Sommaire N°28

Février 2011

Jean-Pierre ROCHE


L'Union européenne dans une mauvaise passe ?

Jean-Dominique GIULIANI

L'Europe en perpétuelle mutation


La troisième chance de l'Europe



Ne donnons pas l'Europe perdante !



Zone euro : l'épreuve des crises de la périphérie


Pour une gouvernance renouvelée de la zone euro


L'Europe de la défense, un impératif absolu


Renationalisation : où va-t-on ?


Les conditions de l'Europe politique


La normalisation, alternative à la réglementation ?



Vers une Europe fédérale ?

Les nouvelles frontières du « low cost »

Emmanuel COMBE

Cinq idées reçues sur le « low cost »

Flavien NEUVY

« Low cost », le luxe des pays riches ?


Le « low cost » à tout prix ?


Crime-contrefaçon : les dangers des produits « bon marché »


Dans l'aérien, la réussite d'un modèle

Philippe MOATI

« Le hard discount est durablement installé dans le paysage »


Logement à bas coût : une volonté politique des années 1950-1970

Anne LACATON, Jean-Philippe VASSAL

L'économie, vecteur de libertés


« Nous devrons diversifier nos modes de production »


Les atouts du processus industriel

Guilhem DUPUY

Industrialisation du bâtiment : quelles limites ?

Julien DAMON

Le logement « low cost » pour les plus défavorisés ?


est ancien ambassadeur des États-Unis auprès de l'OTAN, est directeur général du Centre pour les relations transatlantiques de l'École des études internationales avancées de l'université Johns Hopkins (Washington D.C.) et conseiller senior chez McLarty Associates.


The EU: Neither a Model nor a Power – But Don’t Count It Out

One of the great rhetorical achievements of the builders of the European Union was to make the words “Europe” and “European Union” synonymous in the minds of the majority of people. With this sleight of the tongue, people who were ethnically and geographically born a European were encouraged to extend their sense of identity to the European Union itself(1). This aimed at raising the level of tribal identification from the nation-state to the continent, and from the continent to the continental institution. In good times, this has worked to the benefit of the institution, helping it to grow both in number of members and in bureaucratic power (widening and deepening, as it were) over decades.

A great benefit from this merger of identity was that the virtues of various member states were accumulated into a larger whole, which appeared to more than compensate for the individual failings of the various states. Indeed, the whole seemed to be much greater than the sum of its parts.

But what if the flow were in the opposite direction – what if the attributes of the European Union were seen as negative, and in unwelcome ways were being attached to the identity of individual member states? What if lack of capacity and real sovereign power, slow decision-making, unstoppable bureaucracy, over-regulation, internal infighting, and unsustainable debt were seen to define the European Union, and thus each and every member state? This is, afterall, how financial markets are beginning to look at the Eurozone.

Nothing could do more to cause the most successful individual states to seek to distinguish their national identities and performance away from the identity of the European Union as a whole. There is a subtle desire to say that “the European Union may be in difficulty, but my country still has a strong future.” Likewise, nothing could do more to break the linkage, in the minds of people, between the notions of “Europe” and “European Union.” Germany and Greece are both geographically part of Europe. But financially, culturally, economically, and politically, they are not the same. Hard reality is shaking the magic of collective belief.

And this shaking of collective belief means that for Europeans themselves – despite their firm desire to sustain and repair it – the European Union is not at the moment looked up to as a model. And if European publics do not see the EU as a model, neither will the rest of the world.

Not a Model?

The most obvious reasons for declining faith in the EU among Western publics have all been extensively reported: economic downturn, financial and monetary crises, job losses, immigration (both from within the EU and from outside), bureaucratic monstrosity, weak leadership, and so on. Most of these symptoms are not actually caused by the European Union – but for publics (and some leaders) the Union is easy to blame.

The underlying trends that do account for these symptoms have built up independently over decades: an aging population, combined with an extremely generous welfare system, has led to unsustainable public finances, economic rigidity, and the demand for cheaper immigrant labor, which has resulted in large, unintegrated immigrant communities, leading to social tensions and renewed nationalism.

To this can be added the consequences of distributed sovereignty. The European Union as a whole is indeed responsible for some aspects of public life – but not all. Likewise, national governments retain national sovereignty in many areas, but not all. Whereas in good times, this was a virtuous accumulation of collective power where useful, in difficult times it has descended into finger-pointing, an inability to take decisive action and, to publics, an apparent lack of accountability.

This apparent lack of accountability and decisive action, moreover, combined with the amorphous nature of an “EU identity,” has left mainstream publics feeling disenfranchised and clamoring for a stronger national identity and action.

To these factors internal to the European Union, one other factor as seen from abroad must also be mentioned: Europe’s secularism. While Europe itself is understandably pleased with its move toward secular, humanist societies, much of the rest of the world – still rooted in religion, tradition, and social conservatism – sees Europe’s secularism as evidence of decadence and decline. When Europe’s economy and political system produce a wealth that is widely distributed in society, many in the rest of the world are prepared to overlook Europe’s social secularism. But if the system fails to deliver, there is little to emulate and much that is unappealing to more conservative, religious-based societies.

