By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
At the end of May (23 -26th of May) European Elections will take place in all 27 EU member countries (except Great Britain), where the European citizens are called upon to elect directly deputies for the European parliament.
In the pre-election phase the mood in Europe is right now wavering between intellectual slackness, a lack of readiness to learn from other cultures (as Mark Siemons wrote in a FAZ commentary 31.03.19), pessimism and cynicism. The citizens of different European countries feel uncertainty that is due to their experience of major geopolitical shifts which will directly impact their future: Unresolved wars in the Mideast, a run- off election in Ukraine, which potentially could lead to a new mixing of cards in the region; more migration from Africa, domestic upheavals in countries like France, which are organized by citizens who feel socially neglected, while they are also being influenced by radical political forces that just want to overthrow the French President. In several European countries people feel unease about the future development of digitalization, artificial intelligence and the use of robotics – and the impact this may have for their future jobs places. Others are destabilized by the constant shifts and trade war threats coming from US president Trump. Hence the European elections will probably be determined by a polarized party spectrum as well as more radicalization on the left and right wing side of societies.
The British debacle and its consequences for Europe
In the center of the presently evolving European election dynamic, there is the endless fight between the EU and Great Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May has been defeated for three times in a row by the House of Commons (Parliament) in the attempt to get a favorable vote from the Parliament on her negotiated Brexit deal (29th of March). The tug war is continuing between Great Britain and the EU – while PM May works on several other options (including a further prolongation for the exit date) to get out of the EU. What is happening is only comparable to a Shakespearean drama: While the British parliament sinks into deep chaos, being incapable to decide, the British political class exhibits an astonishing degree of political blindness and paralysis. It is as if a major part of the elite (the Rees Moog‘s, Boris Johnson’s etc.) are still fighting the rear guard battles of World War II. They look at the world from the standpoint of country side oligarchs, still boasting as the winners of the Great War, seeing the world go to hell while at the same time being unwilling to face reality and find a constructive solution. In an interview with the German Magazine “Der Spiegel”, British historian Ian Kershaw described the situation as “total chaos in Great Britain.” He underlined that there never was the “idea of Europe in Britain” which only joined the EU for economic reasons 1973.”
The harsh reality which has not sunk into everybody’ conscience is –according to a new study by the German publishing house Bertelsmann- that in case of a hard Brexit the British economy will annually lose 57 billion Euro, the automobile sector as the British Chamber of Commerce documents, is already now losing tens of billions of Euro, while also other EU countries like Germany will be hit negatively with losses amounting to more than 10 billion Euro.
Parallel to the events in the United Kingdom, France is gripped for months by the “yellow vest upheaval” which in the recent weeks has become even more violent, with brutal clashes waged against the French Police as well as major material damage perpetrated against buildings of the Paris Champs Elysees. Meanwhile US – President Trump is gloating about the events in France via Twitter and is deploying his Ambassador in Berlin Richard Grenell, to launch intolerable assaults against the German government, accusing the government for not paying its 2% dues to NATO, while threatening German business with sanctions if they don’t follow the US line against Iran as well as German companies with new sanctions if they engage in the Russian gas deal North Stream 2. The same Trump as was reported in the press, would be happy if soon after the European elections the ruling Grand Coalition in Berlin would break apart paving the way for a greenie coalition that from the standpoint of US interests would implement a major Deindustrialization policy.
The need to enter into constructive dialogue with Russia and China
What is clearly lacking in Europe is a foreign policy and security ‘vision’ for the future of the continent. Since the outbreak of the Crimean crisis (2014) Europe has maneuvered itself into an impossible impasse, which is based on a strong “adversarial” attitude towards Russia and a break with what had been in former time a constructive policy also known as “Ostpolitik” toward Russia. Most of the European governments are following blindly the US sanction policy against Russia as well as against China. One major conflict at present is the question how the EU should deal with China.
