are actually more sceptical of Europe than the polls would suggest? Or are the press just reluctant to appear overtly pro-European Union?

We spoke to Aurélien Condomines, head of the French brance of Pulse of Europe, to find out.

TPE Do the French and German press treat the respective Pulse of Europe movements differently?

AC The German media has been very obliging, but the same cannot be said for the French press. In both countries, media organisations adopt a position they believe will resonate with their readers.

I emphasise the word ‘believe,’ though, because they aren’t necessarily right: most journalists haven’t really understood the political changes in France over the past two years.

“French journalists tell us: ‘the French don’t want to hear about Europe, so we don’t talk about it.”

TPE How so?

AC Just look at the papers – no one thought Emmanuel Macron was going to win the election. There is a troubling lack of understanding in the media bubble. Most journalists talk about what they think people want to hear. They are part of a global phenomenon of cronyism.

French President Emmanuel Macron Pulse of Europe French media
French President Emmanuel Macron

In Germany, journalists detected the fears many Germans had about the future of Europe, first with the Dutch, then with the French elections.

Whereas French journalists tell us: ‘the French don’t want to hear about Europe, so we don’t talk about it.’

It’s the opposite of what Macron’s En Marche! movement did throughout the [presidential] campaign. Macron was clearly pro-European – he flew just as many EU flags as French ones, despite the received wisdom at the time.

His victory proved him right.

“Most journalists haven’t really understood the political changes in France over the past two years.”


TPE
Is it fair to say that you are pro-Macron?

AC No, it’s not that we are ‘pro-Macron.’ He is pro-Europe and so are we.

TPE Who would have been PoE’s preferred candidate in the recent Presidential election?

AC In the first round of voting, we refused to endorse any particular candidate, we said “there are several pro-Europeans, choose between them.”

In the second round, there was one anti and one pro-European, so we favoured the latter.

Pulse of Europe has members from the left, the right, and the centre. During the election, we saw from their Facebook profiles that they supported François Fillon (right), Emmanuel Macron (centre) and Benoît Hamon (left)

And, of course, we received angry messages from Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far left) and Marine le Pen (extreme right) voters. We found those from the far left to be the most abusive.

“In France we have a terrible tendency to not talk about what we don’t understand.”

TPE Do you believe that most French people are pro-Europe?

AC The polls show clearly that they are.

There are fluctuations – approval ratings have shot up over the past few months, having slumped for a while previously – but these are natural.

People adapt to the narrative of the moment, opinion is fluid, but the population is mostly pro-European.

Paradoxically, before May or June of this year, there was the feeling in France that that wasn’t the case.

There was a sort of anxiety triggered by the Parisian media elite, who decided that people didn’t want to hear anything pro-European.

The opposite happened in Germany.

pulse of europe french media
Martin Schulz, the SPD’s candidate for German Chancellorship, with Angela Merkel

TPE And in the event that they do mention the EU, do you feel it is treated even-handedly?

AC There is a distinct lack of understanding of what the EU does and how it works.

In France we have a terrible tendency to not talk about what we don’t understand.

If media executives felt their audiences were unequivocally pro-European, they would take the time to learn about the EU. But they are still convinced people aren’t interested.

With the election of Emmanuel Macron, that may all change. Bizarrely, the press, like many French politicians, follows opinion, rather than shaping it.

If Macron’s plan to relaunch the European project in the coming months takes off, the media will follow his lead.

TPE Is there another reason – aside from the idea that they don’t think the French audience is interested in Europe – like a feeling that the EU is too neoliberal, for example?

AC That explains the attitude of certain journalists, the militant anti-Europeans, but there are relatively few of them.

TPE Can you give us some examples of the press treatment of Pulse of Europe?

AC We don’t really receive negative treatment anymore, except online, where rumours did the rounds about Pulse of Europe’s supposed dodgy financers – George Soros and the like. They were complete rubbish.

95% of the treatment we receive is positive. The problem is that we don’t get coverage.
Between February and March, up to 60 pro-France demonstrations of upwards of 30,000 people took place all over Germany.

They waved French flags and chanted ‘we love France’ – now that’s not exactly uninteresting!

The Tagesschau, the German equivalent of 20 minutes [a free daily paper] had a story, but in France, nothing.

You would have thought that they would have dedicated at least a minute of the 20 minutes to the tens of thousands of pro-France demonstrators mobilising across Germany.

Nope, diddlysquat.

But they’ll spend 5 minutes on the “fête du cochon” [a traditional festival involving the killing and eating of pigs that has become politically significant for far-right groups. Many now see it as anti-Islam]. It’s absurd.

What has really made a difference in Germany has been TV. We’ve had some press, some radio, but barely any TV coverage.

TV reaches millions of people, 60% of whom are pro-European. If they saw on the news that PoE had meetings all over the country, they’d join us.

Coverage in the written press is only ever going to reach a limited elite.

Here’s another example. In Cologne recently, 2,000 people met in the main square to form a giant French flag – even just visually, it was interesting – but it wasn’t mentioned.

Equally bizarre is the fact that we’ve had plenty of foreign press coverage. Germany’s second biggest TV channel, ZDF, spent two days filming a full-length report on the movement, for example.

Another time, 500 of us took part in a flashmob outside the Palais Royal and Radio France International did a show for its website.

But when they sent us the video, everything was in Chinese! Radio France thought our movement would get more play in the Chinese market than in France.

And this was in March of this year; the EU was one of the major sticking points between Macron and Le Pen in the forthcoming election.

Plenty of people thought Le Pen was going to win, saying that the French no longer wanted the euro etc.

Even then, journalists told us the French weren’t interested in hearing about Europe. They are worried that if they talk about it too much, audiences will feel they are ramming the EU down their throats.

The difference between the coverage in France and Germany is a reflection of the media’s perception of what interests people, not of the amount of people who are for or against the EU.

“Coverage in the written press is only ever going to reach a limited elite.”

TPE What’s next for PoE?

AC The movement is beginning to concentrate on different issues. For example, we are currently doing lots of work in Poland.

Pulse of Europe French Media
The relationship between the EU and Poland has been getting steadily worse since the election of the Law and Justice party.

Look at the polls, the majority of Polish people are pro-European, but the quasi-dictatorship there is threatening basic European values. We are helping out in Warsaw and on the ground elsewhere by supporting pro-Democracy movements.

In mid-July, Pulse of Europe demonstrators in 18 cities across nine countries protested in front of the Polish embassies to show support for Polish democracy.

We haven’t got the means to finance anything but we plan to organise more events and concerts, and we are organising a European marathon.

We want to do everything possible to promote Europe.

EU budget: What would a Eurozone budget mean?

The eurozone is edging closer to having a budget.

Despite German reservations, new French President Emmanuel Macron has provided new impetus for the idea, which is supported by European federalists and those seeking an ‘ever closer union.’

Macron also supports the creation of a eurozone finance minister.

But how would it all work?

Would this mean paying a European tax? More bailouts? And where would national economic policy come into play?

French economist Jézabel Couppey-Soubeyran is the author of a new report commissioned by the EU that argues for pan-European financial bodies able to prevent and correct eurozone imbalances.

We spoke to her about what this budget might mean for Europe.

TPE How far down the line are European governments in creating a eurozone budget?

