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Europe after the French vote:

A unique opportunity not to be squandered!

Enjoy! All europhiles will be relieved as well as happy with the results of the first round of the French Presidential elections: it diminishes the likelihood of a “Frexit” together with the inevitable disintegration of the EU. The European question will be at the heart of the second round debate which should be very much welcomed. It will allow the reinforcement of the arguments supporting the EU’s accomplishments as well as the potential gains to be expected from its further integration and deepened solidarity, as opposed to the risks of pauperization and conflicts inherent to its dismemberment.

Nothing has yet changed at European level: the French vote constitutes the (indispensable) cornerstone allowing the necessary EU reforms; remains the key challenge of converting this opportunity. Future negotiations demand that each of the parties enjoys a clear mandate from its own electorate as well as sufficient flexibility to allow the required compromises.

Yesterday’s vote confirmed that approximately half of the electorate voted for parties rejecting the EU with a further 25% having a sovereigntist approach (a French EU) leaving a bare 25% in favor of a “European France”. It, therefore, behoves Macron to clarify his positioning on this key subject before the next round. Only then will he be able to claim that his mandate is unambiguous and allow France to fully play its part in reshaping the Union.

As for the EU 27, nothing will be possible if, prior to initiating the negotiations, there is no consensus on the need to deal separately with institutional reforms and their underlying principles on the one hand and the (so called) European “policies” which appear to be the main preoccupation of some of the parties involved on the other.
Nothing illustrates more clearly this ambiguity than the “false” debate surrounding “austerity” that is branded as an EU “policy”. In fact, the EU does not have such a policy in an area which has, up till now, been the strict preserve of Member States. Failing repeatedly to reach a consensus, EMU Members have chosen, instead of pooling additional elements of sovereignty (as they did with monetary policy), to subordinate Members freedom to abiding by a series of a rules which, whatever the flexibility might exist in their interpretation, are incompatible with the pursuit of fully independent policies within a monetary union.

Creating genuine “European policies” (applicable initially only within the Eurozone) implies accessing corresponding means: a budget, sufficient own resources and an autonomous borrowing capability in relation to the Member States. It also presupposes that the institutions charged with their implementation are accountable to a democratically elected assembly. It is to those institutions that the elaboration, implementation and control of the relevant “policies” should be entrusted.

Two mistakes should be avoided: the first, already discussed previously in my analysis of Piketty’s proposal, which aims at shaping the relevant institutions predominantly as a function of policy aims that are considered intrinsically desirable; the other is to build a system which, like at present, derives its claim to legitimacy from the (uncontested at national level) individual legitimacy of each of its Members.

In the same way that the results of the previous referenda in Greece or in the U.K. as well as of the forthcoming elections in Britain, do not hold sway over other Member States or their electors, so is it also that, whatever majority Macron may enjoy, it should not be a sufficient justification (as Fillon was proposing) for France to impose its views on its partners.

A clear choice will have to be made between:

– a federal structure in which, for those policies that are pooled (currency, defense, energy, climate, IT, etc.) the decisions made should apply uniformly throughout the zone and should reflect a “political majority” and,
– a confederal system in which precedence is given to alliances among Members which would not necessarily be representative of an underlying popular majority; its decisions would, by definition, be subject to more contestation in the name of a flawed concept of democracy and consequently be liable to weaken the entire structure.
The process of reforming the EU is only starting; rarely have conditions been more conducive to mobilizing public opinion in its favor. The declarations of German politicians concerning the likely election of Macron are most encouraging in the perspective of creating the appropriate atmosphere for the forthcoming negotiations. One should be beware of all those who aim at making the discussions the forum of a power struggle opposing economic, social or geopolitical programs instead of focusing on creating the arena in which these policies can be confronted in all serenity.

The current debate has crystalized the need to engage in the deep reforms that are commensurate with the global challenges ahead and which can only be successfully met if Europe equips itself with the appropriate means to protect its vital interests on the world stage. The national isolationist alternative will initiate a death spiral that will progressively kill any hope of leadership to which the Union could legitimately aspire. Let us not waste this unique opportunity!

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