Not a Power?

It can be argued – quite accurately, in fact – that Europe’s problems have little to do with the European Union. Indeed, more Union, rather than less, may be the best answer to these problems. And at bottom, Europe is still rich and strong. Afterall, the European Union can claim a population of over 500 million, the largest economy in the world, at about $16 trillion, centuries worth of investments and infrastructure, a highly educated population, strong traditions of governance and the rule of law, and some 2 million men and women in armed forces.

And yet for all this capacity, the European Union is not a global power. Being a power requires capacity that actually can be mobilized, together with the will to do so in pursuit of clear objectives. At the moment, none of this can be said of the European Union. Despite the big numbers, Europe’s enormous capacities cannot be readily mobilized. Europe’s economic and financial burdens are crippling, leading to spending cuts, domestic crisis management, and a declining investment in power projection. By contrast, China, with a smaller GDP than the European Union, is acting with increasing financial, military, and political strength on a global stage. A colleague recently summed it up nicely: “Europe is rich, but China has a lot more disposable income.”

This is true on the military side as well as the financial: While “Europe” does indeed have some 2 million personnel in the armed forces, it can only deploy about 80,000, and defense expenditures are being slashed across the continent. China’s military spending is already larger than any country other than the United States, and growing rapidly. So in two of the principal measures of “hard power” in the world – money and troops – Europe is punching below its weight, and cutting further, while smaller-economy China is flexing its muscles.

Finally, the Europe Union does not have clearly defined global objectives it seeks to achieve. Indeed, most of the EU’s psychological energy is consumed internally – building European structures and seeking to preserve and protect Europe’s accumulated wealth and political stability. The EU’s external focus is largely on big commercial sales, seeking to prevent instability from affecting Europe, or engaging in humanitarian pursuits such as development assistance and crisis management. Ideologically, in part as a reaction to past colonialism, Europe has espoused a “values relativism” – not wanting to “impose” democracy and “European values” on the rest of the world. Thus, despite certain rhetoric, Europe in practice is not even seeking to project power or portray itself as a model.

Alternative Models

This perception of retreating European finances and military capacities, secular decay, ideological uncertainty and lack of confidence in projecting European values stands in contrast to the expansion of other models that appeal to wide swaths of the globe.

For disaffected publics in the Muslim world, the model of Islamic societies is one that offers more appeal – drawing idealized distinctions both from authoritarian and corrupt regimes and from Europe’s secularism and perceived decadence.

For those in emerging economies that are already democracies, the model of national economic gain – a form of new mercantilism – holds more appeal than the open international economic system from which Europe and the United States have benefitted for decades.

Each of these different “-isms” – authoritarian capitalism, Islamism, or new mercantilism – offers a more compelling model in certain parts of the world than the European model itself.

Don’t Count Europe Out

All that being said, it would be wrong to consider Europe, or even the European Union more specifically, to be on its last legs.

Of all the factors mentioned, the biggest one is the global economy. When the global economy rebounds – as eventually it will – Europe’s pressures will ease. The austerity measures and budget cuts being imposed now will give then Europe more freedom action as tax revenues increase. And those big numbers – population, GDP, etc. – will again make their weight felt. Europe will remain a center of prosperity for a very long time to come. As this happens, European public disenchantment with the European Union will also ease.

Moreover, despite the short-term bursts of national positioning and the disfunctionality of EU governance, European leaders remain deeply committed to the European project. This is not only for traditional reasons of overcoming Europe’s history of conflict – a reason that is fading from consciousness as time passes. Rather, it is because of the purely self-interested realization that in an increasingly globalizing and modernizing world, individual European states are small and decreasingly relevant. And a leader is only as important as his or her country. Only in combination do European states have the heft to merit serious attention. A German Chancellor or a French President is important not only for his or her national leadership, but also because of his or her ability to influence the shape of the European Union as a whole.

In addition, public frustrations with the European Union have a natural limit. While the issues of the moment – jobs, budget cuts, paralysis, immigration – are all important, no one would willingly give up the ease of travel through the Schengen zone, a single currency, or a single market. The crises Europe faces are acute in the short-term; but the unifying impulses remain more important in the long-term.

And finally, there is that basic question of identity. While a citizen of an individual member state may feel somewhat disenfranchised today, the careful nurturing of the concept of “European-ness,” which has gone on for decades, has had a lasting impact. A Greek or a Spaniard may feel more Greek or Spanish than generic “European” – but all Europeans feel more “European” than anything else. There is no other association that makes sense. With that underlying sense of identity, a healthier economy, and a sense of stiff global competition, it is only a short step for allegiance to again attach to the European Union as a whole.

It will take reforms. The EU may never quite become a global power, nor a model for others. It may require a simplified treaty and a less ambitious approach to political integration. But the European Union will surely make a comeback.

  1. It is no coincidence that the British, who historically have viewed Europe as beginning on the other side of the Channel, are also less deeply attached to the European Union.
© Constructif
Imprimer Envoyer par mail Réagir à l'article