JCS At the moment a dynamic is developing, pan-European work groups are forming, bringing French and German people together to try and find a Franco-German consensus.

There is a palpable desire to find a consensus on issues such as eurozone reform, but it’s not going to be easy, the differences in approach and perspective are very noticeable.

TPE Do you get the feeling the French want to create a budget that is supplementary to the budget that already exists, with the addition of new resources? What kind of spending are they envisaging?

JCS It’s unclear at the moment, but the idea is to have a eurozone budget and finance minister.

This budget could only exist alongside some kind of European tax. It also relies on large institutional changes, which take a while. This is a middle to long-term project.

If we want to reinvigorate the eurozone, we have to implement these big eurozone-wide changes, as well as other schemes that can be rolled out quickly.

Economic policy can be improved swiftly, and relatively easily; the institutions already exist. That’s why I believe that whilst more complete eurozone reform is important, there are other, simpler changes that can be made in the mean time.

TPE What kind of policies would be implemented with this new eurozone budget?

JCS Again, nothing is certain.

If we want to put in place a eurozone budgetary policy, there has to be a budget.

Today, the European Union budget is ridiculously small. It’s around 1% of total GDP, which is completely insufficient if we really want to revive the EU.

At the European level, the ‘Juncker Plan’ has not been enough, though we are starting to see some green shoots.

eurozone monetary policy economic policy
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

TPE Does the idea of the eurozone budget, if it is designed to reinvigorate the EU, go hand in hand with a Keynesian economic policy?

JCS It doesn’t go hand in hand with Keynesian theory; it goes hand in hand with the basic precepts of economic policy, in particular when it comes to economic policy in a monetary zone like the eurozone.

In such a bloc we can’t leave everything to monetary policy. Why? Because it is designed for averages, so it doesn’t fit with countries in unusual macro economic situations.
Major divergences between eurozone countries means monetary policy can only go so far.

Having an instrument that can manage individual national situations by making temporary macro adjustments that can complement monetary policy is essential.

Budgetary policy can do that job, and above all it can boost economic activity. We must have this combination between budgetary and monetary policy, which doesn’t currently exist in Europe.

Another crucial point, which forms the basis of our argument in the report for the European Parliament (EP), is that in our financialised economies – by which I mean countries with strong financial sectors whose economies are cyclical – economic imbalances stem very often from financial imbalances.

Let’s take the eurozone a few years before the sub-prime mortgage crisis as an example. Eurozone economic policy was becoming monetary policy, which – as I said – is conceived using averages.

That led to interest rates that played into the hands of countries like Germany and France in the early 2000s, but were disastrous for the likes of Spain and Ireland.

The rate was simply not high enough for those countries, and this directly led to the credit boom. Financial imbalance led to economic imbalance.

TPE Which is why you propose to regulate via the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB)?

JCS Our proposal consists of trying to warn of financial imbalances and regulate the financial cycle of each member state using the appropriate instruments.

This would be coordinated at a pan-European level, with decisions being taken by the ESRB. This way we would limit the creation of financial imbalances by regulating the financial cycles, which in turn would limit economic imbalances and divergence between countries.

So the eurozone actually needs a triple-headed economic policy. We must combine monetary policy with a budgetary policy as well as prudent macro-economic policy that prevents economic imbalances. The latter two must function across the eurozone as well as within each member state.

The ECB would of course be downgraded. But how much of a problem would that be? It has unlimited refinancing options; it’s not the end of the world.

The idea is to regulate the different countries’ financial cycles – which are currently rather out of sync – even when variations between eurozone countries are relatively small. Because there is always one cycle that is completely disconnected from the others: Germany’s.

That means that any contra-cyclical macro-economic policy is both tailored to each member state and coordinated at a European level. Letting each country decide on their own terms would be chaotic.

The eurozone must also strengthen the big national banks.

At the moment, all we have is monetary policy, which is not alone able to reinvigorate eurozone economies. It risks, in fact, creating further financial imbalances.

TPE Wouldn’t most of the budget be spent on countries with poor growth, the countries in the South? And wouldn’t this provoke resentment in Germany?

JCS There is a desire in France and Germany to come to a consensus, but at the working group meetings that I have been to it is clear that the Germans and the French see things from a completely different perspective.

The Germans don’t see any reason for wider budgetary coordination, so of course this project is going to be challenging.

But if we want a collective economic policy we need a budgetary instrument, which requires fiscal harmonisation, and – eventually – a European tax.

This is the only way we can have a functioning budgetary policy and a system to launch, for example, infrastructure projects, be it on a European or national level.

It would also us to complete the banking union by facilitating a common European-wide deposit guarantee.

TPE Today certain countries continue to spend despite mounting debt. What institution or policy would manage European fiscal discipline? The European Commission, which is currently in charge, is clearly not up to the task.

Certain countries had their public finances downgraded because of the financial crisis, and they are still paying the price for it today.

This must be seen as a consequence of the financial crisis. Austerity and budgetary rigour are counter-productive, and only delay the revival, as they limit how much public finances can be improved.

What these countries need is a boost to investments, jobs, and growth.

TPE Enrico Letta [the former Italian PM] said that Italy’s financial woes were principally caused by the inept economic policies of the last 25 years when we interviewed him recently.

JCS It’s true that Italy hasn’t exactly been a model for good governance.

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

The financial crisis also did damage to Italy, but it’s true that financially it’s not like Spain or Ireland. The banking sector doesn’t look like others in Europe; it is made up of smaller poorly run firms who are burdened with bad debts. Yet they haven’t suffered as much as other banks in other countries, it’s an unusual situation.

Italy suffered from bad governance. The eurozone should have seen this and acted upon it.

Our idea is that some kind of eurozone governance would plot the bloc’s course and ensure the member states respect the directives.

TPE What are the consequences of the monetary policy pursued by the European Central Bank (ECB) over recent years? Is their quantitative easing risky?

JCS The ECB’s problem is similar to the one I mentioned earlier. It is completely alone in trying to conduct the adjustment and revival of the eurozone during the crisis.

This means the ECB had to conduct an extremely tough monetary policy, which eventually ran idle and the more positive ­consequences of the quantitative easing were rather belated.

We are starting to see the beginnings of renewed growth and investment in the eurozone, and inflation is very slowly getting back on its feet at roughly 1% ­– far from the ECB’s aim of just below 2%.

Austerity and budgetary rigour are counter-productive, and only delay the revival.

So these marginally positive consequences came at the cost of very unsatisfactory monetary policy.

If, however, it had been complemented by budgetary policy with the same goals, we would have run much less risk of destabilising the banking and financial sectors later on. Because sudden injections of cash flow can bring about financial bubbles.

It may even be the root cause of the European housing bubble, which has been caused by extremely low interest rates that form part of the clunky monetary policy and are a result of the ECB’s quantitative easing.

We must not only combine monetary and budgetary policy, but also follow macro prudential policies to be in lock step with the big financial institutions, the credit cycle, asset price fluctuations, and to be able to intervene when things begin to get out of hand.

So when we start to see house prices rocket, for example, it’s then that we must act. Ireland already does it; they’ve learnt lessons from what happened to them before the crisis and have started taking macro prudential measures to keep the housing market on an even keel.

But such action needs to be coordinated throughout the eurozone, not just in Ireland.

TPE Isn’t it risky to have the ECB as the main creditor for struggling eurozone countries?

