What is Europe?


Europe: The Text of Alain de Benoist's Colloquium, April 26th 2014

Ladies, Gentlemen, dear friends,

            A quarter century ago, Europe seemed as the solution to nearly all problems. Today, it is perceived as a problem which adds itself to the others. Under the influence of disillusion, reproaches rain down from everywhere. People criticize the European commission for everything: multiplying constraints, interfering in that which doesn't concern it, desiring to punish everyone, paralyzing our institutions, being organized in an incomprehensible manner, being devoid of democratic legitimacy, annihilating the sovereignty of peoples and nations, only being a machine for not governing. In the majority of countries, positive opinions on the European Union have been in free fall for at least ten years. The proportion of those who, in France, think that “belonging to the European Union is a bad thing” has even leaped from 25% in 2004 to 41% in 2013. Still more recently, an Ipsos poll revealed that 70% of French people wished to “limit the powers of Europe.”

            It's a fact that the European Union is going through an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy today. It's also a fact that the spectacle offers nothing to excite. But how did we get there?

            The “deconstruction” of Europe began at the start of 1990, with the debates around the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. It was at this time that the future of Europe emerged as eminently problematic and a number of Europeans began to become disillusioned. At the moment where globalization gave birth to supplementary fears, people were well aware that Europe didn't guarantee better purchasing power, a better regulation of commercial exchanges in the world, a diminution of re-locations, a decline in criminality, quite to the contrary. The European construction then appeared, not as a remedy to globalization, but as a step of this very globalization.

            From the start, the construction of Europe actually unfolded despite common sense. Four essential errors were committed: 1) Having started from economy and commerce instead of starting from politics and culture by imagining that, through a ratchet effect, economic citizenship would mechanically lead to political citizenship 2) Having desired to create Europe starting from the top, instead of starting from the bottom. 3) Having preferring a hasty expansion to countries poorly prepared to enter into Europe to a deepening of existent political structures. 4) Never having desired to clearly decide on the borders of Europe and the final purposes of the European construction.

            Obsessed with the economy, the “founding fathers” of the European Community voluntarily left culture aside. Their original project aimed to merge nations into spaces of action of a new type in a functionalist viewpoint. For Jean Monnet and his friends, that meant taking a mutual inter-meshing of national economies to such a level that political union would become necessary, as it would prove less costly than disunion. Also don't forget that the first name of “Europe” was the name “Common Market.” Of course, this initial economism favored the liberal drift of institutions, as well as the essentially economic reading of public policy that would be made in Brussels. Far from preparing the advent of a political Europe, economic hypertrophy rapidly lead to de-politicization, the consecration of expert power, as well as the establishment of technocratic strategies.

            In 1992, with the Maastricht Treaty, we went from the European Community to the European Union. This semantic slide is also revelatory, as that which unites is evidently less strong that that which is common. Today's Europe is firstly the Europe of the economy and the logic of the market, the liberal elite's point of view being that it should be nothing but a vast supermarket exclusively obeying the logic of the market.

            The second error, as I said, consists of wanting to create Europe from the top, that is to say starting from the institutions of Brussels. As the advocates of “integral federalism” desired, a sane logic would have wanted to start from the bottom, from the district and the neighborhood to the commune, from the commune or agglomeration to the region, from the region to the nation, from the nation to Europe. Notably it's what would have allowed the rigorous application of the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity requires that higher authority only intervenes in the cases where lower authority is incapable of acting (it's the principle of sufficient competence.) In Brussels' Europe, where centralizing bureaucracy tends to regulate everything by the means of its directives, higher authority intervenes every time it believes itself capable of acting, with the result that the Commission decides everything because it considers itself omnicompetent.

            So the souverainistes' ritual denunciation of Brussels's Europe as a “federal Europe” should not create illusions: on the contrary, through its tendency to attribute all competencies to itself in an authoritarian manner, it constructs itself on an overwhelmingly Jacobin model. Far from being “federal,” it is Jacobin in the extreme, because it combines punitive authoritarianism, centralization, and opacity.

            The third error consisted of thoughtless enlarging Europe, when it should had prioritized deepening existent structures, while leading a vast political debate in the whole of Europe in order to establish a consensus on its final aims. Quite particularly we saw it during the expansion to the countries of central and Eastern Europe. In fact, the majority of these countries only asked to join the European Union in order to benefit from the protection of NATO. They spoke of Europe but they dreamed of America! It resulted in a dilution and a loss of effectiveness that rapidly convinced everyone that a Europe of twenty five or thirty was quite simply unmanageable, an opinion that was further reinforced by cultural, religious, and geopolitical worries linked to perspectives on Turkey's adhesion.

            Taking into account the disparity of economic levels, social conditions, and fiscal systems, the hasty enlargement of the European Union had furthermore triggered a blackmail of re-locations to the detriment of the workers. It was ultimately one of the major causes of the euro crisis, which explains how putting a single currency into circulation, far from favoring the convergence of national economies in Europe, on the contrary, aggravated it until rendering it unbearable.

