Dear Partners in thought,
As Brexit and Trump are now “done” (apparently not for sure for the latter), Desperate Measures will take a new focus going forward. As a French-born Transatlantic European I will now concentrate more on the European Union as it is a key matter for global stability and prosperity – and for the future of Europe and its nations.
In a world which Lord Cornwallis would recognise as “upside down” like at Yorktown, where historical allies are less reliable – hopefully temporarily – and key adversaries more defined and assertive, the EU needs to redefine what it wants to be going forward. For the EU member states, the future is clearly European or gradual oblivion.
There is an urgent need to redefine a new course for the EU which is clearly based on a strict adherence to the European values inherent to liberal democracy, individual freedom, human dignity and the rule of law. I will go back to many of these features in the months to come but the seven pillars of European power should be as follows:
- Restore and strengthen a mutually beneficial Transatlantic relationship
While the Obama administration started a shift of focus from Europe to Asia, Donald Trump exacerbated matters in style and substance, even if his criticism of NATO member defence spending was not wrong. The Biden administration’s AUKUS strategy in the Indo-Pacific (that may have had its own rationale) marked a rare and direct blow against its oldest ally, France – and beyond, the whole EU. This may have been a one-off deviation that Washington scrambled to assuage, but it also marks the culminating point of a markedly-changed America which is acting more like any other power focused on its own interests, and not as the leader of the West for which it was known since WW2. However, there is nothing to gain for the two sides of the “pond” to grow distant as both will lose out. The EU and the US need to work as one – all the more so as the world has changed, and threats are more real than ever.
- Strengthen EU independence and build a real defence apparatus
The EU has existed as a meaningful world power only through trade, which it leads worldwide. This is no longer enough to exist globally – and possibly to survive. The time when some EU member states can only focus on exports of their goods, whatever their rationalisation, is finished. All member states should contribute to a common defence fund while gradually building a European defence force. An interim period can exist where countries like France, with a powerful military organisation, can fill the void and help shape the new EU defence programme. This drive for a strong independent defence is no longer an option and should also be welcome across the pond.
- Engage but be tough with a more assertive China
China has reached a point where it is a serious contender for world leadership in many areas, this after decades of unparalleled growth. Its leadership style, strangely still Communist-flavoured in name only, is clearly autocratic and in opposition to most of what the EU stands for, the Uighur camps not being a sole example. It is clear that as the EU builds up its independence and defence apparatus, it needs to clearly communicate with China, in cooperation with the US, that we are very different and will not accept everything from them. However, an anti-China rhetoric that started with the Trump administration and keeps going on today should not be the way of the EU unless it wants to partake in going down the road to mutual perdition. The EU should be tough, but should also engage with China so we can all work together and resolve potential conflicts before they actually arise. The more China is integrated in the global economy as they are, the less the risk of a massive slippage in Asia or elsewhere (I should stress that I seed capital invested in Toorbee, a European start-up focused on outbound Chinese tourism, also on the premises that the more the Chinese see the world, the better for all of us when they return back home and can help “change” at their own individual level).
One card the EU should play in this West-China geopolitical rivalry is to work on instilling a mutually-beneficial rapprochement with Russia, that was sought in the past by the likes of Macron, that may influence a more peaceful behaviour on its part (Ukraine would appreciate) and a return to a pre-WW1 alliance of sorts. Russia is not a natural partner of China – it is also a rival – and would gradually feel the junior partner of an anti-Western partnership which is not what the Russian leadership will ever want.
- Take the leadership on Climate Change
There is no issue more key today, short of avoiding a nuclear holocaust, than winning the war on Climate Change. It is an existential fight the world cannot lose, which the EU can take a leadership in fighting. COP 26 in Britain is a good example of a new focus, even if Britain is no longer a member state and as it follows the steps of the landmark Paris COP 20 Agreement. This is probably one of the easiest common themes to implement even if some members states, and not the smallest ones, still depend on old energy resources. There is a clear consensus, even if the implementation challenges are real. No room for mistakes.