JCS The objective of this unconventional monetary policy is to make the ECB not only a creditor of last resort but also an investor of last resort.

This means the ECB would take on assets that no one else wants – but that it alone is capable of absorbing – which would increase the value of these assets and support the corresponding markets.

The ECB would of course be downgraded. But how much of a problem would that be? It’s actually the only institution that can be downgraded – temporarily – without taking too much of a hit, unlike national banks. It has unlimited refinancing options; it’s not the end of the world.

TPE Do you think the ECB will end up writing off part of the Greek debt?

JCS That would be the reasonable thing to do.

It’s a curious, crazy situation. The new aid that has been granted has paid for interest and charges, but has not helped the Greek state revive its economy.

They are going to have to write off the debt, or at least reduce them.

eurozone monetary policy economic policy
Anti-IMF graffiti in Greece.

TPE So the ECB will take responsibility for the private banks’ bad debt?

JCS Yes, and that’s exactly why policies must be pursued to prevent financial imbalances, rather than having to pick up the pieces after the event.

The emphasis must be on prevention rather than cure.

Before the crisis we were convinced we could allow financial booms run their course because they helped growth, thinking we could clean up the mess afterwards. But we can’t, it’s extremely costly, and it means we’re always preparing for the next financial crisis.

The only solution is macro prudential preventative policy coordinated with monetary and budgetary policy.

TPE How can Europeans be convinced that the euro still benefits them when they have been deprived of the benefits they were promised?

JCS If the euro hasn’t delivered prosperity, and caused divisions between member states, it’s precisely because eurozone economic policy has been poorly conceived and poorly conducted.

There is another way.

For everyone to feel more European we need more joint projects. The only tangible thing we have in common at the moment is the euro, but we need more than just a common currency, especially when there is no European state.

More European institutions – a European civic service, for example – would foster a stronger sense of a European identity.

But the idea of adopting a common language, which logically would be English, seems somewhat utopian. In the midst of Brexit the idea feels like a bit of a joke.

TPE But it would reduce unemployment.

JCS It would certainly mean lots of work for English teachers!

TPE It would also increase mobility.

JCS Of course, but you can increase mobility with a European civic service, obligatory European internships for university students etc.

All there is for increasing mobility at the moment is the Erasmus programme, and while it’s great, it isn’t large-scale enough.

Other options are cross-national unemployment benefits and work contracts. Only via such projects can we create more of a European identity.

Enrico Letta

About EU Reforms – Interview with Enrico Letta

We set down with Enrico Letta, the former Italian Prime Minister, in his office at SciencesPo University, Paris, following the launch of his new book ‘Through thick and thin’ (published in Italian only) to discuss eurozone reform and how the EU can do better.
Enrico Letta
Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta

TPE Is reform of the euro desirable?

Enrico Letta Reforming the euro is crucial, because the euro was built for summer, not for winter.

Winter shows us the euro’s weaknesses. Some of these began to be addressed in 2012-13, with the Banking Union and the European Stability Mechanism, but after the worst moments of the crisis there was a lack of political will to finish the job. So these changes were never completed, which is why I believe we must finish off the blueprint for the euro.

Today’s imbalance is less pronounced than ten years ago, when Ireland first sought financial help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [the first banking crisis in a Eurozone country].

What was created in 2012-13 – a partial Banking Union, and the European Stability Mechanism – under Mario Draghi [President of the European Central Bank] was very important, but not enough.

Today we see the difficult consequences born out of a lack of a real European Monetary Fund, which would mean complete the European Stability Mechanism, and a Banking Union with – crucially – a European wide deposit guarantee.

There needs to be an investment branch accompanying EU monetary policy. The Juncker Plan is this investment arm in its embryonic form, it must be fleshed out.

In my book I outline a project that I would call ‘Big Europe,’ which would have the European Investment Bank (EIB) at the heart, the motor, which would become just as powerful as the European Central Bank (ECB).

So Europe would be both the ECB and the EBI. Their aim would be to increase investment and budgetary discipline, as well as monetary and interest rate stability.

Without that, we will be powerless to remedy the next crisis.

I hope that after the election of Macron, and the German elections [in September], the Franco-German axis will reorient Europe in this direction. Mario Draghi is already pushing for such measures.

enrico letta
Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank

TPE You pay homage to 3 men that were active in the 80s and 90s, Helmut Kohl [former German chancellor], François Mitterand [former French president], and Jacques Delors [former president of the European Commission]. Shouldn’t we judge them by the consequences of their policies? The rejection of Europe, the rise of populism, the euro crisis, increasing sovereign debt…

Enrico Letta Mr Kohl, Mr Mitterand and Mr Delors finished their work in the mid-1990s.

The problem is that we haven’t continued with their same vision and execution –that is what has left the euro incomplete.

The process of the creation of the euro as a currency – which began in the 70s – was dealt a mortal blow in 2003 by France, Germany and Italy, when France and Germany crippled the Eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact [by continually flouting the spending rules], with Italy in the EU presidency willing to turn a blind eye.

For me, that’s what opened the door for the Greeks to fiddle with their accounts.

letta
Anti-IMF graffiti in Greece.

They could say ‘if France, Germany and Italy don’t adhere to the Stability Pact, why should we?’ So 2004 not only signalled the beginning of Europe’s financial woes, but also the beginning of the non-completion of the Economic and Monetary Union, as the Stability Pact was not respected.

Certain countries didn’t take their responsibilities seriously, and consequently EU coordinated financial solidarity and investment never materialised.

Europe is stuck in this position and nothing has moved forward. I believe it’s not the fault of the leaders, but the fault of the governments’ lack of courage in the 2000s. They believed that the euro was so large a mouthful to swallow that everything else had to be put on hold.

The 2000s mentality was ‘we’ve done the euro, now we need to digest.’ But they didn’t understand that they had to continue, not stop, because the world was changing. The EU was left without effective financial tools.

“There is a fatal divide between what the elites and the people think.”

TPE Is there not a gap between certain elites – who refuse the idea of borders on a moral basis – and certain sections of society – who call for tighter borders? Should the elites impose themselves on the people in a democracy? Or not?

Enrico Letta A study published by Chatham House recently showed a clear divide between the ‘elites’ and the ‘people.’

In all the big European countries, it is exactly as you say. There is a fatal divide between what the elites and the people think.

There is a real job to be done. Not only does it relate to media and the stories they tell, but it is also cultural, political and educational.

Big changes are required in each of these domains to bridge the gap. The elites can’t brutally impose their will on the people, the internet makes all that impossible.

I wrote my book in reaction to Brexit and Trump’s election, which are symptomatic of this gap. The rise of Macron is a positive sign that the world is moving in the right direction, but it is by no means definitive.

“The EU must work out how to make a difference to people who aren’t part of the elite.”

We need a European leadership that is capable of speaking to the people. This is absolutely essential.

Until now the European leadership has been able to speak to – and win over – the elites, on the left and the right, but the people have rejected them. This needs to change.

One example I give in the book is the Erasmus scheme, which is a double-edged sword. It’s Europe’s great success, but if we talk about it as if it were the only big success story, we arm those who say that the EU is purely for the elites. After all, Erasmus is only for university students, who will likely end up forming part of the elites.

The EU must work out how to make a difference to people who aren’t part of the elite.

