European Adventure – The Missing Variable

Cartoon: Jasper Rietman
Cartoon: Jasper Rietman – New York Times, Dec 18, 2013

The Europe we live in today is the worst possible Europe apart from all the other Europes that have been tried from time to time. No European alliance, empire, commonwealth or community has endured forever, but we should want this one to last as long as it can – Timothy Garton Ash 

Politically, the European endeavor appears as fragile as ever. Pockets of populism (extreme-right and extreme-left combined) have been popping out since the collapse of the financial markets in 2007. But the recent results of elections in Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Spain, Denmark and so forth are demonstrating that the European electorate is increasingly voting more extreme than before. In the case of France, the Front National, which was historically a party of opposition has become the “first party of France” to take her President’s words. If populism is becoming attractive, it has created a complex national debate of incomprehension and anger between populist voters and the mainstream rest. National unity, in France, Europe and even in the US, is under attack.

Experts and political analysts have been identifying a series of variables in order to explain the rise of populism such as immigration, terrorism, economic stagnation, high level of unemployment, corruption, cronyism, globalization and Europe. Each variable is highly valid and can explain what motivate Europeans to seek for extreme alternatives. But one core dimension has been missing and is most likely the strongest component: an adventure, a story (for Europeans) and a dream (for Americans).

Loss of Memory/Direction in a Ever-More Globalized World

Globalization has been framed as the foundation of all national turmoils and traumas. For populist movements the word ‘globalization’ is a toolbox with no clear definition for obvious political reason. The concept of globalization should be understood as an acceleration in the degree of interaction and interconnection between humans, capital and goods. To some extent, the physical world is shrinking; the speed in interaction is accelerating [distance-time are disappearing]. A smaller shared space ultimately affects the understanding of one’ space and culture.  In her recent address about the reflection on a common strategy, HR Mogherini framed the question of globalization from a security angle, which contributes to the reflection on the definition of the globalization in this piece. She said that:

Everything that is important to our citizens is influenced by our international environment. And there is actually no distinction, no borders, no line between what happens far away, what happens at our borders, in our region, and what happens inside our European Union. Even these categories are now losing sense. 

‘Losing sense’ is quite a powerful part of her statement. Populist movements are directly responding to this sensation of physical, emotional and ideational feeling of dizziness. In addition, populist movements argue that the European Union is in fact a materialization of globalization and its global forces weakening national unity. Unfortunately, this is not true if one takes a historical look at globalization bringing us back to the 14th century with the Dutch empire. Globalization has roughly emerged at the end of the Dark Ages and pushed the economic and political transition of Europe and North America into the pre-industrial world. Arguing that globalization is the root cause of all national traumas is an absolute fantasy considering the longevity of such phenomenon.

However, one should talk about the speed of globalization and its acceleration in the last 20 years. “We live faster than ever before” writes Svetlana Alexievich “Content ruptures form. Breaks and changes it. There are no borders between fact and fabrication, one flows into the other.” Certainly globalization has become a powerful force highlighting serious limitations and weaknesses of European foundations. If capital and people can travel quicker than ever before [in roughly 12hours a human can be on the other side of the world], and in a less than a second billions of dollars/euros can be wired from one continent to another, such forces can undeniably create serious problems to the slow-moving entity of the nation-state and the EU. These realities of an ever-more globalized world is creating a distortion between immediacy and reflection. Immediacy could be embodied by the current economic model of casino capitalism; while, reflection is in fact the foundation of European political regimes, Democracy/Republic. If casino capitalism is based on economic gamble informed by pseudo-rational thinking as it is more a question of rumors and speculation, democracy is a slow process of introspection, discussion, collaboration and compromise. The discrepancy between casino capitalism and democracy is obvious and stretching the limits of European societies. Here lays the core of the problem in the globalized world of the early 21st century.

Ultimately, when a politician like Marine Le Pen, president of the extreme-right party le Front National, tells a story of national sovereignty, national control through the construction of physical barriers and implementation of protectionism, these narratives attract a confused audience. But the lie is obvious, the building of physical barriers to block invisible forces won’t do a thing in order to solidify national sovereignty and empower cultural exceptionalism. Building physical barriers in order to limit the flow of people is a myth. Millions of Europeans went through the Atlantic Ocean, an ocean, for a better future; are a series of walls around Europe be sufficient to stop refugees to come in. Not a chance.

European Adventure

The story of the European construction is a remarkable story and endeavor. In the rumbles of Europe, visionary leaders and thinkers drove European politicians to follow their visions

Europe
Cartoon: Paul Lachine

in order to avoid another war that could destroy the world. World War two was one of the most vicious global fights with genocides, mass-movement of troops and civilians, arms and technological race and so forth. Over 40 million individuals died in six years leaving Europe as a massive field of destruction. From the agreement of the Treaty of Paris in 1951 to the Treaty of Nice in 2001, the European construction was far from perfect but it was an adventure for greater political, economic, and institutional integration. It was an adventure in order to horizontally expand the Community/Union from six original members into a Union of 28. It was an adventure as European citizens saw the fall of physical borders, from the Berlin War to national borders under the Schengen Agreement. It was an adventure when on June 7 and 10, 1979, European citizens could vote for the first time at a European election for the European Parliament.

