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The National Factor in Europe Today


The national factor — and the risk of its dislocation within larger entities — invites us to reflect on the crucial political challenge of our time: the independence of Europe. Since the second world war, the European Union and its member countries have not been sovereign subjects of international relations but rather more often objects moved by greater outside powers. 

We are witnessing, everywhere in the European Union, the rise of "national reactions", which underline both the crisis of the national factor and its persistence. This is the case recently in Italy, about which a former French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin declared on May 22, 2018: "Italians do not want to be poor and foreign in their own country". Or when Victor Orban's Hungary embarrasses European authorities in Brussels by controversial decisions running counter to EU policies. As for President Macron, he remains ambivalent, torn between his sincere desire to keep France credible as an independent nation, his attempt to restore a dialogue with Russia beginning with his meeting with President Putin in Versailles in 2017, and his commitment to the non-negotiable objectives of liberal globalization.

All this turmoil occurs on a background of unsupported allegations of Russian interference in the US and French presidential campaigns, Trump's stunning announcements in favor of Russia (before and after his election, and against the tide of a century of reflex-driven US policies), the expulsion of a hundred Russian agents in 14 European countries last year to the great satisfaction of Westminster, without forgetting the reunification of Crimea with the Russian Federation and the protracted Ukrainian controversy.

In this iconoclastic context, as a probable prelude to the reshuffle of the geopolitical deck, we still regard the Franco-German compact as the engine of Europe. However it is insufficient without the addition of a power of continental demographic and territorial size. This is the vision behind the "Paris-Berlin-Moscow" project.

This vision has a particular meaning in the context of the Fifth Republic because there has always been in this dispensation a "Russian tradition", a trend favorable to an alliance with Russia. Charles de Gaulle had formulated the essence of the idea at a press conference held at the Palais d'Orsay on March 29, 1949: "I say that we must make Europe on the basis of an agreement between the French and the Germans [...] Once Europe is founded on that bedrock [...], then we can turn to Russia. So we can try, once and for all, to make Europe whole with Russia too, should she change her political system. This is the program of real Europeans. It is also mine".

Moreover, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, Jean de Boishue, Thierry Mariani, Francois Fillon, Hubert Vedrine, to take only the names of a few politicians who belong to diverse political families support this ambition and share a deep distrust of "Atlantic" anglo-saxon intentions and a low opinion of orchestrated "anti-Russian hysteria."

Restarting the "Franco-German engine" of Europe 

The reconciliation of France and Germany, after what Ernst Nolte called the "European Civil War", was an unquestionable obligation in view of the two worldwide conflicts of the twentieth century. The French and German conceptions of the nation are nonetheless very different. In the German case, national sentiment spread through ethnic ties, culture and language and was achieved in the nineteenth century through a progressive liberal movement whereas the French sense of identity, summarized by the 19th century scholar Ernest Renan is rooted in a shared historic heritage and a mutual and enlightened consent of citizens.

This basic difference perhaps explains why the European Union, founded on the Franco-German alliance, mixing two national traditions to extract them from their old conflicts does not manage to gather all the internal energies of these nations. The gap between the French and German concepts of the nation has spread to the rest of Europe and prevented the Union from becoming a sovereign continental organization united between a shared purpose.

The Franco-German engine and the Carolingian core that made up the original European Community of six countries, took the first steps towards a "Greater Europe", but proved unable on its own to lead the march to compete with the United States of America which has been empire expanding its empire worldwide since the annexation of Hawaii in 1898.

This international equation is to be interpreted as such. It has ruined, at the outset, the project of a strong and independent Europe, speaking in a distinct, unanimous voice. The European Union is as bruised by national narratives that it cannot connect with each other. It sorely lacks a European founding myth, even though the history of our continent is several millennia old, just as the existence of its peoples. From Homer's epics to the European Union, Europe has stumbled and has now fallen into disarray and cacophony at the political level. How could it, under these conditions, strike a particular, strong position in its global interactions?

It is important, however, to acknowledge the reality of nations in Europe (and elsewhere)! As much as the state structures can be altered by the global governance processes, national identities deserve to be preserved and protected from such uniformizing mechanisms.

The theory of human rights today constitutes the sole foundation of the European Union. But these moral or rather legalistic principles do not infuse intellectual originality nor define a separate identity with respect to the United States of America. On the contrary, European states are forced to follow US foreign policy that sanctions the violation of human rights according to their exclusive priorities. American moralistic interventionism is premised on the basis of economic interests and financial designs. The title "America turns Europe into NATO" given to an article by Michel Deutsch in Liberation of April 30, 1999, described the situation which is unchanged as of today.