TPE Christian Democratic thinking is widely prevalent in Italy. Do European morals not contravene the notion of restricting immigration? And what do Christian Democratic values say about defending ones own interests: borders, defence of culture, the preservation of heritage…?

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

Enrico Letta The EU must demonstrate that it is not currently capable of managing this enormous migration phenomenon, but that no country would be able to manage the crisis efficiently on its own.

That’s the message the EU must send.

Naturally, it is a difficult message to convey when there is an influx of one million people. There are the ‘normal’ migration routes, but the war in Syria – which was linked to a particular concoction of factors – meant one million people coming to Europe. It was disastrous

But ‘normality’ will continue. Europe is shrinking, and ageing. The population of Africa will double in 30 years, and it is getting younger, so there is clearly a way forward.

Christian – and secular – values must be applied to the refugees, but they must be separated from economic migrants, who need to be subject to certain selection criteria.

We must also maintain relationships with the sender countries, or things will get worse.

The EU must demonstrate that it is not currently capable of managing this enormous migration phenomenon, but that no country would be able to manage the crisis efficiently on its own.

enrico Letta
Irish Naval personnel from the LÉ Eithne rescuing migrants as part of Frontex’s Operation Triton.

TPE Is it Europe’s responsibility to take refugees in from the Middle East? Shouldn’t other international actors who had a hand in the crisis not also lend a hand? The U.S, Russia, Iran, the Gulf States etc.

Enrico Letta Of course, the answer is yes.

The French version of my book perhaps sheds some light on what I think about this issue: “Building Europe in a world of brutes.”

“I’m in Pisa, you’re in Paris, and we’re both voting for a Spaniard.”

Not everyone shares the European attitude towards democracy. The ‘strongmen’, enforcer-type leaders are who I am referring to as ‘brutes.’ Should we become more like them, say ‘this is the mood of our time,’ and be like Erdogan? A bit of Trump here, a bit of Putin there?

No, absolutely not. We must fight to do exactly the opposite.

TPE Is Europe currently acting as a pawnbroker, where every nation state hands in a few precious items – a portion of national sovereignty – in return for money, and a bit of protection? Don’t we need the EU to actively help the nation states – with, for example, a border force, or military protection – rather than just giving them money?

Enrico Letta I like the analogy very much, and I would add that what’s missing is a European political space.

“A bit of Trump here, a bit of Putin there? No, absolutely not.”

Now is the time to create this space. The evolution of what European nations are collaborating on means that there is a collective desire to determine how to work together.

We can’t just ask our Prime Ministers or our delegates in the European Parliament (EP) to work it out. They are election by national constituencies; they operate on a national level.

I strongly believe that we must make the most of the 73 British MEPs who are due to leave the EP. Rather than redistributing them between the member states, which would turn into a bloodbath and do nothing positive for the image of the EU, these seats should be given to pan-European deputies.

EU Parliament enrico letta
European Parliament, Strasbourg.

This would mean the creation of a 28th electoral college, where we would mix the candidates and the electorates. I’m in Pisa, you’re in Paris, and we’re both voting for a Spaniard because of our political beliefs.

This would be a major change because it would finally bring about a Europe-wide political debate.

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

Explaining EU problems – Interview with Jean Quatremer

In his latest book, The Bastards of Europe, French journalist Jean Quatremer names and shames the politicians that he believes have leeched off the European Union, and acted against the best interests of the European public.
Jean Quatremer, author of 'The Bastards of Europe.'
Jean Quatremer, author of ‘The Bastards of Europe.’

We spoke to him about what we should thank the EU for, what we should change, and who these bastards actually are.

TPE Your book is a bold attempt to explain how the European Union reached the deadlock that it seems to have been stuck in over the last two decades. In your introduction however, you say that the benefits Europe has lavished on its citizens shouldn’t be forgotten. Can you remind us of what these benefits consist of?

JQ Any essay on Europe should start with gratitude.

Let’s start with the basics: with the aid of NATO and the United States, the EU consolidated peace in wartime Europe.

And it seems most of us have forgotten – or have never been aware of – what crossing borders within Europe was once like for people, goods and services. It is now as simple to travel within Europe as it is within one’s own country.

It is no coincidence that cross-border work has exploded since controls have been removed at EU internal borders. The replacement of our old currencies with a single one led to invaluable benefits not only for those traveling within Europe, but also for all businesses exchanging goods and services.

The considerable harmonisation of technical norms and health standards, achieved at the cost of considerable work within the institutions, allows us to buy goods anywhere in Europe and use them at home. The harmonisation of rights, of consumer protection, of academic degrees and many other rules have been a blessing for all Europeans.

TPE You write that Europe could not have been build other than behind closed doors. Why?

JQ Two approaches regarding the building of Europe were in conflict at the end of the forties. The institutionalists recommended the creation of a federal state from scratch, with defined institutions and jurisdictions. Whereas the functionalists thought that integration could only be achieved from the bottom, step by step, domain by domain.

The only continental power to exercise political and diplomatic influence at this time, France, was then at the centre of the decision process. Two of the most influential political forces in France, the communists and the Gaullists, were opposed to building a federal organisation in Europe: France was still traumatised by defeat and occupation.

Adolf Hitler in Paris
Adolf Hitler in Paris

Reviving grandeur was the only way for the French to heal. France still had an empire – even though it was beginning to crumble –, mistrust towards Germany was still high, and the communists saw the European project as an instrument to combat the USSR. The employers and trade unions were also strongly against the European project.

It was politically impossible for France to call a European constituent Assembly that would have adopted a Constitution following a broad debate involving citizens. Such a venture would have been doomed to fail, and Europe would not have recovered from it. Reality had to be taken into account, and they had to act cautiously, taking it one step at a time. The second – functionalist – approach naturally prevailed.

History shows that Europe was not built as the result of the peoples’ will, but rather because of a combination of internal and external circumstances, and of political momentum and tactics.

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was ratified in France in 1951 despite the opposition of the communists, the Gaullists and the employers, but with less enthusiasm than in any of the other five signatory states.

Between 1951-1952, projects derived from the ECSC relating to transport, agriculture and health all failed because of the opposition of the French Parliament. In 1952, France initiated a project for a European Defence Community (EDC). However, because of the easing of international tension – after the end of the Korea war, the death of Stalin and France’s defeat in Indochina – the Treaty was eventually defeated in the French National Assembly.

The Treaties of Rome might have met with the same fate in 1957 if it hadn’t been for the Soviet crackdown on the Budapest uprising and, above all, the humiliation of Suez in 1956.

Europe was not built as the result of the peoples’ will.

Without the near collapse of France’s economy in the aftermath of the socialist led policy of economic stimulation and its political consequences, the Single European Act wouldn’t have been ratified by the French in 1986. The Maastricht Treaty wouldn’t have been signed in 1992 if it weren’t for the collapse of the Soviet Union and Germany’s reunification, and both the European Stability Mechanism and the Banking Union could not have been established in 2012 and 2014 respectively without the strong pressure of financial markets.

With such internal or external circumstances, and when political will and strategy are missing, failure is guaranteed. Just look at the examples of the Treaties of Amsterdam in 1997, of Nice in 2001 or of Lisbon in 2007.

TPE You write that “Europe’s dictatorship is nowhere stronger than in France.” What do you mean by this?

