An opinion article published in Le Monde on 24 December 2020.
As democracy is threatened everywhere, it is no time to fight fratricidal battles but to close ranks between the United States and the European Union, which must finally have a common defense, plead MEP Bernard Guetta and twenty-six other members of the Renew Group of the European Parliament.
Time is running out. The challenges that we, European and American democrats face are immense because respect for human rights and the cooperation between nations, the values and principles on which the international order was rebuilt in the aftermath of the Nazi defeat, are now being contested by ever more political powers and intellectual currents.
There is China, Turkey, the Philippines or Russia, but the United States is experiencing a growing belief in conspiracy theories, too, while the European Union has to deal with “illiberal democracies” and the entrenchment of nationalist extreme right-wing movements, seduced by the most authoritarian regimes. Threatened everywhere, democracy can lose the battle, and this possibility alone denies us the luxury of petty squabbles and division.
Because we are in the same trench, we, American and European democrats can no longer allow the trade disputes of the United States and the European Union to degenerate into fratricidal fights. Between us, the rule must no longer be retaliation but compromise. Far from allowing us to deal blows to each other, the competition between our industries must lead us the opposite way: to impose common rules on State aids, on the environment and on taxation, in order to be able to close our ranks on the international scene.
This is the first of the cultural revolutions we have to carry out and, at the same time, we Europeans can no longer act as if the election of Joe Biden guaranteed us the same military protection that we had during the Cold War. That would only be an illusion, because the United States no longer has vital interests to defend in Europe. They do not even have oil supplies to secure in the Middle East and their priorities today – they say so, we know so – are the Pacific and Asia, the zone where they must meet the Chinese challenge.
Unless we want to find ourselves naked in the face of nostalgia for lost Empires, the chaos of the Muslim worlds, jihadist terrorism and China’s surge, we must have a Common Defence.
In none of the Union’s capitals is this prospect the absolute taboo it once was, yet, we hardly hurry to take action. Some of us are afraid to return to a military power. Others do not want to risk precipitating an American disengagement. Still others, often the same ones, have no desire to mount their budgetary difficulties by augmenting their military spending and, without even admitting it, many of the Member States persist in believing that once the Trump parenthesis is closed, the American umbrella will reopen as in the good old days.
Well, it won’t! The American “pivot” towards Asia dates back to the second mandate of George W. Bush and Joe Biden will not question it.
Not only will we in Europe have to open our wallets, but we will have to affirm a common foreign policy and get used to defending our interests alone. Not only must the Union accept to become a global power, but if we do not, the United States will soon have no reason not to let transatlantic ties unravel because why keep an alliance with us if we cannot bring them anything?
It is not by developing a Common Defence but by not doing so that we will loosen our ties with the United States. It is only by becoming a political and military power that the European Union will be able to durably strengthen its necessary alliance with America. So yes, we Europeans still have a cultural revolution to make, but just as much as us, Americans, too, have to revise their way of thinking about our alliance.
They cannot, at the same time, distance themselves from Europe and continue to hope to divide it in order to reign there. They cannot expect us to fund our protection while they are so busy hindering the development of a European defence industry that would inevitably compete with their own.
The United States cannot at the same time call on us to defend ourselves and encourage EU states to curb the development of a European Defence. The United States cannot want to perpetuate the Atlantic Alliance and continue to dream of finding a modus vivendi with Russia by seeking to negotiate it over the head of the Union. Nor can it allow Mr Erdogan to remain in the Atlantic Alliance while he attacks the interests and security of the European Union.
If the American Democrats want to be able to defend democracy with us, they must accept, between them and us, a redistribution of influence, roles and power. If the United States wants the 27 to be able to put its weight in the balance against China, it must come to terms with the idea that Europe wants to pull its own weight. If the United States no longer wants to be the world’s policeman, it must know how to draw the consequences and recognize the Union as its equal.
For our part, if we Europeans want to form the other pillar of an Atlantic Alliance that has become an alliance of two powers with equal rights and duties, we must definitively opt for common sovereignty, for the will to become what this demands and to pay the price it requires.
If all of us, American and European democrats, want to join forces to defend democracy, we must take the necessary steps on both sides of the Atlantic to strengthen our alliance and, therefore, redefine it, without losing a single day.
Written by Bernard Guetta, Member of the European Parliament in the Renew Europe group, member of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, former journalist at Le Monde and France Inter.
This text has been signed by 27 MEPs from the Renew Europe Group: Stéphane Bijoux, Gilles Boyer, Sylvie Brunet, Pascal Canfin, Ilana Cicurel, Catherine Chabaud, Olivier Chastel, Jérémy Decerle, Pascal Durand, Laurence Farreng, Sandro Gozi, Christophe Grudler, Bernard Guetta, Valérie Hayer, Pierre Karleskind, Fabienne Keller, Nathalie Loiseau, Javier Nart, Dominique Riquet, Stéphane Séjourné, Irène Tolleret, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, Hilde Vautmans, Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, Guy Verhofstadt, Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, Chrysoula Zacharopoulou.