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European avant-garde as both a necessity and an opportunity

Les Débats du Forum Carolus - 13 octobre, 2005
Hajnalka Vincze

"Integrated Europe where there would be no policy, would be dependent on an outsider who, in contrast, would have one.” (Charles de Gaulle, 1961). There is only one question worth asking in the current state of the European Union. It is to know whether this crisis is finally "the" crisis. The answer depends on the political will of the Member States’ leaders, those of France and Germany in the first place.

The suffering is the result of not merely the last, but of all past enlargements. The Heads of State and government of the Six, in 1969 in the Hague, only gave their assent for the opening of the accession negotiations "insofar as the candidate States accept the treaties and their political finalities". However, it is more than obvious that already after the very first enlargement some of the new Member States hardly expressed interest for the political dimension of the European construction. But the true problem stems from the negligence of the organizational aspects by the Fifteen. And this is not about the institutional polishing, but about the structural management of divergent, not to say antagonist, political visions.

However differentiation gains progressively ground inside the European Union. The management of the increasing number and heterogeneity of EU Member States makes the organization of so-called variable geometry inescapable. Indeed, the regrouping in various circles is the single solution to consolidate the “acquis” and pursue the process of integration. This both for technical reasons (the meetings of the Council at 25, around a table one quarter the size of a typical soccer field, are "like some sort of Soviet peace conference" as noticed by British observer Timothy Garton Ash), and especially for political ones (divergences of ambitions among Member States as for the content and finalities of the European project).

Indeed, an invaluable document was submitted to the Commission, one year ago, by a group of personalities chaired by Dominique Strauss-Kahn and working on Romano Prodi’s request to elaborate "a sustainable project" for Europe. The title is telling: "Building a Political Europe". The message is also very clear: the cause of our miseries today lies in the fact that nothing defends and nothing represents politically our own European economic, social and cultural model. Their conclusion is rather limpid: “Some Member States will not for a long time be able to give up sovereignty as is required to build a political union. Others will not want to do so. It is therefore difficult to imagine that there will not be a more integrated core. We have to draw the territory of the Union in concentric groupings: a politically closely integrated core open to all; a grouping close to the existing European Union, preparing to enlarge; a wider group of affiliated countries who may one day join, based on economic, financial and social solidarity.” On the long run, all the scenarios lead to the establishment of the avant-garde.

In this connection, it is particularly amusing to see the attitude of Jacques Delors and Valery Giscard d' Estaing about the treaty known as constitutional. Both of them clearly took position in favour of the ratification of the treaty. However, one can easily guess that it is only because they know pertinently well that this one does not mean anything at all. Without going into the multiple details which relativize the importance of the text, one will stick to the essence. Delors and Giscard have, in the past, many times noted that the realistic ambitions of the enlarged Europe are somewhere towards the Single European Act adopted at the middle of the 1980’s. That is to say four treaties before this last one. And they are right. As for the launching of an avant-garde able to continue the finalities of the Founding Fathers’ vision and to establish the conditions of political action, the question is not to know "if" but "when".

The current state of the Union only adds the argument of urgency to it. In particular because of the public opinion’s attitude to the European Union: the so-called democratic deficit which is nothing else but a political deficit. Who could seriously think for one second that a Europe betraying its original purposes, ready to give up its own model, renouncing to its strategic autonomy would ever mobilize the citizens? The only solution lies in the creation of the avant-garde: a core group of countries perpetuating the politico-strategic purposes and liable to attract, in time, the rest of the Member States onto this path.

The French approach is revealing in this respect. At the base of French European policy, one finds the separation “into two projects” as outlined by both Giscard and Delors. It is the only way to solve the contradiction which has been paralyzing
Paris for a long time (well before this last, ten-country enlargement). Notably, the fact that on the one hand the current level of integration is insufficient to realize the design of Europe-power/Europe-puissance (the transformation of Europe into an autonomous, fully-fledged international actor); while, on the other, any deepening of the integration at all-Union level (at 15, 25 or more) would automatically put in minority this same vision of Europe-power.

The only solution is to separate "the will to live together" and "the will to act together". In other words: distinguish, on the basis of the participants’ political will, the passive and active elements of the relation to the external world. Europe-espace is in itself - as a “laboratory of the management of interdependences” according to Jacques Delors - a model for other regional integrations. Nevertheless, in order to establish a more balanced “rapport de forces” at a global level - the indispensable condition of genuine multilateralism - it is necessary that Europe-power also emerges and plays an active part.

It is, nonetheless, obvious that in the
Union of today, the tendency goes in the opposite direction: efforts are made to force deepening at the level of the “grande Europe”. In these circumstances, one should try to maximize opportunities within this framework and, above all, promote concrete projects on the basis of flexibility. But certainly not insist on deepening at 25, 30, 40 which would only lead to the erosion of sovereignty (transferring that of Member States to a European collectivity both unwilling and unable to properly defend it). Knowing pertinently that under the pressure of events the separation of the two projects Europe-puissance and Europe-espace will become, sooner or later, inevitable. As Jean Monnet, the inventor of the European project reminded us: “There are no premature ideas, only opportunities for which one must learn to wait”.

The article is a compilation based on several papers from the author:


avant-garde, ue

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