JG Most European states have organised themselves to confront the lack of democracy at the EU level. In Germany for instance, a special commission of the Bundestag [the legislative assembly] follows the work of the EP and regularly receives the ministers. Even more, before every European Council meeting, the Chancellor requests an indicative mandate from the deputies, and then reports on the decisions of the Council.

There is no such organisation in France.

Since the advent of the Fifth Republic, European policy is decided upon at the Elysée Palace [the French Presidential residence] without the involvement of the Prime minister, the Foreign Affairs minister or the European Affairs minister, nor of the French Parliament or citizens, notwithstanding a couple of referenda.

All directions are determined by a small group of men working closely with the President (the General secretary, Diplomatic counsellor, and European Affairs counsellor). As a matter of fact, in France, European policy is part of the exclusive domain of the President. Such a confiscation of democracy has no equivalent in Europe, at a time when the EU institutions deal with more and more areas once regarded as pertaining to national sovereignty.

The issue is that the European Council is accountable to no one.

TPE You say that if the EU is not democratic, it is because the states don’t want it to be. What do you mean?

JQ The limitations of the institutions don’t reflect any conspiracy against democracy, but merely the will of the states to keep the Union under control. The European Council – composed of Heads of Government each duly elected in his or her country – is the instrument of such a will, and retains more legitimacy than the European Parliament or any other European body.

The issue is that it is accountable to no one, not even to the its electorate: seldom a government falls because of the policy it pursues within the European institutions. Should such a rare event occur, it wouldn’t result from a collective decision, but from a local one, according to national interests. The Council’s unaccountability wouldn’t be such an issue if the EU provided the adequate checks and balances. But there are none.

The Council of ministers, whose powers are very extensive both in the executive and legislative domains, is no more accountable than the European Council, and also works behind closed doors. The Permanent Representatives of the states also play a crucial role in the decision process. They are accountable to the states and report usually directly to the heads of state or government.

Actually, the Eurozone’s political power is opaque, unidentifiable and unaccountable. The Commission remains a technocratic body that derives its legitimacy from the sole states. Even more worryingly, the vagaries of referenda and the subsequent decisions have led to a representation imbalance, to the detriment of the bigger countries, which abandoned the second commissioner position to which they had been entitled so far.

President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, with his wife Małgorzata Sochacka
President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, with his wife Małgorzata Sochacka

TPE You’re adamant that the Commission has become technocratic and disconnected over time. Why?

JQ 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. The strength of the Commission was, thanks to its technical and legal competencies, to identify and propose common ground to the states in order to advance European integration.

Rather than a proper government, the Commission used to be a “business provider.” Following the nomination of these heavyweights to the presidency, the states started designating politicians with no technical or legal skills as Commissioners. Within an institution whose role is to produce norms, such incompetence leads the Commissioners to be subjected to the powerful General Directions of the Commission. To make matters worse, President Prodi entrusted an administrative reform to Neil Kinnock, which lead to a serious brain drain.

Until 1999, the General Directors were recruited for their technical knowledge, and stayed in their positions for a long time, which meant they were capable of making up for the possible incompetence of the Commissioners. Since the reform was implemented, these General Directors change every four or five years.

The consequence is that power has gone down a level in the organisation. The Commission suffered further damage from the administrative reform as a result of the change in recruitment criteria and the shift from French to Anglo-Saxon requirements, the result of which is an increased reliance on Anglo-Saxon external consultancy services.

Under the Kinnock reforms, the recruitment of experienced professionals was phased out, plain and simple. The enlargement from 2004 didn’t help either, as the Commission had to recruit large numbers of new civil servants of questionable competence and little dedication.

The composition of the Commissioners’ cabinets is another issue, as seconded civil servants want to win favour of their next employer, the Commission. But the major weakness lies with the European states’ indecision regarding its mission. Is it a mere secretary, a referee or a government? The Commission actually seeks technical solutions to political problems.

TPE You say that Europe’s degree of meddling depends on your perspective. What do you mean?

JQ Actually, the appreciation of the role of Europe and whether or not it encroaches into states’ remits depends on the nature of the state that makes the judgement. In centralised states like France and the UK, Europe is seen as meddling too much. It is not so much the case in federal states like Germany, Belgium, Spain or Italy, where people are used to superimposing political structures.

Another issue is that the EU seems to be everywhere while it is nowhere. Its institutions are organised similarly the model of those of a sovereign state, while the related jurisdictions are retained by the states. The result is that the institutions are bloated, and the EU fails to deliver the results it should.

TPE How would you define a bastard?

JQ Somebody who deliberately acts against the best interests of Europe and the European public.

Jean-Claude Juncker, who spent 25 years turning his country into a tax haven, is a bastard of Europe.

TPE Who are the bastards of Europe, then?

Jean-Claude Juncker, who spent 25 years turning his country into a tax haven, and his predecessor José Manuel Durão Barroso, who now works for Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s much unscrupulous banks.

Then there’s Neelie Kroes, the Commissioner for Competition who has a long history of malpractice, and close relationship with the business community that was pro-Uber, Edith Cresson, who gave out fictitious jobs, and Miguel Arias Cañete, the Commissioner who mixed private and public interest.

All fit well with the provocative title of this book. However, a lot of others hide behind these famous names – be it Commissioners, civil servants or MEPs – because of their conflict of interests, their incompetence or their absenteeism.

TPE What are your proposals to relaunch Europe?

JQ There is no alternative but to reform the existing EU. We can use an existing federal state as inspiration.

We should elect a Convention by universal suffrage. The final constitution would be put to a cross-European referendum and adopted by a supermajority. The Union would be given specific and exclusive remits: foreign policy, defence, access to the European territory, cross-border criminality, the social safety net, monetary policy, public works policy and agricultural policy. No more shared jurisdictions.

The states would be forbidden to interfere with the designated areas governed by the EU, and the European budget would be funded by both direct and indirect taxes. The European Parliament would hold the right of initiative, the election method would be more in line with the one-man-one-vote principle, and the President of the Commission would be elected by both chambers of the European Parliament, or by universal suffrage. No more European council.

This would be the United States of Europe, composed of all Eurozone members. Alongside it would be a European economic area for those not wanting to be part of the inner circle.

United States of Europe

Of course, this ideal is not the feasible, and I am well aware of that.

So let’s start by guiding the European Council back to its original guiding role, while making sure that it renounces the secrecy of its meetings. Let’s refocus the Commission on its designated role, which would mean its partial dismantlement, and a drastic reduction in the number of Commissioners, as well as the creation of independent agencies for budgetary surveillance or competition policy. Last but not least, let’s review the disproportionate distribution of members of Parliament among the states.

Hubert Vedrine Save Europe The Pan European

How to save the future of Europe – Interview with H. Védrine

A completely new direction for the EU?

In his new book Save EuropeHubert Védrine – the former French Foreign Minister – argues for a radical remodelling of the EU in order to realign what he sees as an overreaching Union with the desires of the European people.

In his office by the River Seine, we spoke to Mr Védrine about the past, present and future of the European Union.

Thibaut de Corday, Radio Nova
Courtesy of Thibaut de Corday, Radio Nova

TPE You refer in your book to the concept of a ‘Federation of Nation States’ popularised by Jacques Delors [French socialist politician, President of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995] in 1994. Does this oxymoron not demonstrate the inherent confusion of the European project’s goals?

