Over the last ten years, the European Union has been struggling to formulate a collective project towards its neighborhood and, in particular, to make its voice heard in the Mediterranean. The assertion of the ‘Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity’ in response to the Arab democratic upsurge has failed to win public ownership or to support the transitions in the South.

An illustration of this impotence, while no southern country was asking Europe for a regional initiative, no European head of state or government has spoken of the Mediterranean as a regional issue for the Union since 2011. Indeed, during the same period, under the combined effect of triumphant globalization and the rise of populism, the organization of international relations has drifted deeply towards a new order marked by:

  • The general reversal of opinions on the nation-state, perceived as the protective identity cell;
  • Europe’s abandonment of the ‘Community method’ in favor of intergovernmental decisions in the face of the euro area crisis;
  • The establishment of logic of order and the rise of authoritarian (or illiberal) democracies marked by personal government, both in Central Europe and in the Muslim world;
  • The emergence of power states aspiring to a regional hegemonic role, particularly in the Middle East.

Europe paralyzed by populist movements and widespread anxiety

These developments have led to instability and widening economic gaps, as well as the feeling of marginalization of the middle classes. They also foster widespread conflict both within our societies and across borders – through terrorism and crime – and between states through the mire of conflicts with multiple actors, such as Syria since 2012.

This generalized anxiety paralyzes the governments of European countries in their efforts to advance the construction of Europe through collective projects, to the point of casting doubt on the sustainability of the work undertaken and the desire to live together in Europe. Yet the generalized conflict over the two European neighbors and the uncertainties of American foreign policy call for the Union to assume a stabilizing responsibility in the part of the world where its economic, political and human interests are directly concerned.

However, regaining the capacity to define a European neighborhood policy means, for the Union and the leaders of its member states, moving from a short-term, long-term vision and the security agenda to a partnership offer. It also means that the governing parties in Europe will be permanently opposed to the populist movements, fight against the attraction of simplistic theories and denounce the abrupt laxity prevailing in the country which calls into question the achievement of seventy years of multilateral and European construction.

Changing paradigm by addressing four questions

Given the deadlock it has reached, both in the eyes of its voters and in the ambiguity plunged into it by the disagreements of its governors, the Union will not be able to spare itself from resolving four ‘existential questions’ first.

The first concerns the completion of the construction of the euro area: The difficulty of the exercise lies in its technicality which discourages opinions and gives rise to mistrust. Financial consolidation, the creation of a European capital market, the convergence of fiscal policies and the creation of a euro area budget (able to finance new common actions) are, however, essential to ensure the solidity and credibility of the Union for its peoples and towards the countries it wants to include in its foreign policy.

The second ‘existential issue’ is the creation of a genuine European social policy, capable of ensuring the convergence of minimum and social standards and of putting an end to distortions of competition between Member States. Unlike the previous question, this question has the advantage of being intelligible to opinions and of being able to obtain the agreement of as many people as possible. Its solution is, however, hampered by the reluctance of the intermediary social bodies – who will have to learn that Europe is the acceptance of otherness – and of the leaders of the least developed countries who have made social dumping an instrument of economic policy enabling their unemployment to be exported. Convergence of social policies and minimum standards is, however, one of the strongest demands of public opinion in Europe, and a tangible success in this area would have fundamental effects in restoring confidence in the construction of the Community.

The third existential issue is the catching up of the ‘democratic deficit’ attributed to the Union; This deficit is less a reality than a defense system promoted by the national political apparatus. Here again, the recognition by our parties that ‘Europe is not France any bigger’ and that the work done in the European Parliament is not only real, but genuinely democratic would be a great step forward. However, the European symbols defined by the Treaty of Lisbon (Council Presidency, appointment of the President of the Commission, etc.) lack meaning and should be revisited.

“Remaking society” among member countries

Finally, there is the thorny issue of a European foreign and defense policy. So far, the only real European foreign policy has been enlargement; however, this dynamic has eroded with the entry of the Central European countries in 2005-07; this has been poorly handled in domestic politics by the welcoming member states, while the ten new entrants have been more than reluctant to merge into the democratic acquirements of the founding countries. The fragmented management of the migrant crisis in 2015-17 was a painful example.

The prerequisite for a European Neighborhood Policy will therefore, of course, be to “remake society” between parliamentary and authoritarian democracies within Europe itself; undoubtedly, two keys will also be essential to the success of the process: It is a question of assuring the peoples of Europe that the neighborhood policy will be an essential component of their security, but also of involving the neighboring peoples in a political project that offers social hope and economic integration. In other words, the European Union’s opening up to partnership in its neighborhood can only be the result of reconciliation between the Member States on living together and tangible progress on the common foreign and defense policy pivot.

Is it necessary to add, in conclusion, that a similar effort will have to be made by the partner countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean: first, to strengthen their desire to live together around a regional project; then express to the european partner a collective project with converging demands on the economic and social aspects, as well as on the climate and diplomatic objectives for the region.

Article published on 16 November 2018 in Econostrum.

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