Europe is at a crossroads. The political implosion of America’s once most important partner, the unresolved relationship with Russia and China, the economic upheaval as a result of Corona and the uncoordinated handling of this pandemic have led the European Union into a deep crisis.
As in other political and economic, social or ideological structures, the pandemic acts like a fire accelerator in the ailing building of the European Union. Weaknesses and omissions are revealed, old certainties dissolve, ignorance and repression no longer work.
The world we live in has little in common with that of the Cold War, which sank 30 years ago. The forces that determine our present can no longer be tamed by the means and methods of that past. If we want to control them, we have to ask the right questions, even if the answers are inconvenient. With this relentless diagnosis, a first step on the way out of the crisis has also been taken.
It is no coincidence that Europe does not have a common crisis management system in times of a pandemic. Because the health systems were never coordinated, so they are organized nationally to this day. States like Germany benefit from this because they rely on a consistent regulatory policy and therefore do not reject government guidelines from the outset.
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The billion-dollar reserves of the Federal Employment Agency and the statutory health insurances helped with the organization and financing of the first sweeping measures. So Germany went on its way in this serious crisis. The others went theirs. The paths were similar in some respects, but were not coordinated even under the impact of the pandemic.
The same applies to most areas of political and economic life. It can’t stay that way. If Europe wants to have a future, it has to be more than a well-established internal market, largely freed from stationary border controls, with a partially applicable common currency and a properly functioning crisis mechanism. For a “survival of the European project”, which French President Emmanuel Macron urged at the end of March 2020, this is by no means sufficient.
Founding spirit is necessary
What is required is that revolutionary verve, without which the founders 70 years ago would never have put what was then modern Europe on its feet. It certainly makes a difference whether six or 27 or – in the case of the euro zone – 19 partners are to be brought on board. But if you wait until everyone is on board, you postpone the revolution; if Germany does not come on board, it will not take place.
The mountains of credit and debt show that repair work within the existing system is no longer enough. Without a communitisation of debts, which can only be envisaged by reformulating the entire European treaty, this permanent problem cannot be solved. Of course, the further development of a currency union into a fiscal union is not without risk. But if you shy away from that, you shouldn’t even start building Europe.
The conditions under which the Eurogroup promised some of its particularly troubled members the urgently needed support after the severe financial crisis of 2008/9 urge caution today. The drastic budget cuts that they and other institutions demanded from the particularly affected countries in return for lending were ultimately at the expense of the health care system. To let these states fall into such traps again with ever new loans and austerity would be short-sighted.
We Germans in particular should recognize that the southern European countries are more than popular holiday destinations. They are guarantors of the economic stability of Europe. After Great Britain left, almost 53 percent of German exports of goods still go to the countries of the European Union. Countries like Greece, Italy, Spain or France guarantee our jobs and our prosperity. That they hold us jointly responsible for their stability and survival in times of existential crises is understandable.
Reconstruction aid was a first step
Therefore, the decision of the European heads of state and government in July 2020 to finance a little more than half of the so-called Corona reconstruction aid of 750 billion euros through joint borrowing was a first step on the right path. Just as the compromise on the so-called rule of law mechanism of November 2020 was a step forward.
Assuming the approval of Parliament and the Council of the EU, the EU Commission can in future propose to withdraw funds from various European funds from a country if it violates binding principles of the rule of law. So far, Europe has not found the courage to follow these paths consistently. This is not surprising, because the contractual requirements are currently missing.
Europe has no choice. If it does not want to fail irrevocably, some states, including the economic power Germany and the nuclear power France, must take action. That sounds more daring than it actually is. There are precedents. In 1951, six states brought into being the so-called coal and steel union, the nucleus of today’s EU; In 1999, after years of preparation, eleven EU states, including its six founding members, introduced a common currency and thereby renounced an essential feature of nation-state sovereignty. This is one of the reasons why there is much to suggest that the initiative for a new Europe must come from within this so-called Euro Group.