HV If Delors used such an oxymoron, it was because of the complexity of the project, not the confusion of its goals. It is true that the concept is paradoxical, and open to at least two interpretations. Is Europe meant to take over the sovereignty of exhausted, decreasingly relevant nation states, or does it serve a group of sovereign states looking for strength in unity?

In the first scenario, Europe would mean the divestiture of national powers, while in the second such powers could be retained mostly at state level. For a long time, the risk of divestiture hasn’t been an issue, as the European project has remained limited in scope.

Let’s not forget that the European project began as a by-product of the Marshall plan [which formalised US aid to Western Europe in the aftermath of WWII]. As a matter of fact, the true founding fathers of the European Union are not those who appear in the history books.

Before Monnet [French international civil servant and one of the founders of the European Union] and Schuman [French Christian-democrat and centrist politician, one of the founders of the European Union], there was Stalin and Truman. And to the Atlanticists who engineered the European Community, Europe was by no means to become a political power, but rather an economic and free trade zone.

It was not until Mitterrand [French President] and Kohl [German Chancellor] – and Delors after him – relaunched the building of Europe through far-reaching economic and social undertakings that the question of the scope of the project and the nature of the Federation arose.

The true founding fathers of the European Union are not those who appear in the history books.

In the 80s, it was Jacques Delors’ challenge to play around with both readings of his concept of a ‘Federation of Nation States’, in building a sui generis political union combining both federal and confederal features.

TPE You have criticised the European Commission’s interventionism and bureaucracy. Have French governments or French administrative culture played a role in the development of this trend?

Hubert Vedrine

HV The Commission and the states share a common responsibility with regards to a trend that became apparent during the construction of Europe.

If you speak with those who participated in the initial launching of the project, such as George Berthouin [Jean Monnet’s chief of staff] it is clear that the Commission was designed to play a limited role focused on the promotion of high-level pan-European policies and objectives, and not to become a supranational and omnipotent body.

It was no sooner than 1986 – when the act was signed to create the single market – that European regulation started to grow and multiply to its current scale, which is something Europeans deplore.

We must bear in mind that the European directive was devised as a specific legal instrument precisely to keep the European norms at an objective level and prevent them from interfering with the national scope for regulation.

There was no room in this initial idea for the so-called “chocolate” directive and the well-publicised excessive regulations of recent years that have caused such widespread rejection among – up until now – pro-European voters.

Only a debatable interpretation of the Commission’s role in the building of the single market could lead to such an imbalance, and it is fair to say that despite the concerns voiced against red tape, France contributed to the trend by exporting its tendency to hyper-regulate to Brussels.

In 2015, Europeans awoke to the reality of the consequences of the wars on their doorstep

TPE Would you say that the states that signed the Schengen agreement did not properly cater for the surveillance and protection of a common external border?

HV Schengen was launched in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and genuine candour, in an anti-border era in which national boundaries were scorned for being out-dated fences incompatible with the freedom of movement.

The agreement was then extended relentlessly, in lockstep with the enlargement process. Most people were convinced that Europe’s continuous enlargement was the result of a historical necessity, a process that the most enthusiastic saw as a way to exert a pacifying influence on the rest of the world; it is fascinating to read the press of the time.

There was no urgency then to cater for a policy that would consolidate and protect the border of an ever-expanding territory, and no need to implement a selective process to differentiate between migrants and refugees at a time when asylum seekers presented themselves in such small numbers.

This was until 2015, when Europeans awoke to the reality of the consequences of the wars on their doorstep and the porosity of their moving borders.

It is now crucial for Europe’s relationship with its citizens that a common, viable policy regarding both immigration and asylum is devised.

If Europeans feel that the door of their house is wide-open, they will want to move out.

TPE You differentiate in your book between asylum seekers – who you say are mostly Syrian – and economic migrants – who you say are mostly African. As the notion of economic migrant has rather negative connotations, is such a distinction fair or relevant?

Refugee The PanEuropean

HV Please allow me not to abide by political or linguistic correctness, and to exercise my right to a freedom that is a key tenet of European culture – and isn’t being regulated by a treaty – the freedom of thought.

It is my belief that if we ceased to differentiate between economic migrants and asylum seekers, who by the way fall under different legal frameworks, we would witness the end of the right to asylum in Europe.

Conflating different types of migrants – like the far right does, but also the Christian left and the compassionate left – at a time when migrants stream into Europe, will lead public opinion to turn vehemently against any kind of immigration.

We must exclude any extreme solution: no society can afford to be fully closed, and none can afford to be fully open. Our societies are now confronted with the necessity of managing migration flows. To that end, it is vital that we can distinguish between economic migrants and asylum seekers.

This doesn’t mean that we cannot improve and speed up our processes; we may deal with asylum seekers’ rights in the countries of departure, in the so-called hotspots, or on our borders. But it is crucial that we reserve asylum status for those in mortal danger because of their ethnic affiliation, their religion, their sex, etc.

For economic migrants, we must define co-management processes between the countries of departure – from West Africa for instance – transit countries in the Maghreb, and arrival countries in the Schengen zone.

We must exclude any extreme solution: no society can afford to be fully closed, and none can afford to be fully open.

As I have already suggested, the three types of countries should hold periodical conferences once a year or every other year in order to define quotas of migrants by profession.

In my opinion, the only way Europeans are going to accept an ongoing immigration process is by maintaining the distinction between how we deal with both asylum seekers and economic migrants.

TPE Has the enlargement of the European Union has been ill managed?

HV That is not what I wrote. The political integration process was not managed wisely due to a combination of haste, dogmatism and the elite’s disregard for the people’s feelings. The enlargement is another story.

No conqueror has ever been able to unify Europe. Creating the United States of America was a matter of uniting Americans, unifying Europe’s old nations, with so many different histories, cultures and languages – even in a peaceful manner and through a democratic process – remains an unprecedented challenge.

The EU treaties stipulate that any European country can join the Union as long as it complies with the fundamental principles of the EU, one of which is democracy. We can discuss whether Turkey is a European country, but does the question arise for Poland?

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991 and the countries of Eastern Europe were freed and could convert to democracy, these countries had de jure their place in the European Union. How exactly could we not invite them to join us and start the accession process?

It took no less than 15 years for most of them to join the Union. That is, by the way, the amount of time President Mitterrand had offered them back in 1989 to stay in a confederation before accessing the Union, a proposition they had declined for fear of being kept outside the Union. 15 years, that is not what I would call haste.

Unifying Europe’s old nations, with so many different histories, cultures and languages, remains an unprecedented challenge.

In my eyes, enlargement is not the source of our current problems. It is worth remembering that before the fifth enlargement was processed, we French were in favour of what we called ‘deepening’.

Should this second path have been chosen, which would have meant us giving up the unanimity rule (by which every country retains a veto right), we would have been forced to relinquish our social model, our foreign policy and our cultural exemption.

TPE Do you agree that by artificially easing interest and exchange rate pressures, the euro provided less disciplined member states with an easy option that eventually led to both excessive debt and a competitivity gap?

IMF Greece The PanEurope

HV That is partly true, but let’s remember the context of the creation of the euro in France. In the eighties, the French government, due to its Keynesian policies, had to deal with a heavy competitivity gap that periodically forced it to beg for devaluation from its partners in the European Monetary System.