China President Xi -Jinping on a tour throughout Europe
There is indeed a heated debate conducted in the different European countries how to deal with China and its grand strategic project One Belt/ One Road. During his tour in Europe, Chinese President Xi-Jinping visited Italy, Monaco and France. During his visit in Italy (25. of March) major deals were signed between the Italian and Chinese government. Italy has thus become the first country of the G7 that has joined Chinas One Belt One Road Initiative. The several billion Euro Deal (2,5 billion which could increase to 20 billion Euro) is due to cooperation deals in the infrastructure, involving investments form China in Italian harbors, roads, rail lines, telecommunication networks and airports. Italy is able to export a lot more of its goods to China. The visit in Italy was followed by a visit of President Xi-Jinping to the duchy Monaco where China and Monaco made a deal that makes Monaco participate in the Chinese Huawei 5 G net. In France the Chinese President after meeting with French President Macron signed an agreement worth 30 billion Euro, involving the Chinese purchase of 290 Airbus planes – a clear snub to the US air construction company Boeing. In a joint press conference at the Élysée Palace to which French President Macron had invited German Chancellor Merkel and EU Commissioner Jean Claude Juncker, it was stated by Macron and Merkel that Europe wants to speak with “one voice” vis a vis China and that it is interested at the same time to enter into cooperation with China on an equal basis.
This is an important signal since it occurs before the EU- China Summit April 9. Unlike the previous years there is a lot more criticism voiced in the EU particularly from German representatives (Foreign Minister Heiko Maas) and France not to become lured by China into its “One Belt One road policy”, which is considered by some Europeans as a “system competition”. China has already made major billions of Euro investments in Europe, for example in Greece, Portugal and with different Eastern European countries on infrastructure projects.
In the context of the upcoming European elections there is the danger that Europe is losing itself in senseless and chaotic internal disputes, rather than looking with a vision into the future and engaging in a policy that is going to shape Europe’s future in a constructive way: This includes a constructive German-French cooperation as well as a renewed dialogue with Russia and China and new initiatives on disarmament as response to US cancellation of the INF treaty.
German- French Aachen Treaty – a model for constructive European cooperation
There is one positive signal recently which was the signing of the German- French Aachen Treaty-January 21 – which in a follow up to the groundbreaking Ėlysée treaty (1963) between Adenauer and De Gaulle, presented guidelines for a common security, economic as well as social policy partnership. At the ceremony French President Macron and Chancellor Merkel gave their signatures to a treaty that still has to be ratified by the parliaments.
The treaty preamble underlines that efforts are underway to work towards a social and economic convergence within the European Union, the need to strengthen solidarity and in line with the principles of the European pillar of social rights, aiming at constant improvement of life conditions and work. In Art 3 of the treaty it is stated that: “Both states deepen their cooperation in matters of foreign policy, defense , external and domestic security and development and act in a way to strengthen the capacity of Europe, to act on its own. Art 4 (4) states that both states commit themselves to further strengthen the cooperation between their armed forces in respect to one common culture and common deployments. ( …) It is further stated that the two countries “support the closest possible cooperation between their defense industries on the basis of mutual trust. Both nations will develop a common approach for arms exports (5). Both countries install a ‘German –French Defense and Security Council’ as a steering vehicle for those mutual obligations. This council will meet regularly on the highest level.” According to Art 5 there will be expanded cooperation between the respective foreign ministries, including diplomatic missions and consular representations.
In Art 7 the treaty underlines that both countries “are committed to work for a closely growing partnership between Europe and Africa.”
Aside envisaging a closer cooperation in the framework of the UN, both countries underlined the need for exchange programs between the two countries, especially for young people in the framework of the German- French youth organization. In terms of education they want to increase the number of students learning the partner language, they want to mutually recognize the school leaving certificates as well as create German- French excellency instruments for research, education and vocation education as well as integrated German- French dual degree courses. According to Art 20 “Both countries deepen the integration of their national economies towards a German – French economic space with common rules. Both countries aim at promoting convergence between both countries and improve competitiveness of their national economies.” Aside increasing their cooperation in research areas such as digital change, including artificial intelligence and leap innovations (springboard innovations), the two countries will create a German- French initiative for promoting innovations, which are open for cooperation on a European level.