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Are we the new Sleepwalkers?

In a world that has lost its bearings, emotional outpourings are more and more often supplanting rational analysis. Be it in reaction to a terrorist attack (Barcelona) or to the tweets and untimely declarations of Donald Trump (Charlottesville- North Korea), etc., comments concerning these events suggest all too often narrowly focussed solutions which, however sensible they may seem, fail to consider the context in which they are supposed to be implemented.

Thus, on the matter of the future of the European Union, there seems to be a developing a consensus on the added value of a common approach in areas such as climate change, the environment, the fight against terrorism and defence while “nationalist” and “federalist” visions continue to clash violently on the subjects of immigration and border policing, economic and monetary regulation/management, foreign policy, etc. While federalist views are fully compatible with a joint political management of the former, those expressed by the advocates of the primacy of “national sovereignty” are not.

A recent televised debate between “learned” economists on LCI illustrates the point: discussing President Macron’s program, one of discussants insisted that it was both urgent and possible (!) to achieve a growth rate of 4% p.a. in order to restore the sustainability of the cost of social welfare programs and the high level of the national debt. His prescriptions included a stimulus program, on the model followed by the United States after the crisis, discarding (temporarily?) European budgetary rules; re-appropriating control over the “exchange rate” was an additional necessity in order to restore French competitiveness and avoid the social turmoil resulting from an adjustment relying exclusively on an “internal devaluation”. At no point did this “expert” mention that retrieving control of the exchange rate implied relinquishing the Euro. To my knowledge, this stance is only advocated by the “Front National” and “France Insoumise”, and was decisively rejected by voters in the recent elections. However, failing any challenge from other panel members, it is hardly surprising that uniformed spectators swallow hook, line and sinker these utterances, reinforcing the ability of the defenders of “national protectionism” to spread their poisonous chimera.

Similar arguments can be made in relation to the control of immigration where an exclusively “national” regime is incompatible with free movement and implies re-establishing thorough controls at the internal borders of the EU. This would seriously disrupt travel and trade and be a harbinger of the demise of the single market (and of the EU), as the complexity of the current “Brexit” negotiations on these matters demonstrates.

As far as defence is concerned, an equitable sharing of the financial burden and an integration of military capabilities are indispensable to provide Europeans with sufficient independence to secure their own security. This has become all the more vital that the unpredictability of the American position, as expressed by its President, makes it necessary either to take (at last!) our destiny in our own hands or to “pray” for his replacement. The second option carries an unacceptable risk for Europe and, now that the American commitment is in doubt, the past heavy reliance on the US military umbrella has become unthinkable.

Intra-European solidarity has therefore become an existential necessity to ensure the survival of our values, our lifestyles and our security. This solidarity can only emerge within a structure that abides by common rules which, far from being imposed by force, should represent a freely accepted consensus in the light of prevailing circumstances. This common framework should integrate all “sovereign powers” while leaving as much room as feasible to “subsidiarity”; it should also aim at greater social justice and fight against the unacceptable degree of inequality which continues to pervade society. The clear choice in front of citizens is not – as often suggested in the name of pragmatism – between more or less of “Europe” but rather between either a protective and integrated Europe open to the world or the hope of reaping benefits of a largely illusory “national sovereignty”, unsuited to a connected and globalised planet.

The immediacy of events hinders taking a step back before acting in areas of high complexity which are also closely interconnected. Spurred by the omnipresence of often indiscriminate media and social networks, authorities give (or give themselves) the illusion of acting by addressing the most urgent demands which, more often than not, means putting partisan or national preoccupations ahead of the general interest. Moving from one crisis to the next with ever growing feverishness, consideration of a long-term comprehensive view is glaringly lacking. This situation is unconsciously laying the ground for a painful awakening because, just like sleepwalkers, one shall find oneself sooner or later precisely where one did not wish to go!

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