Macron’s Confederation for Democracy
French President Emmanuel Macron quoted post-war statesman Robert Schuman as he addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week: “Peace can only be saved through creative efforts that reflect the threats hanging over us.
In a detailed look at what Europe means and what Europe’s future could be, Macron called the EU an unprecedented success in the history of democracy. With the specter of a Le Pen government that could have come out of the bloc fresh in the public mind, Macron was keen to underscore France’s commitment to the union. His most important announcement, however, was for a new European political community that would especially allow Ukraine, other border states and possibly even the UK to align more closely with the EU.
It is the war, knocking on Europe’s door so dramatically in recent weeks, that has underscored this development. Just as NATO and the EU emerged from the embers of a Europe ravaged by two world wars, Macron now wants to align the aspirations of the Moldovans with those of the Irish, avoid conflict and safeguard the hard-won democracy that was born from a troubled continent.
The speech in the final minutes of the ‘Future of Europe’ conference was incredibly appropriate, as if they were united in their criticism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, opinions differed on the response . Macron stressed that even if “we are not at war with Russia”, the circumstances are such that “when peace returns to European soil, we will have to build new security balances”.
By proposing to build unity around democracy, a shared respect for the rule of law and investing in defense capabilities, Macron embraced the same sentiment that led to the creation of the union of ‘after war. Although the concept of “European Confederation” was invented by François Mitterrand, the modern proposal is itself new. The EU faltered due to over-expansion and economic disparities, and became a pseudonym for cumbersome administrative processes and inefficiency. However, by appealing to the fundamentals that paired once-enemies France and Germany together to build an $18.5 trillion trading bloc, Macron began to offer a solution that heeds the aspirations of those who wish to integrate, reservations from those with the bloc’s super-state agenda while also recognizing the very clear security threat facing the continent. The war in Europe has focused minds.
The values that Europe represents are no longer limited by geography.
Zaid M. Belbagi
The bloc is still reeling from the rushed simultaneous membership of 10 states in 2004. Apart from the economic challenges that followed the expansion compounded by the financial crisis, seven of these states were part of the former eastern bloc (three of which belonged to the former Soviet Union). This has brought cultural challenges and also the complications of trying to integrate what Russia has always considered its area of influence.
The distant prospect of Moldova and Ukraine joining the union, as well as the unlikely aspirations of Georgia and Finland to join NATO in the context of war, have highlighted the shortcomings of the current infrastructure of the EU to be inclusive while being coherent enough to be a defensive body. Macron pointed out that following the collapse of the USSR, Mitterrand’s confederation project had stumbled by suggesting the inclusion of Russia, which was “unacceptable for the states which had just freed themselves from the yoke of The soviet union”. However, the central tenets of Mitterrand’s premise, namely how Europe should be organized within a broader political perspective than the EU, are more relevant in the current climate.
There is no doubt that the perceived failure and weakness of liberal democracies has encouraged authoritarian regimes to test the EU, its ability to intervene and, more importantly, its will to defend itself. The conflicts of the last century were born from regional security imbalances, from the emergence and re-emergence of a unilateralist Germany followed by the insecurity of a hollowed-out Europe to the freedom of the United States and the USSR. These imbalances have led to the political architecture of Europe today.
However, Macron is right to point out the obvious shortcomings. The values that Europe represents are no longer limited by geography. The Western Balkans and the Caucasus hold sacred the same principles that are upheld in Ukraine today. Macron argued that “this new European organization would allow democratic European nations that subscribe to our common fundamental values to find a new space for political cooperation and security”. However, where his plans stumble and fail to recognize the EU’s over-indebtedness shortcomings is in also claiming that a confederation would interfere in “cooperation in the energy sector, in transport, investments, infrastructure, the free movement of people and in particular of our youth.
Angela Merkel’s departure from the European political scene and Macron’s rejection of the most urgent far-right bid to seize power in Europe have given her some political capital to take the lead in Europe. The war in Ukraine certainly provides the right circumstances. However, the urgency of the situation should not be allowed to create an unrealistic coalition that can come together in wartime but fall apart in peacetime.
The UK, which voted to leave the EU, has been Ukraine’s staunchest European supporter and arms supplier: an important lesson if any that joining a union is not the only expression of shared values. Macron’s confederation will have to be united in action – expansions based on blue sky political projects soon crumble (as the frustration with blue and yellow has so often shown).
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator and private client adviser between London and the GCC.
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