Failing such an external stimulus, the Conference on the future of the EU risks to end in a stalemate!

A series of recent events has brutally made us aware that we are living through a major epochal change: be it climate warming – identified years ago  – which confronts us with an increasing number of extreme meteorological events (floods – heatwaves), be it the pandemic that takes no notice of borders or national sovereignty or globalisation that makes the interdependence of populations both manifest and irreversible, all these developments impose on humanity the inescapable obligation to privilege collective rather than national, community or individual interests. The exceptional level of prosperity, made possible by scientific, economic and social progress, has promoted to excess the belief of the compatibility between an unfettered exercise of individual freedoms and the necessary imperatives that limit their usage.

Thankfully, despite the unfortunate habit of emphasising the dissemination of “pessimistic” news, recent media reports emphasise exceptional demonstrations of solidarity, a trend observed on different levels. Thus, the cynically inspired manifestations against the measures announced by President Macron imposing a “health pass” appear derisory in comparison to the population’s massive support for the vaccination drive and its acceptance of accompanying restrictive measures.

Similarly, at EU level, one should applaud a series of measures initiated or suggested by the Commission with the support of the Council and the Parliament, among which the “Green Deal” or the “Fit for 55” package in the environmental field, the “Recovery Plan” and the issuance of mutualised debt instruments in the economic and financial spheres, the assumption of responsibilities in the health area together with a coordinated response to the pandemic as well as further initiatives relating to the promotion of industrial, digital and security independence.

Nevertheless, one should draw attention to the difficulties, present and future, that will have to be overcome in executing all these proposed measures, be they analytical in nature (anticipated impacts), pragmatic (implementation), legal (conformity) or that they simply come up against divergent entrenched interests of Member States (sovereignty). The number of areas in which it is becoming imperative to substitute “national sovereignty” by “shared sovereignty” is growing rapidly, due to the irreversible need to ensure the prevalence of collective interests over the individual freedoms.

If the need of a profound revision of EU governance is manifest, tensions between individual freedoms (without countervailing obligations) on the one hand, and the demands of collective interests on the other, are paralysing efforts to ensure the necessary coherence between the new conditions of life in a modern society with the obsolete institutional framework that is supposed to make them operational. Despite the recognition of this paradox, which is exploited without restraint by national-populist movements, it is highly unlikely that a purely internal EU reform will overcome the oppositions, often cloaked in the mantra of “acquired rights”, which remain deeply embedded in the public’s psyche.

Thus, it would be hardly conceivable that France, for example, would give up its seat on the U.N. Security Council in favour of the EU or that the 27 Member States forgo their direct representation at the General Assembly, in its operational organs or specialised agencies (IMF, BIRD, WHO, etc.). The charter of the U.N., an inheritance of a bygone age, gives a perfect excuse to the Member States to justify maintaining the trappings of their “national sovereignty” which has been largely emptied of any actual meaning. A perfect illustration is on display with “Brexit” by which the UK has chosen to swap a major role in shaping the “shared sovereignty” among the EU 28 for the largely abstract concept of “taking back control” of its destiny. Indeed any agreement between two sovereign entities results by definition in a limitation of sovereignty, and the sacrifices agreed upon will depend, in fine, on the balance of power between the negotiators.

A similar dilemma exists within the EU where the survival of policy areas subject to the rule of unanimity leads to blockages and blackmail which are untenable in the long run. Rather than betting on a purely internal reform of its governance, the EU should explore whether it could not be induced by a reform – or rather a re-foundation – of the U.N. charter.  

Based on the Westphalian concept of the “Nation-State”, the U.N., created in the aftermath of WWII by the allies and heir to the compromised League of Nations, is the archetype of an ossified institution whose structure and management no longer correspond to present geopolitical realities or to the needs of a planetary governance model required by the increasing and irreversible interdependence of the world’s population.

A re-foundation is required where everything must be considered in the light of present day circumstances and with the ambition of anticipating future evolutions, the premises of which are already discernible. A hierarchy of norms and a rigorous application of the principles of subsidiarity should be guiding principles. Rather than recognizing, as in 1945, the military supremacy of the victors, today partially obsolete, other criteria should be considered in the design of the new governance based on multilateralism and recognizing, inter alia: the importance of economic and financial factors that take into account the key role played by the monetary zones dominated by the United States ($), the EU (€) and China (Yuan); the size of populations in zones such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, the Near and Middle East, South America, the Oceanic/Pacific area, etc., to which individual States would be attached. Each zone, member of a Central Council, would organize its own internal governance independently, just as the EU aims to do between its Members.

At world level, a centralized body, comprising a dozen of Members, each enjoying its own legitimacy and reflecting the characteristics of its membership, would be the place where the solidarity of the human race could find an effective expression, recognizing the fact that an individual State can neither survive in autarchy nor – without endangering the survival of the planet – pursue aims of domination by coercion. Furthermore, it will become swiftly apparent that the benefits of this solidarity accrue both to the donors and recipients, as is demonstrated by the donation of vaccines in which the EU has taken a powerful lead. Such a forum would be both more efficient and less costly than the “machin”, as General de Gaulle used to call this assembly of 193 States, which has proven itself unable to perform the tasks for which it was designed.

After the failure of the League of Nations and the growing weakness of the U.N., are we condemned to wait for the next cataclysm or will we muster the resolve to prevent it? Whether its cause is political, financial, economic, environmental or social, a new world crisis could turn out to be a bridge too far from which humanity as we know it might find it difficult to recover!

In the face of this reality, EU Member States should strive, during the Conference on the Future of the Union, to develop reforms which reflect the new geopolitical environment and are compatible with a redesigned world governance. This would establish a firm foundation for deploying the EU’s ambition to play a key role in world affairs, on par with the U.S.A. and China; failing to do so it – as well as all the Member States – will be permanently relegated to a subservient status.