It was an adventure as Europeans could finally move within a wide group of states in order to start a career, to start a European life, to study. It was an adventure as the continent saw an unprecedented economic boost bringing struggling states – Germany as one of them – into highly sophisticated and developed economic and industrial levels. It was an adventure in the agreement to share a common currency, the Euro, in order to facilitate commercial and financial transactions at first, and then the flow of people. It was an adventure as the Community/Union demonstrated the world that cooperation at its extreme did not undermine national sovereignty, but rather empowered it.

The Quest for a European Life

Today, the European adventure has become a European set of technicalities. The European adventure, which was at first bold and big, has become a highly technocratic and reductive vision of politics, finance, economics, and culture. Emotionally, European citizens are not opposed to the European Union, but are thrown off by the appeared and perceived distance between them and “Brussels.”populism-400x300

Europeans are in fact in search of meaning, a raison d’être. Unfortunately, this quest for a raison d’être is being hijacked by populist movements selling a past that never was. Populism, either fascist or communist, is attracting audiences – from elder voters to first time voters – because they are selling a ‘mission,’ a purpose to reconstruct a past that never was. Unfortunately, these populisms have no serious political, foreign, economic, fiscal, educational agendas. These populisms are simply selling smoke.

Instead of talking of clash of civilization – in order to identify a mythical clash between Western societies and radical islamic movements, which do not speak for societies with a majority of muslim citizens – experts should be talking of a civilizational depression. Instead of seeking for external enemies, Europeans should be looking within, inside and reflect of this European state of confusion. Europe may be simply dealing with its mid-life crisis. Now it is a matter of avoiding a complete divorce with a supposedly dark and repressive past, the European integration process.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

British Elections, or the Illustration of a National Malaise

Source: Euronews
Source: Euronews

Is the United Kingdom, especially Britain, sick? For years, the media has called France the sick man of Europe, it appears that Britain has caught a similar cold. If France is facing dire economic conditions and is unable to implement real reforms launching the economic engine once and for all, Britain has for its part disappeared from the European and international stage. Britain is on election mode and these elections are serious for the future of Britain and its future within the European Union. Because Britain has fallen from the table of relevance, the general European public is unaware of them. May 7th will be a big day for Britain, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

The election is being disputed between seven candidates. The two main candidates belong to the two big parties: conservative led by Prime Minister David Cameron; and the Labor led by Ed Miliband. The others are from smaller parties, which have nevertheless shaped the debate, like the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland, the Greens, and UK Independence Party (UKIP). These smaller parties may not produce the next Prime Minister, but “could hold the balance of power in the next Parliament, making government policy subject to negotiation.” The expectation is to see either Miliband or Cameron winning the popular vote. So far, the campaign has revolved around the following three issues: the economy, health care, and immigration.

Risk-Aversion or Pessimistic Isolationism?

Since the election of Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 Britain has lost some of its grandeur and relevance. Just on foreign and defense policy, Britain has disappeared from

Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

the international arena. From a mid-size power to a small power, Britain lost its appetite for international relevance and action. The turning point was the no vote by the Parliament for a military intervention in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad in August 2013. Since then, Prime Minister Cameron has just looked inward and tried to clean up the house letting foreign affairs aside. Ed Miliband, Labor Party Leader, has described Cameron’s foreign policy of “pessimistic isolationism,” and for electoral purposes argued that Cameron has “weakened Britain.”

In terms of foreign policy, Britain has been a no-show on really important issues like Ukraine (France and Germany signed the Minsk agreement with Russia), on sanctions against Russia, on Libya, on the migration crisis, on Africa, on fighting ISIS in Syria and Libya and so forth. Britain is only assisting the US on bombing ISIS in Iraq. In Africa, Britain is barely assisting the French in the mission in Mali and has expressed very limited interests in fighting Boko Haram. The absence of Britain and Cameron on dealing with Putin and Russia over the question of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has been damaging to the credibility of the country and the EU on trying to solve serious regional crises.

One reason for such risk-aversion by Britain is the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. The costs on going to war in Iraq with the Americans in 2003 are still being felt. Then the mission in Afghanistan lasted over a decade and Britain does not want anymore to get drag down in another foreign campaign with no success at the end, which Syria and Libya could very much be. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain has not been able to justify the size and length of both missions and the population has grown opposed to another foreign intervention.

Letting your Allies down

The US is now extremely worried about the future of the ‘special relationship.’ Britain may tend to believe that the ‘special relationship’ is set in stone, but like any relationship, without discussion and connection they tend to dry out and die. Britain cannot expect the US to be its closest ally when Britain does not reciprocate. Maybe the British leadershiparticle-0-0C42551000000578-462_634x393 believes that all GOP candidates ought to pass by London in order to be presidential, but so far none of them has been successful at it – recall McCain and Romney – and a talk in London by a non-elected and/or elected official in his personal capacity does not make up for the core of the ‘special relationship.’ Additionally, the US saw the move by the Foreign Office to decide to make Britain a founding member of Beijing’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a competitor of the World Bank, as some sort of backstabbing. France, Italy, and Germany have followed the UK on this policy-choice.

