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Future of EU

The EU needs real pan-European politics to survive

Raphaël Glucksmann was the keynote speaker invited by the European Green Party and Belgian Greens Ecolo and Groen, at a recent event entitled ‘Reset the EU’. It was an opportunity to sit down with him and EGP co-chair Monica Frassoni, to take stock of growing Euroscepticism, the return to nationalism, and the importance of federalist convictions to defend a new leap forward for Europe. Interview by Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield.

Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield: Raphaël, you speak of a structural crisis. The Greens speak of multiple crises and the need for a delicate transition with the promise of a better world. What is your diagnosis of the state of Europe today and of what Member States are currently experiencing?

Raphaël Glucksmann: I believe that this is not a cyclical crisis but a lasting affront to the development of three things: Western societies, liberal democracy, and the European construction process. We can no longer act as if it is passing and as if we only need to combat the reactionary momentum that is overtaking the continent from Poland to France via Hungary and all European countries. It should be understood that nationalist movements are the consequence, and not the cause, of the crisis.  They are also a reaction to the inability of political and intellectual elites to give real meaning to Europe. Pro-European political parties have not been able to consistently support and reinvent the European construction process like they needed to. You cannot just contest. You need to also offer new conceptions of European construction. Otherwise reactionary movements will prevail.

Monica Frassoni: At the end of the 1990s, vast reforms were undertaken in the European Union and at the same time many leftist and centre-left governments were in place. Back then, the Greens called for deeper reform, but we were alone. There was a real opportunity for deep constitutional reform, but it didn’t happen. Instead the obsession with economic growth prevailed, an obsession tinged with liberalism in the most ideological sense of the term. The Treaty of Maastricht enshrined the unhealthy link between the monetary union and the establishment of a space for freedom (of movement). Since then we have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Then came Nice, which was a failure too, save for the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is a success.

There is a real problem with the functioning of the Union: it is more advantageous to veto than to try to find a common solution. Our current dilemma is the result of an institutional mishap that happened through the strengthening of unanimity. A leader of a Member State raises his/her visibility and even his/her credibility more by blocking something in the European Union than by trying to work for a common solution. All policy from the Left and Centre-Left has remained firmly anchored in the domestic realm. In fact, the Left bears particular responsibility for the resulting lameness of the European construction process. Subsequently, the financial crisis from the United States has had a terrifying impact on the already defective operations of the Union. It has fed an ideology that was already well established by the socialists and the so-called progressives. The Greens have been very lonely in their pleas for Social Europe, sustainable development, and European cohesion. We have been in the minority.

It should be understood that nationalist movements are the consequence, and not the cause, of the crisis.  They are also a reaction to the inability of political and intellectual elites to give real meaning to Europe.

~ Raphaël Glucksmann

RG: I agree with this assessment.  It is too simplistic to boil it down to the threat of nationalism and not factor in mistakes made by progressives. The end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were really a time of missed opportunity. At the Vienna Summit in December 1998, the European map was pink, and that was pre-crisis: there was no Kaczyński, no Orban, no Berlusconi, no Sarkozy, no spoilsport to speak of. These were people open to the rest of the world: Jospin, D’Alema, Blair, Schröder. It was the height of social democracy, reformists, progressives. Single currency, monetary union, economic measures, all were well underway. You’d be right to think that these leftist leaders would work towards political and social union and an end to institutional instability. You know what D’Alema said at the end of the summit? “We spent 99 % of the time discussing duty free.” This political elite believed that a laissez-faire, hands-off approach and modernity in communication and ideology would be enough. European construction cannot work on its own.  It is not simply the continuation of a past heritage. It takes political and social will. Unfortunately, the very essence of this social-liberal sphere is a lack of political and social will – which is substituted for the invisible hand.

A counterweight to the disintegration of social democracy emerged in the form of so-called populist movements.  They take many forms: those in favour of the welfare state, those with liberal inclinations, those with a religious identity, those that are fully secular. All of them are a reaction to today’s society, and all include a rolling back of freedoms with, often, racist undertones, and an opposition of national interests to Europe. Raphaël, yesterday you expressed your pessimism and concern about the race against the clock to stop this wave of populism from overtaking us.  The last few months have been very traumatic from this standpoint: Brexit, Trump’s victory. Upcoming elections in France and the Netherlands are also a reason for concern.  What can be done?

