Professor emeritus in economics, holder of the chair Jean Monnet at the University of Strasbourg
The “end of the tunnel” at the end of a decade of economic crisis and the “cold shower” after the Brexit enthusiasm have slightly mitigated the desire of exiting the Eurozone and deconstructing the European Union. However, the example of Italy reveals that a profound diffidence is lying in wait, ready to put wind into anti-European sails.
Euroscepticism is increasingly solid as much as its sources are numerous and remote. Their identification unveils our intimate connections with Europe.
The heterogeneity of the member States constitutes the most visible hindrance to the construction of the European identity. Political institutions, social structures and economic specifications appear different according to each country. But that is not all. The fear of seeing national characteristics trimmed and contested by the economic and social norms defended by the Union reveal their reticence towards the European Union.
Such a country will want to preserve its generous social model, that other its vision of monetary and financial orthodoxy, while another will want to maintain its religious homogeneity.
The pregnancy of national narratives discloses, implicitly, the vulnerability of the European project. Even though the Union is relatively new, every State is embedded in a long history that impregnates minds, instincts and the subconscious. These national narratives have a substantial power, for they easily awake fears, old prejudices and animosities.
On one side, beside the economic aspects, the remote origins of Brexit can probably be found in the fear of being anchored to a continent where Great Britain does not really belong.
On the other side, in France, the legacy of the republican model created with the Revolution can be perceived, for many, in the criticisms directed towards a poorly social and democratic Europe. The collective memory remembers those revolutionary wars waged against a coalition of European States buttressed by their aristocratic privileges. Even going back further, the suspiciousness of many in relation to a “German Europe” has a lot in common with the image of a Germanic Roman Empire who is hostile to France.
Additionally, the impediments to the integration stem from the rivalries among the parties within each Member State. If the government in power is “for”, the opposition will be “against”, and vice-versa. Having a strong opinion about Europe, especially if this is negative, seduces the electorate easily, in particular, when, at the same time, the partner States are blamed for one’s failures.
Now, let us go back to the essence. The three anti-European ideological considerations, namely the anti-capitalist internationalism, nationalism and radical globalism, unveil the deepest roots of the contemporary Euroscepticism. We have to take this seriously. In this respect, we recommend the fascinating book of political science by the political-science professor Bernard Bruneteau, Combattre l’Europe. De Lénine à Marine Le Pen (Paris, CNRS, 2018), the reading of which has fuelled this editorial.
Marx, Marxists and the radical Left distrust Europe and harshly criticise the utopian pacifist dream of an appeased continent. For them, the revolution passes through the class struggle. This has to establish its dynamics within a single State in order to successively spread elsewhere. If the proletarians of all countries must unite, this is precisely against the capitalist and bourgeois Europe. Lenin and Stalin have considered that the United States of Europe embody the imperialist dream of spreading of capital and the market over the entire world. Therefore, the pacifist and liberal Europe would deviously impose the dominance of commerce and generalised exploitation. This argument, however, belongs to the past.
By its very object, the nationalist thinking is opposed to every supranationalism, no matter if it assumes the form of a unified European State, a federation or a confederation. The notion of the United States of Europe represents a cosmopolitanism which is detested by nationalist and fascist supporters. For them, if there must be a Europe, it must be white and Christian, therefore opposed to the one desired by its greatest visionaries such as Victor Hugo, Stefan Zweig or Albert Camus. For all of these currents, the will to unify peoples who are socially and “racially” different would reveal moral and political weakness. Here again, the past meets the present.
Globalists instead see Europe as an objective brake to the constitution of a government charged with managing the world’s problems. They interpret it as the “Trojan horse” of a movement of regional dismemberment. Tensions would then be moved from the national level to the one of some large, continental-dimension bodies. Maybe. However, when shall we expect the realisation of this generous idea, now that we have before our eyes already seven decades of difficulties in elaborating a genuine space of regional dimension?
Euroscepticism is ancient and still very much present. It has indeed renovated itself and revitalised since the acceleration of the economic and monetary integration process, started with the 1986 Single Act and crystallised with the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992 .
To the extent that the Single Market and the Euro currency create a neoliberal-inspired Europe, criticisms have arrived from every side, without, however, producing a united and homogenous anti-European front. Nationalists do not support the liberal and globalist cosmopolitanism imposed by Bruxelles. The Left condemns the German ordoliberalism (free and undistorted competition, strict compliance with the monetary and financial stability). In addition, the management of economic and migration crisis did not contribute to the rehabilitation of the image of the Union. Greek and Italian citizens are painful witnesses of that.
Critics of those too liberal policies could not see in ordoliberalism a doctrine capable of squaring the circle: sharing the single currency while stubbornly refusing the political union. The creation of the Euro currency without an economic government and a fiscal and social harmonisation constitutes a challenge which has only one possibility: a conduct of severe and intransigent joint-ownership, as it is provided in the Treaties. In short, ordoliberalism has come to support a monetary Union deprived of a political space. In doing so, the European Union has, not surprisingly, opened up the door to Euroscepticals from all sides.
How can we get out of this situation? Any excuse is good when you want to get rid of something. The criticism oriented towards the neo-liberal Europe and the German ordoliberalism is legitimate in relation to the economic results of the Eurozone. However, they easily transform in an alibi for entirely rejecting the spirit of the European construction. It is more convenient to fight against the German ordoliberalism and to highlight the wrongdoings of neoliberalism instead of appearing as supporters of an anti-European ideology. Saying yes, or no, to the idea of a real political Europe requires some doctrinal clarity. Hiding visceral mistrust towards Europe behind the accusations only against the BCE and the Stability Pact is limiting. Consequently, uncovering the deep-rooted sources of Euroscepticism constitutes a precondition for the debates about the future of Europe. The citizens, as well as parties, must explain their dissatisfactions and their fears in order to better clarify their expectations and their hopes. Building Europe needs a desire for peace and harmony that breaks our nationalist ties. Building Europe implicates a process of compromise that detaches itself from the culture of antagonisms and resentments. We do not impose a European narrative. We do not establish a cultural or constitutional culture. By contrast, together we can plan for the future in order to defend democracy and our peaceful lifestyle, and we can efficiently face the great present and future challenges. We must always remind ourselves: the world and the geopolitical are changing, and no European Nation can, in the forthcoming century, cover a decisive role worldwide. More than ever, Union in diversity points to the way forward.