Given this equation and its structural imbalances, Paris and Berlin may well have more to do together than stage historical commemorations and the necessary but limited gestures of reconciliation. Other goals are economic growth and developing a common European geopolitical vision. It would be implying a gradual reorientation of the Franco-German axis towards Russia for strategic, economic/industrial and cultural reasons. It would mean a change of course in the policy of the European Union towards the Russian Federation.

The Franco-German partnership is now building new tools, such as the JEDI project: a Collective of 80 major industrial groups and research organizations called for the creation of a Franco-German agency dedicated to breakthrough innovation, funded to the tune of a billion euros a year. The model is DARPA, the advanced research agency of the Pentagon which is at the source of the GPS technology among others. The members of "Paris Berlin Moscow" work in consultation with people carrying out this project, which was formalized on 22 January on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty. Another project is that of the ambitious Euro-Alsace community led by Brigitte Klinkert and Frédéric Bierry, presidents respectively of the departments of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin involving the merger of these departments and the simultaneous creation of a new French regional community with additional powers as part of a new Franco-German transnational community.

Restarting the Franco-German engine is an industrial and geopolitical must. But the basic problem is not solved yet. In the constellation of European nations, a leader of continental status is missing, that is to say, a nation stronger than the sum of the others. 

Washington to Moscow

Currently, in diplomatic reality, the major axis on the continent is the operational relationship between Paris, Berlin, and Washington. But there has long been a temptation in Europe to reorder strategic priorities, particularly energy-related ones, and thus to redirect institutional practices towards a better appreciation of Russia.

A breakthrough took place on February 28, 1997, when the Russian Federation became the 39th member of the Council of Europe, despite controversies on the conditions that members of that Organization are obliged to respect. Russia, however, has found its place. The symbolic effect of this accession was to reduce the "Russian taboo" in the European institutions and to show that a way to Moscow was open, in one direction and then in the other. Unfortunately, the changing role of the Council of Europe has not matched its ambitions mainly due to the enlargement of the EU to Central and Eastern Europe. It is not trivial to recall, in the wake of Brexit that our British friends pushed hard for the enlargement of the EU — because expanding without deepening it reduced the Union to a trading association dependent on the United States — but they have also contributed to limiting the activities of the Council of Europe in its classic missions.

The three symbolic capitals of the potential axis do not exclude others but are emblematic of the European space. The horizontal Paris-Berlin-Moscow is indestructible because it rests on a worldview. Only an eastward consolidation can provide the resources and the stability to protect global peace and buttress the processes of international governance. Significantly, two Gaullist historians, both former Prime Ministers, and men of conviction, have expressed this opinion. This is what Dominique de Villepin meant when he appealed, in May 2018, for a solution to the Syrian problem in particular, through a "structured dialogue between Paris, Berlin, Moscow, and Beijing." As for Jean-Pierre Raffarin, he advocated in May 2018 as well, relying on a G4 consisting of Paris, Berlin, Moscow, and Beijing to settle the Iranian nuclear crisis: "That means that it is absolutely necessary to come up with a common position and a great Eurasian agreement [...] We need new ideas: this Euro-Asian backbone must be built ".

The United States today uses unprecedented brutality to further its interests, as evinced by its new unilateralism: sanctions against Russia, all-round tariff policies, non-negotiated exit of the Iran nuclear deal and international nuclear treaties, constant threats of economic reprisals, increasingly frequent extraterritorial use of American economic and criminal law against major European and other foreign corporations in utter disregard of international laws.

The identities of the nations making up the EU will be snuffed out by American hegemony unless they find a geopolitical recourse. It is clear that Russia, regardless of its image in European media, can provide such a remedy by rebalancing the continent’s relations with the United States, helping revive some industrial sectors and revamping the social welfare policies of European countries. There is a European Russia and an Asian Russia, there are also Eurasian cooperation processes which can preserve the peace while upholding specific cultural references and industrial fabrics. 

As Fernand Braudel wrote in Grammar of Civilizations in 1962, "Russia is turning more and more towards Europe. That was, during the centuries of its modernization until 1917 and thereafter, the crucial fact of its history”. On the other hand, half a century later, Vladimir Putin declared to the Bundestag on 25 September 2001: "But I believe that Europe cannot, in the long run, strengthen its reputation as a powerful and independent center of world politics unless it connects its assets with the people, the territory and the natural resources as well as with the economic, cultural and defense potential of Russia ". These are the conditions for the Europeans who have the ambition to take charge of their security, their destiny, their future and dare once again to project a comprehensive and positive worldview as they did for millennia.

This article was written on the basis of an earlier essay in French published in the Revue politique et parlementaire in 2018. 

Source: RIAC