- Defend European identity (also to defeat populism)
Immigration is welcome and at times needed as many countries notice with shortages of taken-for-granted truck drivers like in Britain post-Brexit. At the same time identity is also existential and the perception of its theft too intense for those who are not all “bad people” and feel left out by those who lead us. The 2015 mass immigration that some countries like Germany welcomed at the top to fill in needed jobs, is no longer an option and should be clearly stated. Regulating immigration, while welcoming all talents the EU would need, is the only way to defeat inept populism with its easy answers to complex issues and no ability to govern adequately. Defending identity will bring back to mainstream rational political thinking those who should also be respected for naturally wanting to feel at home in their country. This identity-focused approach should go hand in hand with working more closely on soundly structured and monitored economic aid packages with the countries where refugee flows are the greatest so the desperate and often dangerous urge to “leave” markedly recedes.
- Invest massively in education (also to counter tech-enabled populism)
Another aspect of the fight against populism is to invest massively in education to counter the negative impact of tech and social media-enabled dissemination of fake news and simplistic populist ideas that usually appeal to the uneducated. This education drive, beyond the teaching of rational thinking and other key subject matters, should also involve across the EU landscape a full curriculum as to what it means to be European and why it is good for all. There has been an absence of telling EU citizens about the benefits of EU membership, which education from a young age should deal with as a matter of strategic priority.
- Enlarge but not all costs
The Western Balkans and a few other small Eastern European countries, many with a challenging past, have wanted to join the EU for years. It has been an admittedly long process for a variety of reasons, including the lack of enthusiasm of some key existing member states as seen recently at a recent EU summit. It is key to keep to the process and reject no European-based country from joining, but it should not be done at the cost of dividing and weakening the current family home, especially as it keeps digesting the historical blow of Brexit and deals with the hopefully temporary vagaries of Hungary and Poland (demonstrators and voters helping) that keep trampling on club rules while too easily forgetting their challenging pasts and vast historical membership benefits.
Bonus pillar: Gradually bring Britain back
It may be too early to mention a return to the EU, all the more so as the current British government is happy not to adhere to the terms of a Treaty it signed in January 2020. However, the EU must look into the future, realising that younger generations who did not vote much in June 2016, are massively pro-European and will change the British game when older Brexiteers simply disappear. Britain is a key part of Europe, however difficult it can be at times, and should fittingly be a member of the “club” so we are stronger. Brexit was a victory of populism facilitated by practically-minded politicians who simply wanted to lead their country and were ready to embrace any compromise to achieve their goals, like pursuing a damaging course or changing the tenets of their party’s ideology. As the impact of Brexit keeps being felt, and the UK risks being disunited, it is not unthinkable that popular opinion will eventually shift massively for Britain to re-join in less time that could be thought previously, again with the younger generations at the helm. It is imperative that the EU assists those British forces to make the sensible choice for all of us when the time comes.
These seven pillars are not the only areas to work on. Enhancing democracy within the EU is key – and indeed existential all the more in today’s world. Matters like the regulation of Big Tech in terms of contents and taxation, which has started, is key. The fight against corruption of our political elites and business in general is also crucial. A fair taxation system that cares for the people of the EU without alienating entrepreneurial innovation is essential, like a health system that covers all its citizens and could modelled on the tested French one. A global drive to ensure more sanity in the financial world with the gradual rejection of the decoupling of profitability and massive valuation of ever loss-making listed tech stocks like in New York should be a European agenda, this to avoid fuelling revolutionary anger going forward. A more focused approach to assisting those still called developing nations linked to the respect of human rights should be essential. More at home, an intransigence on EU members that do not respect the letter and spirit of EU legislation, values and principles while happily cashing in should be the enforced norm, even leading to their exclusion, a scenario they would never wish to happen beyond the usual grandstanding. The list of key issues could go on of course.
One of the major issues, if not the major one, facing the EU at some point, years if not decades from now, will be to decide if it wants to have its 1776. The word itself scares many but may seem years from now like a natural development which could be done without forgetting the roots of member states as citizens of Virginia or Texas would confirm today. However, this is for another time. It is key now to build the seven pillars of European power and let the EU thrive in the structure we know. This would be a major achievement.