The forceful intervention concerning the “Yellow Jackets” and the European Union by Bernard Henri Levy on January 11th during the French TV show “24 hours Pujadas”, was both welcome and refreshing.
His analysis stating that only a (reformed) EU is susceptible to offer a credible answer to the challenges confronting Member States in a hostile geopolitical environment (Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Xi, etc.) underscores – by contrast – the incapacity of national political parties to formulate acceptable constructive alternative proposals.
Whether confronting the challenges of immigration, the environment, defence, economic and social problems or the €, all proposals that require retaining or restoring the primacy of individual country’s “national sovereignty” (favoured by the populists), lead to an unescapable consequence: the re-establishing of national frontiers and of border controls, in other words, dismantling the Single Market and ultimately the EU.
The shambolic example currently offered by the United Kingdom less than 11 weeks before Brexit, should serve as a clear warning to all those who consider that the incapacity of Member State’s governments to further the EU project is sufficient proof that dismantling the EU constitutes not only a viable but also a desirable alternative.
The Union has a reputation for surviving and even making progress in times of crisis. But while solidarity (accompanied by conditionality) has given support to Members facing difficulties (especially financial), the current institutional framework of the Union, governed by the Treaties, is ill equipped to deal with “national” political crisis. The difficulties (impossibility?) to action the provisions of the Treaty aimed at safeguarding democracy, whether in Poland, Hungary or Romania, constitute emblematic examples of this paralysis.
Similarly, the “Yellow Jacket” movement could develop into a fully existential crisis for the EU if some concessions to protesters proved to be incompatible with France’s obligations under the treaty. Indeed, President Macron who is a firm advocate of a “Union that protects” as well as strengthening the concept of “European sovereignty”, is totally immersed in the grand “national debate” which, incidentally, totally ignores Europe as a theme for discussion. Simultaneously, his Europhile partners in other Member States are weakened following the recent victories – or significant progress – achieved by populist parties in their respective countries.
The President must also consider the follow up to the debate; in the meantime, he has left an open field to Marine Le Pen’s “Rassemblement National” who, capitalizing on the deep distrust of the government throughout the electorate, is already leading the field in the polls. She is extolling the power of the Eurosceptics within the future Assembly, exercised in partnership with Italian, German, Dutch, Austrian, etc. representatives of populist parties. Their only common ground is their fundamental Euroscepticism and their desire to restore “national sovereignty”, precisely in those areas identified by Bernard Henri Levy as necessitating a “shared sovereignty” between Member States. Europhile parties, on the other hand, remain deafeningly silent, unable to articulate a coherent reform program that the Union so badly needs.
The task of the French President is further complicated by the emotional character of some of the demands resulting from years of frustration during which politicians have appeared totally disconnected from the “real” world, ignoring if not showing downright contempt for the elector.
Drawing conclusions and implementing measures following the debate will take time, especially if – as seems likely – it involves constitutional reforms such as introducing the possibility of a “Citizen’s Initiated Referendum”; its modalities will need to be specified: who validates the question(s) asked? What level of participation and what majority are required to enforce the result? Etc. Another proposal being advocated is to amend the electoral system, but it needs to be adopted at least one year ahead of the poll and could therefore not be implemented in the event of a near term dissolution of the National Assembly.
In light of his commitments to participate in the “national debate” in each region of France and pursue simultaneously the implementation of the program on which he was elected, it appears highly unlikely that the President will find the time to campaign seriously for the European elections. Considering the huge risk of disappointing public opinion, which will fuel the unpopularity of the government right up until the elections, the vote may be deflected from its initial purpose and become a plebiscite for or against the President.
Thus, all the conditions necessary to significantly weaken the weight of Europhile parties in the Strasburg Assembly seem to be coalescing. Its possible paralysis could impair severely its work program (in particular agreeing the budget) and render more arduous finding a consensus for appointing the new Commission, the President of the European Council, of the ECB and the Foreign Affairs High Representative. The likelihood of sordid backroom deals, at the opposite of the necessary reforms needed to give a fresh impulse to the Union, would only further anger the electorate. It would be a fresh nail in the coffin being prepared by the EU’s detractors, despite the fact that dismantling the Union is manifestly not in the interests of the overwhelming majority of its citizens.
The initiative taken by Bernard Henri Levy to travel throughout the Union, starting in early March, in order to promote his agenda for a revamped and self-assured Union, should not only be applauded but also deserves to be vigorously supported by all who wish defend our values and further our prosperity. I wish him the best of “European” luck!
Brussels, 13th January 2019