Why the EU needs to flex its collective muscles to shape globalisation


FRANCE:In this financial crisis, what hope has Europe of acting as a world power? A symposium at UCC will consider the question and Lara Marlowe, in Paris, spoke to two participants

IRELAND MAY apprehend domination by big powers within Europe, but the French have long advocated the projection of European power.

That's the view of Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, the international lawyer and author asked by the French government to lead a six-month report on Europe and Globalisation". (English version published by Peter Lang Publishing Group and available on www.euroworld2015.eu).

Cohen-Tanugi's study began by assessing the disappointing results of the Lisbon 2000 agenda, which was supposed to have made Europe the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world by 2010.

Its two great weaknesses, he says, are its "soft method of co-ordination", because it depends on the goodwill of member-states, and the lack of an external dimension.

He believes Europe must act collectively to shape globalisation, not watch passively as the continental-scale nation states - India, China, Brazil, Russia and the US - overtake the EU.

"No member states, not even the largest, can compete with China alone. So Europe needs to get its act together and relate to the other huge entities, which are nations, which is a big advantage for them.

"Some are authoritarian nations, which is even more advantageous from the point of view of getting the nation moving in a single direction."

Europe is only strong when it is united, Cohen-Tanugi continues.

"Where does Europe count in the world? In monetary policy. We have a European Central Bank and a single currency. In competition policy, where the commission can prevent a merger between two companies, as happened with Honeywell and General Electric a few years ago. There is real power only where there is integrated policy, implemented by an institution with power."

Energy is a prime example. "Every major power in the world has energy as a key part of its foreign policy. Europe is the biggest economic power, and it doesn't have an energy diplomacy. That cannot last," he says.

In Cohen-Tanugi's vision of a powerful Europe, there is no room for national referenda on complex issues.

"If there is a need for direct democratic approval, then let's do a Europe-wide referendum," he argues.

"Right now, Irish voters, who represent less than 1 per cent of the European population, are holding everything back. You can't call that democracy."

Europe's "original sin", Cohen-Tanugi says, was not to have agreed in advance on the (European) project.

"There was maybe an agreement in the beginning, but then we enlarged and enlarged and enlarged . . . There has been no real agreement on what the goal is. Now you have 27 countries with veto power.

It's totally unreasonable. We should never have done that.

We should never have let in countries that did not share the same goal."

Like Cohen-Tanugi, Thierry Chopin, research director at the Robert Schuman Foundation and a professor at Sciences Po in Paris, faults European leaders for being so afraid of public opinion that they evade political issues. Governments pay for the lack of continuous learning about

Europe when referendums are rejected.

"We must inform people more continuously, more politically," he says.

"You don't interest people by telling them, 'Europe is good'. You have to show what is at stake."

As examples, he cites the French government's failure to inform the public about the Bolkestein directive on services, which helped to sink the constitutional treaty, and the absence of explanation about the current liberalisation of the French post office.

Chopin believes Europe should be a political - not only economic - actor in globalisation.

But, he adds: "This is a very French vision of things, and it is not shared by all EU members."

A differentiated Europe, possibly outside the framework of treaties, may be the only way to resolve the gap between EU members who want to make Europe an actor in globalisation and those who do not.

"Since the beginning, Europe has achieved big projects without the participation of all," Chopin notes.

Recent examples include the euro, the currency of 15 of 27 members, the border-free Schengen zone, and the European space programme.

No EU projects have been carried out under the provisions for enhanced co-operation outlined in the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty.

On a second Irish referendum, Chopin says: "If the Lisbon Treaty does not enter into force, the dynamic of European construction will be broken. The EU has spent 15 years working on reforming its institutions.

"That's a huge amount of energy and political will. Can you throw away such a political investment without collateral damage?

I don't think so."

Lisbon would transfer a great deal of political and budgetary power from the European Council (heads of state and government) to the European Parliament, Chopin notes.

"Lisbon would give meaning to European elections. The No camp in the French and Irish referenda argued that Europe was too technocratic and does not reflect the will of the people. It's a huge paradox that a text that would make the Union more democratic has been rejected in the name of democracy."

The UCC symposium on Wednesday is sponsored by the Alliance Francaise and the French EU presidency. Participants include Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and European academics and statesmen.