Despite the moaning and groaning aimed at President Trump’s lack of manners as well as at the consequences of his uncontrolled statements, Europeans cannot avoid responding to the bill that has been duly presented by their partner for “services rendered” over the last 70 years!
If there is no doubt that extending credit to finance Europe’s recovery after the devastation of the war was beneficial to both debtor and creditor, this state of affairs was perpetuated long after Europe’s return to prosperity, allowing it to bolster its economic performance and social welfare system at the expense of its defense capabilities, putting, over time, both its independence and security in jeopardy.
The end of communism accelerated the process, leading to further cuts in military spending to allow the survival of the “welfare State” whose costs were exploding as a result of an ageing population and a rapid transformation of society brought about by accelerating innovation, globalization of trade and production, and the dominance of financial markets over other sectors of the economy. It is therefore hardly surprising that Europe, having bet inconsiderately on their perception of an overarching interest of the United States to “pay” for NATO, should wake up with a hangover when they were reminded of their obligations.
If under these new circumstances the planet as a whole has benefitted spectacularly from an unprecedented increase in wealth, its distribution among the world’s population has, on the other hand, been profoundly modified. Thus, for example, while hundreds of millions of Chinese or Indians have emerged out of poverty, in Europe, some twenty million people lost their jobs and the majority of its citizens had to adapt to a stagnation of their living standards (albeit at a relatively high level); this situation underpinned nostalgia for a return to the quasi-uninterrupted progress enjoyed during the 30 “glorious” years of post war recovery. In turn, it has led to an explosion of inequalities, concentrating an ever-greater share of global wealth into fewer hands while the remaining majority was coerced into a new equilibrium benefitting the poorer at the expense of the so-called “middle classes”.
On a political level, such a situation was bound to lead to conflicts: it made the preservation of “acquired rights” the central platform of (wishful) electoral promises aimed at all those who felt abandoned and more broadly promoted the advocacy of a (suicidal) withdrawal within “national borders” no longer compatible with the realities of the global economy. This situation creates an ideal environment for the revival of populist ideologies putting into jeopardy the progress made since WWII towards the creation of a world “physically” habitable and “morally” more just.
It is in such context that one should analyze recent geopolitical events among which the ructions of the President of the world’s greatest power are only one of their most emblematic illustrations. If a majority of “informed” opinion can agree on the necessity of regulating a “multipolar” world – while waiting for the emergence of a (probably utopian) world governance – such regulation can only be enacted among partners between which exists an equilibrium favoring the conclusion of agreements that benefit all stakeholders. For lack of such an equilibrium, the temptation to exercise, at some point, their “domination” becomes irresistible for those who hold the trump (no pun intended) cards. This was illustrated in the past by OPEC in the 70s and is currently being wielded by Trump in weaponizing the exorbitant privileges of the $ as part of his trade policy. Another example is the controversy raging in the UK concerning its economic independence after Brexit and its “colonization” by its main trading partner, the EU.
The EU must confront these “irreversible” developments by giving itself the necessary means to ensure its place among the main actors of today’s multipolar world. Collectively it is undoubtedly capable of meeting the challenge, not only because of the size of its market, its wealth, its economic clout and the level of education of its population, but equally because of its moral authority resulting from its Judaeo-Christian origins which have, in turn, spawned “the enlightenment”, human rights and many other precepts that have gained worldwide recognition.
To capitalise on these foundations, Europe must speak with one voice which implies implementing at EU level what it seeks to promote on the global scene. This means – quite independently from “Trumpian” vociferations – to build a collective defence capability whose efficiency would be reinforced and whose cost would, to a large extent, be covered by economies of scale. Proceeding progressively with the “voluntary” unification of its currency (in accordance with the Treaty) and after having unified “by necessity” its defence, the argument in favour of a “Federal” Union, assuming in addition responsibility for foreign affairs, immigration and the environment, becomes compelling. Its architecture must take into account the historical heritage of the continent through the creative use of the principle of subsidiarity, which should allow the survival of cultural and traditional characteristics of its constituent federated entities. The Federation would be a reinforced pillar of the transatlantic alliance in facing up to newly emerging powers.
A European Federation has become the inescapable instrument for defending the continent’s prosperity and the values to which its population remains viscerally attached. A return to a “Europe of Nations” would, on the other hand, ensure the “vassalization” of each of them, none having the necessary clout to face up either to continent-sized political entities or to powerful multinational private enterprises. Furthermore, the EU has already reached the point of no return as evidenced by the Brexit negotiations. These highlight the disruptions that would be created by the reinstatement of internal borders which would become unavoidable if the aim is to control the movement of either people or capital, or both.
Those who advocate reverting to erstwhile “national sovereignty” are lying to their audiences and are preparing, without admitting it, Europe’s greatest economic and social crisis ever; it would be aggravated by a worldwide crisis behind which these nationalistic pyromaniacs would seek refuge to exonerate themselves from any responsibility of the fallout of their follies.
In conclusion, the answer to the geopolitical challenges that the EU is confronting, including the apparently preposterous demands of President Trump, lies within itself and not in the criticisms, however well grounded, of actions undertaken by other world leaders such as Putin, Xi, Erdogan, Assad, etc. To inform public opinion of these realities has become the number one priority. The campaign for the European Parliamentary elections in the spring of 2019 creates the perfect opportunity to reaffirm the ever-increasing necessity of constructing a Union in which power and solidarity provide both prosperity and security to its citizens.