The principles on which the initiators must agree include: the implementation of the majority vote in a format that is based on the failed constitution of October 2004; the possibility of effective sanctions up to and including the exclusion of members who do not comply with common legal provisions or, for example, in the case of jointly incurred debts, fail to comply with decisions of the community; the further development of the monetary union into a fiscal union; the definition of a closed European legal system; the development of a practicable migration and asylum policy; the formulation of a binding and sustainable resource, energy and environmental strategy and, last but not least, a supranational army worthy of the name.
European army with French nuclear weapons
Whoever wants this army must insist that the French nuclear weapons be brought into it. This has so far been categorically ruled out by Paris. Macron’s offer to enter into a dialogue with the European partners about these systems should be accepted. Every step that leads us out of the impasse in which European defense policy has been stuck for 70 years is worth taking.
In the spring of 2020, EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell summed up where we stand against the backdrop of the escalating situation in the Syrian region of Idlib: “We would like to speak the language of power, but at the moment we cannot decide for ourselves. “This helplessness is pathetic. And it’s dangerous. Because without its own, globally operational army, a Europe that is left to its own devices in the event of doubt will neither be able to cope with the future tasks nor will the continent count on American support.
Since NATO, too, has seen its prime in 30 years, such an army is also a crucial prerequisite for transforming the frozen transatlantic alliance into a living partnership. The times in which we Europeans leaned back, let America take care of things and often accompanied American crisis management with arrogant comments are over.
In the foreseeable future, the United States will withdraw from the African and Oriental crisis areas, i.e. from regions of the world whose development is of little importance for it, but of existential importance for Europe.
Against this background, we have no choice but to get involved on the ground massively, possibly also militarily, as the French are currently doing in the Sahel zone.
Germany must not leave defense to others
Because this ties up forces and costs money, Paris twice asked Germany in 2019 whether it could provide capacities for training and supporting special military forces. In relation to the latter, the answer was a smooth rebuff, and that also meant that dangerous missions such as the smashing of the Al-Qaeda leadership in the Sahel zone in spring 2020 were left to others.
Of course, the decision to provide the Bundeswehr with a so-called robust mandate for its foreign missions needs to be carefully examined on a case-by-case basis. But those who basically leave these and other tasks to others not only contribute to the fact that the facade of European solidarity, which has been painstakingly maintained, continues to crumble, but also refuses to recognize that elementary tasks can only be tackled together.
This includes combating the causes that force hundreds of thousands to leave their homes and migrate north. We share responsibility for these causes. Because we knew what was coming. Those who do not believe this should read the report of the Commission for International Development Issues, the so-called North-South Commission, which Willy Brandt, its chairman, presented to the Secretary General of the United Nations in February 1980.
Kill the “monster of Maastricht”
We ignored that. We suppressed it. We thought we could get away with handouts. Today it is too late for strategic preventive intervention in most cases. What remains is the fight against wars and massacres, fires and floods, plagues and epidemics on site: by all means, quickly, specifically, massively and – if there is no other way, as with the fight against terrorism or smuggling crime – military. We Europeans can only achieve this if our common house has a solid foundation.
Which means that the timetable is fixed: first the foundation, then the house. The design flaw of today’s European Union, which was launched in February 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty and cemented in the subsequent treaties, must under no circumstances be repeated. If the initiators want a political union that deserves this name, they have to forego a significant part of their nation-state sovereignty without any ifs or buts.
If they do so, they will inevitably also succumb to the monstrosity of Maastricht, the 250-page compromise with which the heads of state and government did not dare to start again, but instead transferred an outdated order from the divided to the globalized world. The chance that Europe will bring itself to these and other decisions is slim. But there is. We should use it.
The text is a preprint of the book by Gregor Schöllgen and Gerhard Schröder “Last Chance. Why we need a new world order now, ”which is being published by DVA these days.
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