MF: It is undeniable that the reactionaries have triumphed. Nonetheless, European society mustn’t be distilled down to that. In Poland, when a harsh anti-abortion law was proposed, record numbers took to the streets. In Turkey, there is astonishing resistance! And it takes amazing courage to resist in Turkey where dissidents are snuffed out without batting an eye. There has been an overwhelming mobilisation against TTIP. Merkel was right when she said: “how can there be such overwhelming mobilisation against TTIP and the United States and yet so little in protest of the atrocities in Aleppo?” As Greens it is our duty to tap into these pockets of resistance in society. We need to interact with those who are building the green economy, useful innovation, better food, renewable energies, and the decentralisation of energy. We need to learn to work with those who express anger, those who are fighting in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, against the Turin-Lyon high-speed train, those who voted for the Five Star Movement in Italy. Grillo declared “Throw all the migrants out” and yet a portion of his voters are part of efforts to assist migrants. I also believe that we need to keep an open dialogue with social democrats, with a view to challenging each other intellectually.

The Left bears particular responsibility for the resulting lameness of the European construction process.

~ Monica Frassoni

RG: I think we need to be careful with how we use the term populist, a term used by all, myself included. It gives the impression that any criticism from a grassroots perspective, of the way European elites function, is automatically disqualified. This only feeds overwhelmingly into the hand of the reactionary, anti-democratic forces, who appear to be the sole entity defending the people. It’s a major boost to the nationalists each time we refer to them as populists, as if we are saying they stand up for the people more than we do. I agree with Monica about those who are mounting resistance. In France, the Left is struggling to weigh-in on the intellectual debate and to have a good showing in the polls. Meanwhile, there have never been as many associations founded to promote selflessness, the circular economy, and assistance to migrants. People have never been more civically engaged. But efforts are disconnected. There is no clear political outlet. Nuit Debout is a case in point. There is a need for a new movement that transcends the traditional boundaries of partisan organisations and involves civil society. All you have to do is take a quick look at the average age of people at a political party rally and the average age of those camping out in Place de la République, Paris. The real challenge will be finding a way to open up the political party from its traditional party organisation. Opening to civil society will require relinquishing some control and accepting a certain level of cacophony. I for one am looking to 2019.

MF: I agree that the 2019 elections are crucial for us as Greens. We need to be prepared to close ranks and to believe in our vision and our policy ideas. We have a strong and coherent platform. We haven’t been fooled by the illusion of following a single person, following a leader rather than following a platform. We promote an agenda of economic and societal transformation, which cannot be implemented only nationally or locally. This means we are on the side of those who fight in favour of the green economy, to combat climate change and to promote new technologies. There are too many Green parties today who would rather drop the European construction process because they think that their voters are wary of Europe. I think this is a mistake, political ecology and European construction, as the structure for democracy and a space for freedom, are closely linked. The European Greens took a chance on the primaries in 2014.  It was a half-success because we didn’t have enough participants, but it did show there was appetite for Europe, a moment of interest for the European sphere. We’ll need to spend the next few years in the run up to 2019 in a quest to find, outside our parties, forces who firmly believe that European democracy is a veritable space for useful transformation. It is imperative to move towards transnational candidate lists and make the debate more pan-European. So long as voters only cast their ballots for national lists they will only vote based on their national context. So, we need a reform to elect a percentage of European members of parliament from a pan-European list.

What do you envisage for the 2019 European elections? Structural platforms? Or just an election experience?

