Nationalism Does Not Serve the Nation

Germany should react to Macron’s Europe speech openly and decisively

29/09/2017 | by Daniela Schwarzer

DGAPstandpunkt 12 (September 2017), 3 pages.

Category: European Union, France

France is back. In his Sorbonne speech, President Emmanuel Macron has grasped a leading and visionary role for his country in Europe, and this is good news for Germany. Paris is set to develop the European Union further and, in doing so, displays a spirit of innovation that offers great opportunities for the EU – not least in times of bitter criticism from both left- and right-wing populists.

Regaining Sovereignty in Co-operation

Macron painted a comprehensive vision of Europe bound, as he called it, by horizons rather than red lines and devoid of hollow phrases and empty grandiose concepts. His key message to Europeans was his realistic view of how little nation states can accomplish on their own in today’s world marked by crises, upheaval, and provocation – and why we need a stronger Europe to ensure protection, stability and the ability to make a difference in today’s issues. This relates not only to obvious topics such as climate protection and the environment but also to all kinds of security questions, the need for economic and financial stability, and Europe’s still unsatisfactory answer to the ongoing migration.

Macron has delivered a crucial political message by pointing out that the sovereignty of nation states today is also limited by the simple fact that they cannot individually solve today’s supranational challenges. This message is even more important given the growing nationalist and populist notes that mark the current political debate and feed illusions concerning nation states’ capacity to act. It is striking that, of all places, it is France that offers this assessment; previously, it was the French government which, again and again, juxtaposed national sovereignty as a limit or even antidote to proposals for more extensive European unification. The response in June 2000 of then President Jacques Chirac to Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s who had presented a vision for a federal Europe in his Humboldt speech earlier that year is only one such example.

Pragmatic Suggestions

There has hardly been a speech on Europe that has combined political ambition and historical awareness with so many specific and realistic initiatives. Among them were Macron’s proposals for a European border police force, an EU asylum authority, and a joint program to finance and train refugees. Some of his suggestions could be implemented even without having to revise EU treaties, including his calls for a European Secret Service Academy, for closer cooperation among the member states’ intelligence services, and for a EU civil protection agency to respond to natural catastrophes.

Macron’s push to concentrate larger integration efforts in the eurozone is correct and also pragmatic. The monetary union is neither immune to crises nor does it function well enough – even in the current period of recovery. The common currency and the EU economy need to be equipped with further tools to improve their sustainability and to increase the democratic legitimacy of the monetary union. Of course, this requires finding a balance between national responsibility and the shared capacity to act. On this matter, it will not be easy to reconcile different views, not least between Berlin and Paris. Nonetheless, the compromise is necessary.

However, something important applies here – just as it does in the areas of security, domestic and judicial policy: As the integration of Europe remains incomplete to date, it carries risks that EU citizens rightly notice and criticize. Nonetheless, it would be shortsighted to respond to these risks – and the fact that they limit the union’s capacity to act and protect its citizens – with calls for an increased renationalization. Such calls may well spread, however, if the EU, and above all the eurozone, are not equipped to deliver better results.

The Willingness to Lead

In his speech, Macron not only delivered a vision of Europe; he also sketched out in very concrete terms what France would do to help achieve it. And he demonstrated that his tasks begin at home. Macron made it clear on his campaign trail and during his first months in office that ‘more Europe’ for him required first to reform France and to render it fit for the future. At the Sorbonne, we did not see a president who wants to use Europe as a self-serving outlet for the French. Instead, we saw one ready to give to the greater good – and to do so out of deep national interest. Macron’s possibly bravest political statement in this context was his call to reassess the EU’s common agricultural policy – after all, Europe’s most cost-intensive policy, and one originally created to secure France’s consent to the further development of the European market. Together, Berlin and Paris can now begin to turn the European budget into an effective tool geared toward the EU’s political priorities. Here, too, the European partners should consider making expenditures conditional, for example, by linking allocations to the compliance with reform guidelines and the rule of law.

Europe now needs to challenge structures and policies that are not geared toward the future – and to abandon rigid national positions that have stymied necessary reforms in the past. Europe also needs to open up its national institutions. Macron’s proposal to welcome soldiers from all EU member states into the French army – and his hope that other countries will follow his example – are worth noticing in this respect.

The German Response

Macron has given the debate on Europe new momentum. Much will depend on continuing the discussion with conviction and commitment in the coming months. The people and the national and regional parliaments of Europe will have to be involved, and this process will ultimately yield which initiatives from Macron’s firework of proposals will meet with consensus and which new ones will have to added. It is unlikely that Germany will be able to offer detailed responses quickly as it remains caught up in building a new government coalition over the next weeks. That is perfectly alright – provided Berlin shares one important message loud and clear: that the house of Europe needs to be finished to make sure it can last.

Meanwhile, the partners in the upcoming German government should avoid drawing any red lines on the future of Europe in their coalition agreement. Equally, they should avoid focusing the political attention on possible disagreements about individual proposals, such as, for example, the eurozone budget. Any such course of action would lead our European partners to believe that Germany turns its back to a strong Europe in the wake of the right-wing AfD’s polling success in the federal election. Berlin would gamble away leeway to mobilize partners and have an impact on the European agenda.

The federal election has not changed the fact that it is in Germany’s political and economic interest to hold together and strengthen Europe, especially in view of the pending Brexit as well as global upheavals and growing security risks. Alongside France, Germany has to accept its leading role in Europe and work together with the states that share this view. This involves grasping the historical opportunity and building a European consensus beyond the political fields of security and welfare. Doing so will allow us to win back stability and sovereignty in an ever more complex world.

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