Monday, November 10, 2014


Post-1958 Europe thought it had seen it all.  Since the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which gave rise to the EEC (European Economic Community), the ups and the downs have multiplied.  After Britain's membership and the Luxembourg compromise in 1966, Europe gave the impression to have finally found a democratic legitimacy with its constituents and it was able to decide upon a common economic policy, a European Central Bank and the euro.  Under Jacques Delors, father of the SEA (Sinle European Act , abolishing trade and mobility barriers) the Commission became the think-tank for the future thanks to the Belgian memorandum  (1990) settinout subsidiarity, democracy, efficiency and coherence.

The "unbounded" fast-track enlargement which followed could not hide the fault-lines between the original Europe of six, the Vysehrad Triangle, the United Kingdom and former EFTA (European Free Trade Area) parties. Besides, the waiting-room for adhesion got packed. Lately, the biggest elephant in the room is probably Turkey, which embarrasses most without enthusing any. The cherry on the EU pie is currently Hungary which acts as if it were homesick for the former opposite extreme Bela Kun/Horthy days, meanwhile the EU is still supposed to be standing for a set of values.

Now we have a new Commission which was criticized from all sides before it could even get to work. The President Claude Juncker is a paradoxical choice again, having been prime minister of a country more (in)famous for being a tax-haven than for its rule of law. The commissioners look like a sullen group of individuals which member states preferred to get rid of.

Ms. Federica Mogherini, in charge of foreign affairs (after Baroness Ashton, who improved), was expected to be low-key while learning how to navigate the labyrinth. Europe is besieged by many problems, starting with its eastern borders, the British snub, unchecked immigration, a foreign and defense policy on the dole and an overall credibility gap in Asia, the Russian Federation and the United States (which is equally in troubled waters). Ms. Mogherini has now proclaimed that she strives for the recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital.  Nowadays crazy ideas are plenty. When they are premature or irresponsible they also become intolerable.  Is the EU going its own irrelevant wrong-way in a situation where it hardly counts? Is the EU going to jeopardize the two-state outcome? Is the EU going to alienate Israel for the foreseeable future? I am sure that the "spin" will follow but the harm is done. To start one's tenure dealing with a problem that has plagued the world for decennia is surreal.

The European project remained for years, both politically and existentially, a worthy challenge. The embrace between de Gaulle and Adenhauer remains a highlight in world history. The mistake was to hurry into attempting to mix asymmetric histories into one. This sum of contradictions can only accelerate an eclipse. The Commission might waste more time in dealing with Serbia than with the United States, at a time when the Atlantic Partnership needs to be revamped, more than just in trade terms. It sounds old-fashioned maybe to refer to the Jean Monnet, Paul Henry Spaak, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schumann founding fathers but I might argue that the Americans have no problem referring to their own as the ultimate reference. Europe is giving up its raison d'etre for short-term opportunity.

Both the United States and the EU find themselves in a sort of depressive historical moment. They had better realize that individuals count more than anything and that the best rules of engagement become paralyzed if they are not served by the brightest individuals. Lately, persons tend too often to disappear in the fog of institutions. The machine and bureaucracy have a free hand in today's democracies. They tend to fill in the openings with commodities rather than with the best. Elite has become a dirty word. Exceptions still exist, fortunately so.

Democracy is the best of all systems as long as it leaves room for talent and integrity, two qualities that seem to have bypassed the EU corridors lately.  Montesquieu and Tocqueville should return and write Les Lettres Europeennes or Observations in Brussels.

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