It was President Mitterrand’s idea, in view of looming German reunification, to create a common currency in order not to be subjected to the growing supremacy of the Deutsche Mark.

It was Mitterrand who convinced Chancellor Kohl – who used to say that German reunification and building Europe were the two sides of the same coin – to press for the creation of the euro. The Germans asked for guaranties from countries adopting the euro.

It was Bérégovoy [French socialist politician, Economy and Finance Minister then Prime Minister under President Mitterrand] and Trichet [Governor of the Bank of France then Second Governor of the European Central bank from 2003 to 2011], who proposed the famous criteria for the Stability and Growth Pact [set of rules designed to ensure that countries in the European Union maintain sound public finances and coordinate their fiscal policies].

We then set about creating the euro, believing that it would create a virtuous circle, and that France would become more economically responsible in a context of more dynamic growth. That was our belief back in 1998.

The euro then delivered a lot of the expected benefits, but it didn’t prevent the participating countries from undertaking the necessary reforms. Germany was first to suffer from a gap in competitivity, in the context of reunification.

That led to the reforms of the Chancellor Schröder’s [German Chancellor from 1988 to 2005] second mandate, around 2002-2003. France, then governed by President Chirac [President from 1995 to 2007], didn’t follow. Sweden did, and rescued its welfare state. If France missed an occasion regarding the single currency, it was then.

TPE Your remedy to the widening gap between the EU and the European people consists of three steps: pause, conference, refoundation. Among the policies that should be preserved in your opinion is the Common Agricultural Policy. Isn’t this precisely the sort of policy that has led to todays’ rejection of the EU?

The pro-Europeans, coming from the centre left and the centre right, remain a minority, while the federalists – mainly found in European institutions or the think tanks – are electorally insignificant. My plan is to win back the Eurosceptics using shock treatment: the pause.

Governments would listen to the people and accommodate for their aspirations for safety and sovereignty, irrespective of what the elites think.

The second step would be a clarifying conference excluding the European Commission – at least at an early stage – as was decided for the Messina Conference [meeting of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that lead to the creation of the European Economic Community in 1958] in 1955.

We cannot ask the Commission to reform itself; it would be against its nature – regardless of the goodwill shown by Mr Junker [President of the European Commission] and Mr Timmermans [Vice-President of the European Commission] – in much the same way as you cannot expect the European Court of Justice to relinquish some of its power.

All the German Chancellors I knew condemned the joint action of the Commission and the Court of Justice to increase their respective remit.

Liberated from the influence of the Commission, the conference could place subsidiarity at the centre of its review of European Union policies with the clear objective of satisfying the people.

Only after a few years of such a process would governments propose a new project to the people, possibly by referendum. This would be the refoundation phase.

All the German Chancellors I knew condemned the joint action of the Commission and the Court of Justice.

TPE Can the Franco-German alliance still be the driving force behind the EU at a time when Germany’s economy has outgrown France’s by at least 40%?

HV Since German reunification, the Franco-German alliance hasn’t really existed except for the occasional short-term agreement, especially given the fact that France has fallen behind economically. A broader agreement could materialise, however, if France finally carried out much-needed reform (and if Germany lost competitivity by correcting the Schroeder reforms).

There is no alternative to such an entente.

Save Europe Hubert Védrine The PanEuropean
World leaders including (L-R) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walk together in honour of the victims of a terrorist attack in Paris, France. 11 January 2015.

TPE What do you think of the idea of relaunching the European project with English as the common language?

HV It is true that the use of English is spreading in Europe and that it may prevail in the future. But I myself can’t be in favour of such a project. France is one of the few countries in history that inherited a language of civilisation, of culture and exchange, which is still spoken by more than 300 million people.

Translation technology might mean that soon there will be no more language barriers.

It cannot renounce its language, as neither Spain nor Germany would renounce theirs. What’s more, the use of English as a lingua franca might actually be starting to decline.

The ideal would be that, as is the case in small countries, people would speak three languages; English being one of them. And we mustn’t forget, translation technology might mean that soon there will be no more language barriers.

Donald Trump Europe

Trump looks down on Europe – Interview with Nicole Bacharan

What does Donald Trump really think about the European Union?
Donald Trump Europe
Donald Trump at his Trump Turnberry golf resort in Ayr, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

In the past, he has supported the extreme-right’s Marine Le Pen in the French Presidential election, advocated slapping hefty trade tariffs on German imports, and threatened to undermine the EU with bilateral trade deals with individual nations.

But Trump has developed a reputation for agreeing with his most recent interlocutor: he isn’t afraid to change his mind.

Though he is still seen as much more of a threat to the EU than former President Barack Obama ever was, more recently he seems to have softened. He has relented in his anti-NATO rhetoric, and even congratulated Emmanuel Macron on his election victory last Sunday.

So, with Trump at the helm, how have US-European relations changed? Is Angela Merkel the new public enemy number one? And what does the United States’ new, amorphous relationship with Europe mean for the future of the EU?

We spoke to Nicole Bacharan, a historian and political scientist specialising in American politics and Franco-American relations, about how Trump views Europe, how the EU can take advantage of his Presidency, Brexit, and what – if anything – Europe can learn from the US.

United States Europe

TPE We have witnessed a radical change in the US’ attitude towards Europe since Mr. Trump came to power. What makes Europe less relevant and desirable in the new American government’s eyes?

NB I don’t think it is less relevant, even if Donald Trump might wish it to be that way. He seems to be aware that Germany is important. He congratulated Emmanuel Macron on his election but probably hardly knows anything about France. He identified the forces behind Brexit or Marine Le Pen’s National Front as populist, nationalist movements close to his own views. He wished for a break up of the European Union, but it seems that he is coming around. Same with NATO: at first he said it was obsolete, and now he has gone back on that statement – NATO is “modern” again. Other presidents have had similar changes of heart, but in a less exaggerated, extreme, and vulgar way.

Relations with Europe were smooth and efficient during the Obama administration.

Barack Obama certainly knew that Europe was relevant, but as he considered everything to be going smoothly, he did not believe that it required special attention. There was real competition with the US on trade issues, which is a normal, healthy thing. But overall, whether it was about police work, anti-terrorism, military cooperation, control cooperation, or political cooperation, relations with Europe were smooth and efficient during the Obama administration.

So at first Obama himself showed little personal interest in Europe. He missed a few important moments, such as the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall or the Paris Charlie Hebdo rally.

Eventually, however, he came to see the importance of Europe, and did not take it for granted. He urged against Brexit, he supported German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and after the end of his presidency, he supported Emmanuel Macron, who is a true pro-European. What is happening between Europe and Donald Trump is not of the same nature, as he looks down on Europe and NATO. But eventually, facts and reality will catch up with him and he will start to see that there are a limited number of democracies in the world, and that they need each other and have common interests.

 So I think Europe is still relevant, even if Donald Trump shows little interest.

TPE Should Europe fear military and diplomatic disengagement from the USA?

NB If it happens, yes, it is something to fear. Europe is vulnerable, particularly on its Eastern borders. I am quite convinced Russia is an aggressive power, pushing with relative impunity as much as they can. Hence why Georgia, the Ukraine, and the Baltic states are so concerned.

