In their essay, Edouard Gaudot and Benjamin Joyeux offer us their thoughts on the European Union, its past, present and hoped-for future. Written just before the elections in May 2014, it is designed to broaden the often outrageously simplified public debate, which is dominated in France and many other European countries by sovereignist and populist attitudes.
The result of the European elections only confirmed what all the opinion polls had long been predicting: to put it simply, the rise of very divided and disenchanted views of politics in general and the growing strength of a national tendency to withdraw.
For that reason, this text requires interpretation, especially because our authors (doubtlessly anticipating the election results) invite us to look beyond the present and, above all, not to despair.
The title “Europe Is Us” certainly summarises the book’s essential message: there is no inevitable destiny; alternatives to current political choices are possible which, above all, require the formation of movements by responsible citizens with shared objectives, defined at a time when companies are becoming globalised and we are starting to understand our planet’s limits. Our authors are thus pursuing a line of thought and action which could be described as critical pro-European, like that of the Green parties in particular.
Their view is pro-European in that it is opposed to the sovereignist inclinations of both left and right. But it is certainly critical in that they oppose the political trends now being adopted by all the national governments of Europe, whose effect is to increase what they call “the triple European deficit: inadequate legitimacy, purpose and solidarity” (page 48).
That diagnosis makes them very anxious: “we are worried that the legitimate and shared criticism of European policies will eventually challenge the very idea of Europe itself” (page 18).
The consequence of that diagnosis is that we must re-frame the question: why have a European Union today? The question must be asked openly, and thoroughly debated, and more people must be convinced of the necessity of continuing this 60-year old historical experiment by transforming it. From reading the 135 pages of this essay, it is tempting to say that Edouard Gaudot and Benjamin Joyeux present two distinct types of argument.
The first type of argument is fairly widespread: considering the globalisation of our companies and the ecological limits of our planet, collective action cannot be confined to national spaces where it’s every man for himself. But for “Europe” (or to be more exact, the public policies followed in the institutional and juridical context of the European Union) to be capable of taking up these challenges, it must change its political model and move on from a system of competition between states to one of cooperation and solidarity between them, based on the definition of shared interests, negotiated and accepted by its members. The authors quote various examples: today, five months after the elections, the question of economic and social policy is probably always at the heart of the controversy, combined with disagreement about a shared foreign policy.
A second type of argument arises from the same question: why have a European Union today? The question is answered by a different route: that the reasons for creating Europe should be viewed in a historical perspective, emphasising that the answers to that question which people have been asking since the original construction of Europe after 1945 have varied over time, and have stacked up and overlapped one another – from the “necessary Europe” to the “Europe experienced” via the “dream Europe”.
Our authors invite us to consider the “real Europe”, that is to say a daily reality which is also constituted of exchanges, networks, mobility and cultural dialogue. In short, Europe exists, both united and divided, and we must continue to work on it so as to transform it just as it is transforming us. This is an ambition and a challenge for the young people of Europe who reject physical and mental borders just as they reject unemployment and exclusion.
Gaudot, E. and Joyeux, B. ‘L’Europe c’est nous’ Les Petits Matins, Paris, 2014. (www.lespetitsmatins.fr)