European Council on Foreign Relations

Reinventing Europe: Carlos Gaspar

As part of ECFR's 'Reinvention of Europe' project, we are running a series of responses from leading thinkers and academics to Mark Leonard's recent paper, 'Four scenarios for the reinvention of Europe'. The paper outlined four possible routes towards solving Europe's current crisis, and argued that Europe's main challenge was to solve the acute euro crisis without exacerbating the chronic crisis of declining European power. In the seventh in this series of responses, we hear from Carlos Gaspar, the head of the Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais da Universidade de Lisboa.

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Mark Leonard’s essay is not only a lucid analysis of the present crisis but could be the starting point of a European debate between the “integrationists” and the “disintegrationists”, following the American debate between the “declinists” and the “exceptionalists”.

His arguments are clear. The European Union will fall apart if “what is economically necessary is politically impossible”, while political regimes in the debtor countries may also fall apart if what is politically necessary is economically impossible. European democracy is threatened by the convergence between European technocrats and Eurosceptic populists. In Greece and Italy, national populism led to a “technocratic backlash” but the “suspension of democracy” in the two member states may lead to the replacement of the old elites and a renewed populist backlash. European recovery is impossible when European politics is dominated by the clashes between the “Germanic bloc” that wants austerity and the “Latin bloc” that wants growth and between France’s passion for the state and Germany’s obsession with monetary stability. Also, the renationalisation of European politics has been growing stronger since the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty six years ago and the gap between the growing authority and competence of the European institutions and the rise of nationalism in the “European street” may lead both to a crisis of democracy and to a crisis of regional integration.

What is to be done ? Mark Leonard’s four scenarios confirm the difficulties in dealing with the European crisis. “Muddling through” is not what is needed to move towards a fiscal union. A “smaller Eurozone” would confirm that the debtor countries in the periphery are not at the center of the Euro crisis. The “Great Leap Forward” to create a political union seems to be a thing from the past even for the most idealistic European federalists. And a “Two-Speed Europe” is only possible if and when both Germany and France decide to create a real European union.

The European impasse calls for a new agenda. Firstly, the limits of the European Union’s capacity to solve all of Europe’s problems should be recognised, as well as the virtues of the relative political and institutional autonomy of the Schengen Agreement and the European foreign, defence and security policies.

Secondly, it might be interesting to admit the existence of groupings within the European Union. In an enlarged “Euroland”, Germany’s pre-eminence could be balanced by a Catholic coalition led by France, Italy and Poland. The NATO intervention in Libya showed that the United Kingdom and France are the natural core leaders in European defence and security issues. The making of a European Union “Grand Strategy” calls for the grouping of member states with a solid international experience, including not only the United Kingdom, France and Germany, but also the Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal. In a sense “Variable Geometry” may be less risky and more legitimate than a “Two-Speed Europe”.

Thirdly, the international power transition confirms that all the European powers need the European Union in order to be relevant in shaping the new balance of power and many recognise that a world without Europe would be even more poor, nasty and brutish. Europe needs the world, and the world needs Europe: if the necessary reforms can not come from within the European Union, the need to be present at the creation of a new order should bring about the changes necessary to reset the European states on their path towards an “ever closer union”.  

Also in this series:

Harold James - 'The more Europe suffers, the more its people will see that a reform agenda that is just an exercise in incrementalism is also nothing more than an exercise in futility'.

Richard Rosecrance - 'if Greece or Spain did not exist, they would have to be invented. Their participation in the euro keeps the value of the currency down from $1.80 to $1.20 or $1.30 or so, thereby ensuring the success of German exports to the rest of the world.'

Brigid Laffan - 'as the Union intrudes more and more into domestic budgetary and public finance choices, can party politics in Europe adapt to a very different governance regime?'

Charles S. Maier - 'The British can imagine that their banks will suffice, the Germans their autos, but such comparative advantage can dissipate quickly. I’d as soon wager on Greek beaches.'

Georg Sørensen - 'a substantial part of the present euro crisis has less to do with European cooperation and more to do with member states that are fragile, ineffective, have serious corruption problems...'

Chris J. Bickerton - 'Populism, after all, is politics without policies; technocracy is policy without politics.'

Dimitri A. Sotiropoulos – 'we still live in an era in which the nationalist project is more seductive than any project of integration among nations'

Pawel Swieboda - 'no-one dares to ask the question if the euro is still a political project, as its founders tended to believe, or if it is today about nothing else than damage control'.

Claus Offe - 'Europe is not just needed as a defensive mechanism to prevent the weak being overpowered by the strong, who first administer an austerity cure without then providing the requisite support for recovery.'

Mario Teló - 'what is abusively decried by populist voices as a “German Europe” might in fact look a lot like the broadly endorsed “EU2020 strategy”. Input legitimacy may complement output legitimacy.'

Josep M. Colomer - 'For democracy to survive and retrieve in Europe, responsiveness and accountability of rulers should be moving from the state level to the EU level, where so many crucial decisions are already being made'

Marco de Andreis - 'a critical mass has been already assembled to make of Europe’s integration a possibility rather than an impossibility. And to at least consider the United States of Europe a fifth scenario for the reinvention of Europe.'

Miguel Maduro - 'the creation of European politics must go hand in hand with a change in the character of politics. For that, changes in policies may be even more important than changes in institutions.'

Narcís Serra - “If we wish to favour economic growth in European countries we must address income redistribution. This must not be done through fiscal measures alone but also by dealing with the heart of the productive structure itself.”

Brendan Simms: 'In 2020, President Radek Sikorski of the Democratic Union could long back at a turbulent, but successful first term in office...'

Christine Ockrent: 'In all the countries where people struggle with the economic crisis and fear for their children’s future, Europe has more than ever become the scapegoat'

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