Humanity is currently faced with a threefold challenge: climate change, the explosion of inequalities, and the erosion of humanist, democratic values. This has given rise to a process of de-civilisation. We must bear this in mind when reflecting on the future of Europe: asking ourselves how to confront these challenges, but also what kind of Europe the world needs. The European project no longer excites the imagination.
By moving beyond national borders, it ought to have guaranteed perpetual peace. By creating a massive single market it ought to have guaranteed economic prosperity. In reality, Europe is divided into six or seven blocs, unstable in outline and divergent in interest, and using the unanimous vote to excuse bringing any serious progress to a halt. Undermined by financial markets and tax havens, weak with regard to the USA, Russia, China and emerging powers, Europe no longer speaks to the world and doesn’t even talk with itself.
Of course, Europe has always made slow progress. Now, however, there’s no time for delays, for at least three reasons. Firstly, while people are still fond of the euro, anger is growing throughout Europe against worsening living conditions. There is anger, too, against the lack of purpose, and the absence of any momentum. Secondly, ecological and energy transition must be given fresh impetus right now.
If Europe doesn’t take a firm stance now, it will lose all geopolitical autonomy. Finally, even within Europe, respect for pluralism, human dignity and freedom of thought is in constant decline. If Europe is no longer in a position to embody these quintessentially democratic values, who will do so in its place? And since this ideal is not strong enough alone, Europe, which gave rise to it and claims it as its own, must must embody the process of (re)civilisation in the face of rising barbarism.
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Outline of a European Republic
Europe may have thought it could move past the nation state. Now, across the world, it is nations which are asserting themselves and confronting one another - including, once again, within Europe itself. Indeed, the national framework is the only system up until now where - in modern societies - citizens feel solidarity with one another, and protected and reassured by this solidarity.
Nevertheless, it would be dangerous to desire a return to traditional forms of the nation which rely on an imaginary identity of one people, one territory, one language, one culture and one religion. How then can we reconcile this double-edged need for solidarity and diversity; how can we rebuild Europe by moving beyond nations and power, when each is necessary for realising the democratic ideal?
Building a meta-nation, a nation of nations, in the form of a European Republic.
This Republic would be at once unified by the republican principle and decentralised by confederacy. This would offer wide scope for subsidiarity. Equipped with a sovereign Assembly and Senate representing the regions and civil society (unions, NGOs, associations, etc.), this Republic would be directed by a small government charged with enforcing (once approved by its parliament) a common social, economic and financial, energy and science, diplomatic and military policy.
A Citizens Assembly chosen by lot (a kind of permanent consensus conference) would have a consultative role, but also the power to submit their disregarded proposals to referendum.
Such a plan for Europe might seem utopian. Is it necessary to recall, however, that it was also the plan of its founding fathers?
Three constitutive reasons
Only a European Republic would be in a position to respond to the three major challenges of our times.
1 - Climate change
The European project took shape in 1952 in the form of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Now, the energy policies of France and Germany, for example, are today dramatically opposed and in competition with one another, when they could in fact be thoroughly complementary and cooperative.
The European Republic needs a common, coherent and coordinated energy policy. In the face of climate and energy challenges, the only sensible objective in the medium-term (2040-2050) is the “triple-zero” objective:
- zero net greenhouse gas emissions ("carbon neutrality") ;
- zero fossil fuels (leaving coal, oil and fossil fuel behind) ;
- zero toxic waste (phasing out nuclear power).
2 - Combating inequality
No population is happy with the 0.1 percent super-rich and multinationals amassing vertiginous fortunes and avoiding all or or part of their taxes thanks to “tax optimisation”: tax evasion made possible by the existence of tax havens. Only a European Republic sufficiently strong in economic, political, legal and defence matters will be in a position to ensure that tax fairness is respected, and to guarantee that competition is not distorted by tax dumping and an economic, social and ecological race to the bottom.
3. - Reviving the democratic ideal
For many people, especially the young, democratic ideals are empty. People have less and less trust in their elected representatives, their governments and the Brussels technocracy. This twofold collapse in confidence is fueled by a widespread feeling of powerlessness in the face of The Market, and the apparent meaninglessness of the current European project. Only a European Republic, capable of confronting social, economic and climatic challenges (as well as the questions of defence and the reception of migrants) can restore meaning and hope.
Who can bring about the European Republic?
Europe, all too clearly, faces a choice: reconnect with its own invention, and realise it, or vanish from the world stage; contribute to the invention of norms which can be universalised, or fade away, into the emerging chaos. Unify, once and for all, or take leave from History, and exist only as the renunciation of all that in which the peoples of Europe believed. Will these peoples be able to move beyond chauvinism and build this meta-nation, or will they prefer regression? They need to at least be offered the choice. It’s not a question that can be asked by business leaders, since they are too tied in to the markets, nor the existing political parties, shaped by their own national borders.
In fact, the responsibility lies with European civil society - that dynamic, multifaceted nebula of associations, NGOs, cooperatives of social economy and solidarity. It’s time for a debate which can restore hope to Europe’s peoples. Is it not true that they have a common history, all too often murderous, but resonating with artistic, technical, scientific and political wonders? It remains with these peoples to invent their own future.
Who will be the stakeholders and constituents of the European Republic? All the states and peoples of Europe who wish to be, and who adhere to the threefold demand to fight against climate change, tax evasion and the erosion of democratic values. It is clear, however, that this Republic will not see the light of day or reach critical mass if, from the beginning, it doesn’t have the active support of two or three large European countries.
On that condition, Europe will be able to reconquer a part of the power it is losing a little of each day. But this must come with the conviction that this power is not an end in itself, as the limits, and crimes, of imperialism and colonialism make clear: it is not Europe as a dominating power that the world needs, but Europe as a creative power.
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