RG: Increasingly, proponents of the status quo will find themselves side-lined by the sheer size of the crisis and the strength of vision of sovereignist-nationalists. No one is going to be willing to die to defend Juncker’s Europe or for half-hearted measures. To save the European construction process will require renewed enthusiasm. Our platform must be as clear as theirs.  They advocate for dismantling the European Union and a return to national sovereignism. If we believe in Europe, we must work for an unambiguous defence of a political, social, and economic Europe, with European sovereignty and identity. I think 2019 is the chance to unite all those who believe in that Europe. I’d like to see a pan-European movement of lists that stem from civil society with parties that support that very impetus. Support for Europe Écologie in 2009 is a testament to the existence of support for that. The sovereignist discourse is increasingly influencing public debate. Nonetheless, there are sincerely pro-European voters and there are more of them than there are voters for the traditional left, who today find themselves orphaned.  These voters feel lost as they don’t feel represented by the European Socialist Party or by the European Peoples Party. The risk of Europe falling apart is real. The risk of Beppe Grillo or Marine le Pen taking power is real. The risk of Putin-style nationalism prevailing is real. Therefore, there is a duty to act and be engaged, one that extends beyond traditional political activism. Politics is a luxury when all is well. When there is a risk of democracy being rolled back, politics becomes necessary. Associations and communities can take astounding initiatives, but if tomorrow the ruling force is a Hungarian style regime across the continent, these initiatives will be very hard to implement indeed. We mustn’t lose sight of that.

European construction cannot work on its own.  It is not simply the continuation of a past heritage. It takes political and social will.

~ Raphaël Glucksmann

Raphaël, do you believe that we need another New Deal? A new social contract between the European Union and its citizens? The European Green Party has been working on a Green New Deal for several years now. Considering the current context, do you believe that the need to defend democracy takes precedence over the need to protect the environment? Monica, would the Green New Deal be able to resolve the social emergency too?

MF: The European Green Party promoted the idea of a Green New Deal in 2009. It is a platform for social and economic transformation, which recognises that resources are limited and that climate change is a reality. We exist in an old system that still protects jobs for many Europeans, while unemployment continues to go up and some of the protected jobs are bad for the planet. We advocate for a transformation of the economy and the industrial sector, a transition and not a brutal overhaul. The ability of policy to redirect the system is not in sync with the changes taking place in the economy – specifically in the area of energy. Many corporations are already working towards energy efficiency, but the European rules in place on the subject are sometimes not up to the task. We need European public policy which boosts investment for the future, training for new professions and which gives stability to legislation in the area of renewable energies. The Green New Deal is a soft revolution with the participation of entrepreneurs, trade unions, and workers.

RG: The political, philosophical, social, and economic model – based solely on individualism and which has contaminated the whole of the left – is running out of steam. Even the Greens have continually defended individual liberties, and thanks to them for that, however in doing so they forget the community element. It is, of course, crucial to have individual liberties that expand with time, but that is not enough to make a People, a Republic, a Society. That leaves a gaping avenue for the reactionaries to formulate a response. The most honest and intelligent explain that individual progress, as it stands, is wearing thin the social fabric and therefore they call for a return to the – highly romanticised – solidarity of the past. It is a good point.  It’s true that the spirit of individualism is encroaching on all that is shared, common. In fact, the real challenge lies in repossessing the notion of shared, common, public, space that transcends individual or community space. What argument would be more strongly in favour of that than the responsibility to avoid environmental destruction? Environmental protection is the best way to understand that there is much more than a mere collection of individual interests. Therefore we must steer our focus away from our personal interests and towards issues of common import. When there is a constant deluge of nationalistic criticism being levied, the natural tendency is to defend the Commission, defend the European institutions, but it’s a trap. We need to sketch the plans for a new Europe one that is different from the one that currently exists. We need to openly compare open Europe to closed Nations. We should not be afraid to state that the current state of something in between – a half-finished Europe – is not the solution.

Sovereignists are correct to say that it is completely anti-democratic to have a single currency without representative government. Furthermore, they are correct to say that it is dangerous, an aberration even, to have eliminated borders to establish a single space without a joint prosecutors office, and anti-terrorist and police forces. They are also correct to say that a single market without common environmental and social standards promotes dumping. But we draw the opposite conclusion than they do. Our antithetical projects should be radically opposed. At a certain point there will be a moment of ideological clarification and those who stand with the “in-between” will collapse. That’s what I think. They’ll have to choose one side or the other.

The EU needs real pan-European politics to survive