            European sovereignty is henceforth unable to be found, while national sovereignties are only memories. In other terms, they destroyed nations without constructing Europe. A paradox that explains itself when one understands that the European Union didn't only want to substitute Europe for the nation, but also replace policy by economy, the government of men by the administration of things. The European Union has embraced a liberalism that bases itself upon the primacy of the economy and the will to abolish the political by “depoliticizing” so-called “governance”, that is to say by creating conditions in which every recourse to a properly political decision becomes inopportune, if not impossible.

            To this liberal orientation a moral crisis adds itself. Obsessed by the universalism which it has long been the vector of, Europe has internalized a sentiment of guilt and self negation that has ended up fashioning its vision of the world. Thus it has become the only continent that wants to “open itself to openness” without considering what it can bring to others.

            It is a fact that Europe, since its origins, has endeavored to conceptualize the universal, it wanted a “civilization of the universal” for better or worse. But “civilization of the universal” and “universal civilization” are not synonyms. According to a fine adage often cited, the universal, in the best sense of the term, is the “local minus walls.” But the dominant ideology ignores the difference between “universal civilization” and the “civilization of the universal.” On the request of its representatives, Europe has been assigned self ignorance – and “repentance” for that which it is still authorized to remember -, while the religion of human rights universalizes the idea of Sameness. A humanism without horizon thus poses as the judge of history, offering indistinction as redemptive ideal and putting the belonging that differentiates on trial at any time. As Alain Finkielkraut said, “it means that, in order to no longer exclude anyone, Europe should undo itself, “disorganize,” only retain the universality of human rights from its heritage … We are nothing, it's the preliminary condition for us to be closed to nothing or nobody.” “Substantial vacuity, radical tolerance,” the sociologist Ulrich Beck said in the same spirit – while, on the contrary, the feeling on emptiness makes one allergic to everything.

            The European leaders are the only ones in the world who refuse to think as the guarantors of a history, a culture, a collective destiny. Under their influence, Europe never ceases to repeat that its own past has nothing to say. The euro bills perfectly demonstrate it: there one only sees empty structures, abstract architectures, never a countryside, never a face . Europe wants to escape from history in general, and its own in particular. It forbids itself from affirming what it is, and it doesn't even want to ask the question of its identity for fear of “discriminating” against one or another of its components. When it proclaims its attachment to “values” rather than “interests,” objectives or the will to political sovereignty, it is indicative of a collective powerlessness. Europe absolutely doesn't know what it wants to do. It doesn't even pose the question, as it would then have to recognize that it wants nothing. And why does it want nothing? Because it no longer knows and no longer wants to know what it is.

            The consequences are formidable. In the domain of immigration, the European Union lends itself to a policy of harmonization very generous for the migrants that no state can henceforth modify. In the commercial and industrial domain, it's the same refusal of any “sanctuary” that has prevailed. The suppression of any restraint on free exchange has resulted in the massive arrival in Europe of goods and services manufactured at lower prices in developing countries practicing dumping in all its forms (social, fiscal, environmental, etc.) while the European productive system increasingly relocates to countries situated outside of Europe, thus aggravating de-industrialization, unemployment, and trade deficits.

            Foreign politics can exist only if a political sovereignty exists too. The European Union doesn't constitute a political body, it evidently cannot have a common foreign policy, but at the most a situational aggregate of national diplomacies sorted into an “external” policy derived from “communitarian” jurisdictions. Whether its regarding the American intervention in Iraq, the war in Libya, Mali, or Syria, or regarding Russia or the Middle East, Palestine, Kosovo, or more recently Crimea, the Europeans have always been incapable of adopting a common position, the majority of them have been content to align themselves with American positions. Not perceiving common interests, they can no longer have a common will or common strategy.

            Yet, despite the deceptions that the European construction has engendered up until now, a politically unified Europe remains no less necessary than ever. Why? Firstly in order to allow European peoples, torn apart by wars and conflicts or all sorts of rivalries for too long, to take conscience of their common belonging to the same cultural and civilizational area and assure themselves a common destiny without ever having to oppose each other again. But also for reasons belonging to the historical moment that we live in.

            In the era of the Yalta system, when the world was dominated by the American – Soviet duopoly, the emergence of a European third person was already a necessity. This necessity is greater than ever since the collapse of the Soviet system: in a world that has henceforth erupted, only a united Europe can allow the peoples that compose it to play a suitable role in the world. In order to end the domination of the American hyperpower, we must restore a multipolar dimension to the world. It's another reason to make Europe.

            Globalization, at the same time that it begets without limit, where space and time are virtually abolished, consigns nation states to increasing powerlessness. In the era of late modernity – or rising post-modernity – the nation state, in crisis since the 1930s, becomes more obsolete each day, while transnational phenomena do not cease to grow. It is not that the state has lost all its powers, but that it can no longer act against influences that deploy themselves on a planetary scale today, starting with the financial system. In a universe dominated by uncertainty and global risks, no country alone can hope to get through the problems that concern it. To say it other words, national states are no longer the primary entities that allow national problems to be resolved. Too big to respond to the daily expectations of the citizens, at the same time they are too small to face the planetary challenges and constraints. The historical moment that we live in is that of local action and continental blocs.