The Russians have conducted military flying exercises over the North Sea – sometimes as far as Brittany –, which demonstrates their antagonistic attitude. It is vital for the US to have a military presence in Europe, and so far, it has been a constant: in the last days of the Obama administration, a new batch of American troops were posted in Poland.

As for Donald Trump, he is conducting a cost analysis of alliances, assessing their different costs and the extent of their usefulness. Being upset at the Europeans for not paying enough for their own defence is an old grievance for the United States, and it’s understandable. We heard the same thing from Barack Obama and George Bush, but alliances are not only about money.

They are also about mutual interests – like global stability – and if Donald Trump does not look beyond this cost analysis, it will be very dangerous for Europe. Nothing is predictable with this administration. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems to be more of a moderate in this respect, but he is certainly focussing on the financial aspects of the alliance.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
US Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson.

On the other hand, we can see that Donald Trump is very excited about military power and the Pentagon’s formidable arsenal. I really do not know how it will play out. He is coming to Europe at the end of this month for the NATO summit as well as the G7. This is a step in the right direction because initially it was unclear whether or not he would attend.

Maybe the Europeans can nudge him towards a more stable military and diplomatic engagement, but it is by no means a sure thing. And if the US were to disengage, it would be very dangerous, not only for Europe, but also for the global stability.

TPE Do you think the Baltic states are at risk of being invaded?

NB I think that if left on their own, they are at risk of a Ukraine-Georgia situation: not a full invasion, but a low level conflict with the Russians encroaching further onto their territories. The Baltic states are very worried: they pay their full dues to NATO – a total of 2% of their GDP – but they are small economies, and have reasons to be scared.

TPE Could such disengagement be an opportunity for Europe to make progress with its common foreign and security policies and, more broadly, its unification process?

NB It could be. It should be. That would be the most reasonable thing to do. European countries should closely study their military budgets, cut out all that is redundant, and develop their common capabilities.

The election of Emmanuel Macron is most definitely an opportunity. The promises he made to work closely with Germany were very favourably received. There was such relief in Germany after his election: they seem willing to help him, especially economically. So maybe, if France and Germany kick on with foreign and security policy, more countries in the EU could follow, and US disengagement could become an opportunity.

The US administration will feel more and more besieged, soon they will start to turn on themselves.

TPE Can the UK rely on the special relationship with the USA to free itself from the European Union and come back stronger after Brexit?

NB I don’t think so. Despite appearances, I don’t think anybody can rely on the United States for anything right now, unfortunately. And this isn’t going to improve: the administration is so vulnerable what with all the investigations, accusations of corruption, and allegations of abuse of power. My understanding, and I may be wrong there, is that the administration will feel more and more besieged, and soon they will start to turn on themselves. So the UK can’t count on much from the United States.

Obviously, it appears that disentangling the UK from the European Union is going to be such a tedious, painful, and costly process. Marine Le Pen has repeated that despite everybody predicting armageddon after Brexit, the British economy is doing well. But Brexit hasn’t happened yet! When it truly does, we have no idea what it will look like for Britain.

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TPE Plus there has been a 10% decrease on the UK exchange rate, so it is incorrect to claim that there has been no harm done to the British economy so far…

NB Absolutely. And it’s going to get worse.

TPE Are there American federal institutions, laws or practices that the Europeans could draw on or learn from in their project of refounding Europe?

I think they could truly learn from the early days of the American Republic. After the Revolution and independence, for quite a few years, there was no American Constitution as we know it. Instead, there was only the Articles of Confederation, which were very loose, had few government institutions, and a very weak federal government. It didn’t work, especially in terms of defending trade and monetary interests.

Studying the early days of the American Republic would certainly be very helpful for the European Union.

At the time, the struggle was between the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton was very aware of the overall weakness, and recognised the need for a stronger federal government and a central bank. A government that would have, and still has today, the power to raise taxes all over the federal territory and to unify federal tax laws and centralise power. That is what the EU lacks today.

The European executive power lacks the necessary tools to make it work, especially when it comes to a centralised and unifying taxing system within the Euro zone. Studying the early days of the American Republic would certainly be very helpful for the European Union, and beyond that, the US has a strong Constitution that is sometimes frustrating because of its rigidity, but it prevents any drastic or fast change. Hence why Donald Trump seems so frustrated.

TPE How viable or inspirational do you believe the Federalist dream of a ‘United States of Europe’ is?

NB It’s very inspirational to me personally, but I doubt it fits the mood of the time! It seems to me that France, Germany, and other countries should be very cautious while gathering together around a common plan. They need to really improve the way they “sell” Europe to the European people.

The anti-Europe propaganda we heard during the French elections, with this absurd rule of giving the same amount of time to every single 11 candidates, was shameful. 8 of the 11 – some of them who represented a very small section of the electorate – continually slandered the European Union with all kinds of inaccuracies and lies. I’m not saying that people who do not want the European Union should not have a voice, but it was so unbalanced, unchecked, and destructive, in so many ways.

The EU needs to better explain the benefits that it gives to many people and institutions in its member states. There is obviously a lot of work to do to improve the way the EU functions. It is true that there are too many rules, that it is too complicated, bureaucratic, and intrusive. EU social policy also needs to be improved if we want European societies to progress.

So although the federalist dream of a ‘United States of Europe’ is very inspirational to me and to people like me, I think there is a lot of work to do before trying to promote that dream again.

United States of Europe

TPE Do Trump’s hostilities towards Germany and Angela Merkel, and the mutual threats of trade tariffs, show that we are living in a ‘post-Western’ society?

NB We are certainly verging on a post-Western society. It has not happened yet because Donald Trump does not even represent his own party. We are seeing that despite his aggressive rhetoric towards Canada and towards Mexico, little has happened so far. Again, reality has a way of imposing itself.

The same applies to China. Throughout his campaign, and even at his inauguration, all talk about China was that they were manipulating currency. Yet all of a sudden, China is apparently no longer a currency manipulator. As a matter of fact, it is, but Donald Trump isn’t talking about it anymore because he was told – or perhaps he realised – that it was counterproductive.

There is no way he can work closely with Angela Merkel. They are so different, and even if Wolfgang Schaüble [German finance minister] was the next Chancellor, the relationship wouldn’t be very easy with Germany.

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But reality will kick in again, Germany is an essential partner, you can’t do anything without them in the West. So, with mutual threats of trade tariffs, I think we were headed for Armageddon had Marine Le Pen [extreme right presidential candidate] or Jean Luc Mélenchon [far-left presidential candidate] been elected in France. But with a strong Franco-German axis, this is still very much a Western society: the Western world. I think we’ve dodged a bullet.

We bought some time, but I don’t know how much.

We are verging on a post-Western society.

TPE Finally, as in the recent TV debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, you have carte blanche to talk about a European subject close to your heart

NB I don’t know if it’s relevant to this interview in particular, but I think it’s relevant to Europe and the Transatlantic relations. I believe we should guard ourselves from forgetting where we come from. My grandfather fought in WW1, my mother was in the resistance as a teenager, and when I hear talk of nationalism – including economic nationalism – and of border disputes, I am convinced that we are entering into a dangerous debate.

People like Donald Trump are very dangerous because they do not understand or care about the hazardous implications these discourses create, and I am glad there are other people in France, in Germany, and in other European countries who realise this.

Nationalism in Europe has lead to war many times in our history. The bottom line is that we need a united Europe to protect peace and build a better economy.