Read the Editorial from the European League for Economic Cooperation – French Section – January 2020
A lot has happened in six months. Hopes have been raised. Albeit with numerous obstacles to negotiate and persistent hold-ups.
- European elections provide some reassurance.
Populists have failed to make their mark. And the turnout confirmed that voters have not yet lost interest in the democratic election process. However, the former balance in the European Parliament between two major groups of deputies well accustomed to seeking compromise has given way to a new quartet which is clearly less used to the discipline required for European negotiations. A quartet of conservatives and social democrats, alongside the greens and a centrist group known as Renew Europe.
- A new President of the Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen.
A staunchly pro-European Germany. With the members of the new Commission, it has highlighted its desire to put the Union back on track. The annoying twists and turns of the nomination process are hopefully now behind us.
- But the East-West divide continues to make itself felt, along with other factors, in the area of defence, which is highly important for the strategic autonomy of Europe. In or out of NATO. With an announcement by the French President, clearly and eloquently opening the debate but which elicited murmurs of discontent or even outright opposition from anyone scared of heights, refusing to believe that the USA would abandon NATO leaving behind just an empty shell.
- Diverging views of competition policy and industrial policy.
In the one corner, we have those who promote the idea of European Champions able to compete, in the fields of big data, defence, infrastructure and numerous other sectors, with the US and Chinese giants. In the other corner stand those who treat Europe as a customs union for the free movement of people, goods and capital. But who are suspicious of any State intervention in industrial policy. They see competition policy as something that applies at the borders of the EU, but not with regard to the world’s other major economies.
- North-South disagreement on the need to continue building the Eurozone
Some maintain that no monetary union in history has survived for long without a common budget allowing a countercyclical policy to be applied at the level of the monetary zone. Together with a policy of supporting any countries experiencing asymmetric shocks. They believe that risk-sharing policies and/or structural land planning policies are essential to prevent inadvertent de-industrialisation here, and industrial polarisation there, ultimately jeopardising the future of the euro. Others remain convinced that economic effort and discipline, provided everyone plays their part, will remove the need for any inter-country transfers (on the grounds of solidarity), which otherwise would be at serious risk of entering the status quo.
Hence the current problems reaching any consensus over the nature and extent of a true European budget, and over the operating methods and governance of the European Stability Mechanism or deposit insurance.
One positive change: the German Ministry for Economic Affairs has agreed to open the debate on these topics without further ado, thus departing from past practice. Despite the fact that there has been little change in the conditions identified as necessary for the various proposed mechanisms to be actioned.
- Finally, a disparity, which to a certain extent encompasses all other points, between two visions of Europe. First, a strategist or sovereign Europe, driving forward its programme and building a capacity for action around the world. With the particular goal of carving out a place between two superpowers on the brink of a political, economic and military cold war in a sort of two-state boxing match. Second, a Europe conceived and realised as a union of countries joined by their economies, rules and values, but with no ambition to become a global player in the future, a player with its own agenda.
In order to get things moving, the new Commission and new Parliament must focus on healing these rifts and, little by little, changing people’s opinions. And building, bit by bit, brick by brick, the components of a stronger Europe, able to mark out its own fate in an troubled and highly unstable world.
This will probably initially require specific shared projects in the fields of industry, defence, energy and digital transitions, for example, allowing the Commission, governments and company directors to kick-start Europe once more. The « Green Deal » launched by the new Commission is a good example.
Certain solidarity projects should also be realised. Hence there is currently a serious debate into the possibility of a European unemployment benefit scheme that combines risk sharing and market discipline.
European industrial projects together with EU unemployment insurance could improve opinions of Europe, because they will be not only visible but also provide a direct benefit to its citizens. They could also reboot Europe.
There is a risk of falling into a rut. However, there also appears to be a clear determination among all European powers to prevent any such projects from crumbling. It seems we would all benefit from moving the Union forward. The New Commission and the renewed Parliament should use these observations as a starting point for Europe’s revival.
Let’s ensure that our European League can also provide relevant debate and get its voice heard!
I wish you a very happy new year. A year of success for all, including Europe!
Olivier Klein, Executive President of the French Section of the ELEC.