Opinion column published in “Le Monde” on 1 September 2023

What if we were to talk politics, the real politics, the great perils, the great assets, the great challenges? What if the forthcoming European elections were an opportunity to go beyond national party competition and at the same time address, in each of our 27 countries, the storms that threaten us and the means of dealing with them?

Voters would then regain a taste for politics and the turnout at this election could be far less dismal than usual, because at the moment, Christian democracy and social democracy are too intellectually exhausted for the battle between right and left to be of any further interest. Their heritage of social progress and post-war reconstruction is essential, but as products of the industrial revolution, they have both been overtaken by the transformation of work, the ravages of growth and the resurrection, on all five continents, of reactionary right-wings which question the Enlightenment.

Right and left will not disappear for all that but, as we see so regularly in the European Parliament, a new frontier is being sought between the rapprochement, on the one hand, of the hard right and the extreme right and, on the other, the slow emergence of a universalist and democratic force ranging from the utopian left to the centre right.

This is what is taking shape in the United States. It is what we are hearing in France when Mr Ruffin tells his friends about the need to gain ground “in the centre”, while Mr Sarkozy, on the contrary calls on them to unite the voters of Mr Zemmour, Mr Macron and Mr Ciotti. This is also what is emerging in Poland and Hungary. So, starting today, let us open up this debate among the 27, this campaign that could well trace the first contours of the new European chessboard, around four main issues.

Enhanced cooperations

The first is Ukraine, since no, Mr Sarkozy, it is not about negociating with the despot in the Kremlin but to help defeat him, because Mr Putin’s objectives are perfectly clear. He wants and he says he wants to reconstitute the lost Empire of the Tsars and now hopes that the Union, the United States and the world will impose a ceasefire on the Ukrainians that will allow him not to have to give up his annexations, to halt his internal weakening, to obtain the lifting of international sanctions and to prepare his next offensive.

War will remain rampant in Europe as long as the Kremlin has this imperial ambition, so it is not to this regime of poisoners and war criminals that we must extend our hand, but to a muzzled people. We must increase our arms supplies to Ukraine and at the same time speak directly to the Russian people to tell them that their destiny is not to become China’s vassals and that we are ready to cooperate with them as soon as this aggression has come to an end.

The second issue to be debated is the enlargement of the Union. It is true that it would be impossible to make European institutions work with 35 or more members, as the engine is already grinding with 27. It is even more true that it would be dangerous to allow Mr Putin, Mr Xi and Mr Erdogan to settle in the Balkans and to refuse to open our doors to Ukraine, since this would mean that Ukraine is not one of ours and would belong to the Russian area.

This may seem intractable, but we can in fact point out to these candidate countries that there is no point in trying to get on a boat that would sink if too many people got on board, and that we can already set up enhanced cooperation in a multitude of civil and military areas, forging ever closer links and gradually building an enlarged Union together – a Union with a continental vocation, a single Union but with different degrees of political integration for a long time to come.

This is already the case today. Not all the 27 have adopted the single currency or are members of the Schengen area. Not all of them wish to go further down the road to political unity, which is not something to which all the candidate countries aspire either, and it is perfectly conceivable that this enlarged Union could be made up of several levels or “formats”, as Emmanuel Macron proposed in Bratislava.

Creating jobs in Africa

Thirdly, there is the question of the Atlantic Alliance, which the United States will not accept shouldering for ever when Washington has more challenges to face in Asia than it does alongside us. If we want to keep it going, we need to rebuild it around two powers with equal rights and duties: the United States of America and a European Union that has finally given itself a credible, in other words common, defence. The Atlantic Alliance and European defence are equally essential to the security of democracies, and France would help to make this clear by proposing a candidate for the NATO secretariat.

The fourth issue to be debated by the 27 is Africa. No one but Africa will solve its problems. Its stabilisation will not happen overnight, but we must facilitate job creation there by relocating many of the products that our industries had relocated to Asia. This is imperative, because it would be the way to reduce transport times and pollution, reduce migratory pressure and lay the foundations for a mutually beneficial partnership around the Euro-African lake that is the Mediterranean.

The situation has changed

I know. Many will see this ambition for a pan-European debate to revitalise our lives and our political chessboards as nothing more than a figment of the imagination, but the clouds are gathering over Europe. American protection is becoming uncertain at a time when Russia is once again a cause for concern, and China’s loss of steam is threatening German industry, weighing on our trading partners and could soon give rise to domestic discontent in China that Mr Xi will be tempted to counter with external adventures.

Because Europe is in peril, the situation there has changed. The idea that there is strength in unity is no longer widely contested. The debates in the Council, Parliament and Commission are beginning to interest many Europeans, because the fact is that the British would reject Brexit today, and without our unity we would not have been able to meet the challenges of the pandemic, take the first steps towards a green transition, provide the necessary aid to Ukraine, or begin to regulate the digital environment.

Even the new extreme right no longer calls for the Union to be dismantled. All they talk about is replacing it with what it has never ceased to be – a “Europe of the nations” – and so the way is clear. Let’s go ! Let’s innovate! Let’s run a campaign that turns the Union into a political entity seeking common answers to common problems. Let’s not hesitate any longer, because “we believe only in those who believe in themselves”, as Talleyrand said.


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