It’s a pure coincidence. Do not look for an explanation, but in Paris, Algiers, London and Paris again, it is Europe’s destiny that is at stake this week, in four theatres on four essential fronts.
Attendus à Paris ce lundi par Emmanuel Macron et Angela Merkel, les présidents russe et ukrainien n’avaient pas entre leurs mains que le sort de centaines de détenus et l’arrêt des combats en Ukraine orientale. Un éventuel accord entre Volodymyr Zelensky et Vladimir Poutine sur un complet échange de prisonniers et un cessez-le-feu dans le Donbass ouvrirait en effet la voie à la recherche non pas seulement d’une paix durable entre leurs deux pays mais aussi d’un traité de sécurité et de coopération entre l’Union européenne et la Fédération de Russie.
Everything would change on the European continent, and imagine now that, on Thursday, the boycott of the Algerian presidential election is as massive as expected and that the army officers are finally able to conclude from this disavowal that the time for a real change has come. Beyond the happiness of a people struggling for the rule of law and democracy, oil and gas money could be invested in the national economy and employment rather than in offshore accounts, Algerian youth would have other prospects than unemployment or emigration, the much-needed Arab Maghreb Union project could be revived, and North Africa could then make a major contribution to the development of sub-Saharan Africa and the co-development of the European and African continents.
From the Maghreb to the Mashreq, everything would change on the shores of this inland lake called the Mediterranean Sea, and let us imagine thirdly that Boris Johnson does not obtain a majority in the Commons on the same Thursday. It would be the defeat of the Brexiteers. A new referendum could be held and Brexit would no longer be inevitable.
This would change the face of the Union, but fourthly, imagine that in the meantime the scale of protest movements in France increases and that Emmanuel Macron’s authority is shaken. There would then be no political stability in any of the major European capitals, no more in Berlin than in London, Madrid, Rome or Paris, and that would not bode well for anyone.
Decisive breakthroughs or worrying blockages, the field of possibilities is largely open on these four fronts but let us resume, point by point.
In France, the difficulty is all the greater for Emmanuel Macron because it is not only the question of pensions that mobilizes strikers and demonstrators. Well beyond this reform project, a tremendous anger is growing in France because of this president “of the left and of the right”, is – mistakenly – perceived as the “president of the richest”, and because wages have been blocked for too long and that the intermediary bodies, the unions and the parties, are too weak to channel this anger and formulate negotiable demands.
A large part of the French public would like to take the head of this president, but it is precisely what gives Emmanuel Macron room for manoeuvre, because it is him or chaos, a paralysis that few people actually want and no more on the left than on the right. If he overcomes this ordeal, the French President can be re-elected in two years’ time and become the re-founding father that the Union so desperately needs.
In Great Britain, the game is not over, either. The Conservatives’ lead seems to decrease regularly as the election approaches, while the idea of the “EBJ”, Everything but Johnson, seems to be seducing more and more voters from all currents hostile to Brexit. It was this type of “intelligent vote” that made Viktor Orbán lose Budapest and Vladimir Putin almost lose Moscow. There too, voters had opted for “Everything but Orbán” or “Everything but Putin”, either by forming united fronts or by voting, whatever their label, for the best placed opposition candidates. The de-ideologization of political life opened the door for these new attitudes which are spreading to all latitudes.
In London, a surprise result is not ruled out and, in Algiers, the Generals will have a hard time getting back in the saddle in the long term, by the mere grace of a presidential election in which a large majority of voters will have refused to participate. The moment of truth is on the next day, Friday, when the weekly marches will be reunited in the heart of the capital. If the Generals let it happen, they condemn themselves to a retreat. If they were to fire, an insurgency would threaten.
As for Ukraine, everything will depend on Mr Putin. Volodymyr Zelensky wants an agreement with Russia and believes it is possible. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron also want it. The French President would even like to make it the first moment of negotiations between the European Union and the Russian Federation. It was Vladimir Putin’s choice between the risks of a solitary self-assertion for which Russia does not have the means, and the mutual economic and political benefits, the establishment of a continental security.