            In a parallel context, the “souverainistes” appear as men who often develop good criticisms, but do not bring good solutions. When they denounce (not without reason) the bureaucratic and technocratic character of the decisions taken in Brussels, it is easy, for example, to respond to them that the bureaucracies and technocracies of actual nation states don't do any better. When they critique the Atlanticism of the European Union, it is also quite easy to point out to them that most of the national governments orient themselves in the exact same direction. Today we are witnessing a vast movement of planetary homogenization, which touches culture as much as the economy and social life. The existence of nation states do not obstruct it in any fashion. The vectors of this homogenization respect no borders, and it would be a grave error to believe that we could face it by reinforcing them. So the majority of criticisms that one addresses to Europe would be equally justified on the national scale.

            Other criticisms are contradictory, its often the same people who deplore the political powerlessness of Europe (on subjects such as the Gulf War, the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia, etc) and who absolutely refuse the necessary delegation of power for the establishment of a real European political government, the only one capable making the necessary decisions in matters of foreign policy.

            The argument of the “sovereignty” of nations is no better. When they say that the European Union implies the abandonment of national sovereignty, they forget that nation states have already lost their capacity for political decision in every domain that matters the most. At the moment of globalization, they were only retainers of a nominal sovereignty. The powerlessness of national governments faced with the movements of capital, the power of financial markets, the unprecedented mobility of capital, is evident today. We must acknowledge it in order to seek the means to establish a new sovereignty on the level where it can concretely be exercised, that is to say precisely at the European level. It's another supplementary motivation to make Europe.

            One of the deep reasons of the European construction's crisis is that no one is apparently able to respond to the question: what is Europe? Yet the answers aren't lacking, but most are agreed upon and none are unanimous. But the response to the question: what is Europe? conditions the answer to another question: what should it be?

            Everyone actually knows well that there is no common measure between a Europe seeking to establish autonomous and sovereign policy, with clearly defined borders and common political institutions, and a Europe that would only be a vast market, a space of open free-exchange on the “open seas”, destined the dilute itself into a limitless space, largely depoliticized or neutralized and only functioning with technocratic and intergovernmental mechanisms of decision. The hasty enlargement of Europe and the existential uncertainty that weighs upon the European construction today has favored the second model, of “Anglo-Saxon” or “Atlantic” inspiration, until now. But to choose between these two models is also to choose between the political and the economic, the power of Land and the power of Sea. Unfortunately, those who deal with the European construction don't have, in general, the least idea in matters of geopolitics. The antagonism of terrestrial and maritime logics completely escapes them.

            In 1964 General de Gaulle perfectly defined the problem when he declared: “For us, the French, it's about making Europe in order to be European. A European Europe means that it exists by itself and for itself, in other words it has its own policy in the midst of the world. But, precisely, that's what certain people who pretend to want to realize it reject, consciously or unconsciously. Basically, the fact that Europe, lacking policy, remains subjected to what would come to it from the other edge of the Atlantic seems normal and satisfactory to them, even today.”

            Europe is a project of civilization or it's nothing. As such, it implies a certain idea of man. In my eyes, this idea is that of an autonomous and rooted personality, rejecting in the same motion individualism and collectivism, ethnocentrism and liberalism. The Europe that I wish for is thus the Europe of integral federalism, the only one to realize the necessary equilibrium between autonomy and union, unity and diversity, in a dialectical manner. It's on such bases that Europe should have the ambition to be both a sovereign power capable of defending its specific interests, a pole of regulation of globalization in a multipolar world, and an original project of culture and civilization.

            For the moment, we see it well, the situation is blocked. We want the Europe of culture, we have the Europe of technocrats. We suffer the inconveniences of establishing a single currency without reaping the advantages. We see national sovereignties disappear without affirming the European sovereignty we need. We see Europe pose as an auxiliary, and not as an adversary of globalization. We see it legitimize austerity policies, the policy of debt and dependency regarding financial markets. We see it affirm solidarity with America in the new cold war with Russia, and consent to signing a Trans-Atlantic commercial accord with the Americans that would put us at their mercy. We see it become amnesiac, forgetful of itself, and thus incapable of drawing reasons to plan for the future from its past. We have seen it refuse to transmit that which it has inherited, we see it unable to formulate a large collective project. We see it exit history, at the risk of becoming the object of others' history.

            How to end this blockage? It's the secret of the future. We see alternatives, here and there, outlining themselves. They all deserve to be studied, nevertheless knowing that time is short. I've often cited this phrase of Nietzsche, who said: “Europe will only make itself at the edge of the grave.” Nietzsche, we know, also called to the “good Europeans.” Well, be “good Europeans”: let us launch an appeal so that the European state finally appears, the European imperium, the autonomous and sovereign Europe we want to forge and which will spare us from the grave.

Long live Europe, my friends! Thank you!