For France and Europe, an inward looking Britain is a real concern as well. France and Britain have certainly a long past fighting one another, but there is one core dimension wherein Paris and London see eye to eye: defense and foreign policies. European defense was created, functioned and has deepened thanks to the Franco-British couple. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was established ensuing the 1998 bilateral Saint-Malo meeting. Since the disappearance of Britain on common defense questions, France has become anxious. For instance, top French expert, Camille Grand of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique argued in the New York Times that “We in Paris understand that Germany is a complicated partner on defense, but the assumption is that Britain is a like-minded country ready to intervene, would spend enough on defense and remain a nuclear weapons state. All this is being challenged, and it makes Paris feel lonely.” Despite some historical and cultural divergences, Paris and London have always shared a common acute sense of foreign affairs and valued their cooperation in foreign, security and defense policies.

So Long Britain?

Britain is an interesting European case for two reasons: first, the raison d’être of its political class has become so anti-European that it goes against its national interest; second, there is no long-term vision for Britain in interacting with Europe and the world.

Britain must for once and for all accept its role and place within the European Union. If it wants to leave, the referendum ought to be implemented and the country will adjust accordingly towards a Brexit or not (see the short video above). But having Britain being so anti-European and

628x-1
Credits: Olivier Hoslet/AFP/Getty Images

blocking any initiatives (against the CAP, against a large common budget, against police and judiciary cooperation, against the Schengen agreement, and so on) in Brussels is counter-productive for Britain, the EU, and the 28 EU Member States. For instance, having London fighting for the increase of the budget of Operation Triton is counterproductive. The perpetual fear of lost of sovereignty and stripping away British independence cannot last any longer. A balance ought to be found between anti-EU and constructive bargaining.

Second, the British political class, as its French counterpart, is composed of visionless politicians. There is no long-term vision for their respective countries with serious political, economic, social and financial agendas. There are only bureaucrats seeking for perpetual reelection at great cost for the country. Hopefully, the May 7th elections will allow British citizens and politicians to reflect on the role of Britain in Europe and the world. This is only wishful thinking, as in reality the general election appears to be another wasted opportunity for a clear national reflection on Britain’s future.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Politico Lands in Brussels

PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP
PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP

Politico, the giant of American/D.C. politics, is now observing, dissecting, and commenting on Brussels’ political life. In less than a decade Politico, founded in 2007, has become a powerhouse in American media, covering political life in D.C. and in the US. April 20th was the grand opening of Politico Europe online and its first printed version will be sold on Thursday, April 23rd in several European capitals.

The European adventure started in September 2014 with German publisher Axel Springer creating a European edition of Politico based in Brussels. In December 2014, Politico bought the European political newspaper, European Voice, and rebranded it Politico Europe Edition. The executive body of Politico Europe is composed of Shéhérazade Semsar-de Boisséson, the owner and publisher of European Voice, as managing director, Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal, as executive editor, and John F. Harris the Editor-in-Chief. John Harris made Politico what it is thanks to his coverage of the US Presidential campaign of 2008. Many thought that Politico would die after the presidential campaign, but it continued and today accounts for over 7 million readers per month. Politico was even compared as a ‘scoop factory‘ by The New Republic in a lengthy 2009 piece.

In the case of Europe, Politico already includes 40 journalists (with some serious names previously working for Reuters, Wall Street Journal, USA Today such as Kalina Oroschakoff, Craig Winneker, Nicholas Vinocur and Pierre Briançon in Paris), and bureaus in Berlin, London and Paris. Other bureaus in Moscow and Frankfurt (to cover the ECB) are scheduled to open later on this year.

Photo: Larry Fink for The New York Times
Photo: Larry Fink for The New York Times

One of the landmarks of Politico US is the Politico Playbook by Mike Allen. In a 2010 article, the New York Times ran a story titled, The Man the White House Wakes Up To. In this piece, Mark Leibovich argued that Mike Allen’s Playbook sent by email between 5:30 and 8:30am 7 days a week is the must read in D.C. in order to start the day. Five years later it is still the case. Particularly for Europe, Ryan Heath is now running The Brussels Playbook. Mr. Heath joined the European Commission spokespersons service in 2011 under José Manuel Barroso, former President of the Commission, and has since worked for prestigious media outlets.

In one of the first article published on Politico.eu, Harris and Kaminski, in a dialogue format, discuss the place and role for Politico in Europe. “Too much of the traditional reporting on the EU ” claims Kaminski “looks and tastes like oatmeal.” However, Politico, argues Harris, “has an institutional identity of self-confidence bordering on obnoxious” driven by the “fear of failure.” 

For having studied and monitored European politics for almost a decade, it surely seems that Politico has found a clear niche. Aside from the strong, but too specialized platforms available, like Bruxelles2, Politico covers everything remotely connected to politics. Despite Euractiv, the former European Voice and EuObserver, Politico is finally filling a void in monitoring Brussels’ political life. Beware Brussels, American media is now going to “put on a fun party for the people who live and breathe pan-European politics.” Toast with jam will work perfectly with the oatmeal.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).