Europe : the solution which became the problem


After the Maastricht Treaty, the conservative bourgeoisies of Europe were not worried. They understood that the successive treaties made it possible for them to establish their hold on the modalities and orientations regarding the construction of the European Union. The road was free at the time to promote “undistorted” free trade, to put public services in competition with the private sector, to relocate, to devastate employment areas. Overall, it was about questioning all the social achievements built up since 1945 and presented as slag or roughness, obvious obstacles to the adaptation of a continent to the onslaught of globalisation that was overwhelming the planet.

Europe did not go against it. On the contrary, Europe created the most advanced form of a continent where never before had so much sovereignty been granted to supranational forms and where economic and financial interdependence had never been so developed. Instead of being a protection against globalisation, Europe became its laboratory. The horizon of aspiration had to be demarcated. Reforms and Constitutions were thus supposed to transform the continent and allow its bourgeoisies to enjoy a peace of mind guaranteed by entering the “circle of reason”. An all-risk insurance policy was taken out, accompanied by a “reducer of uncertainty”. The political pendulum was finally going to swing quietly between centre-left and centre-right. Politicians could thus pursue the same policy while pretending to oppose each other.

But this European solution shattered under the reticence and resistance and its divisions on the horizon of aspiration. The Maastricht referendum and especially the referendum on the European Constitution in 2005 were a harbinger. Moreover, they revealed new dividing lines that no longer overlapped with those traditionally established. For the most part, these rifts continue to exist and are at work in political society. All the facts accumulated since then – ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the decision of the British Brexit, the attitude towards Greece and its president Tsipras, the impossibility of reaching a common position on migration – show that this construction inspires more and reluctance expressed in a disorderly manner. The firmness of Brussels in the face of any deviation is now acknowledged and we should not be surprised by the troubles opening up on all sides of Europe, in the East, North and South.

Faced with what the form of this authoritarian European liberalism represents today, new regimes are emerging, described as illiberal democracies – regimes that are democratically elected but do not respect the rules of power-sharing or even political freedoms – have emerged and are eroding Brussels’ authority. Arm wrestles are occurring with Poland and Hungary and winning over old Europe like Italy against the backdrop of a Brexit that never ceases to destructure British political life. Openly anti-European parties, taking advantage of this “window”, no longer hesitate to invest the European Parliament to weaken the whole from within. It is a slow decomposition that is in the offing. So goes Europe, which can no longer play as confidently as before the best protection against social change.

Will its leaders dare to ask the forces of social progress, whose programmes they have done their utmost to prevent, to help them today to combat this new threat? In short, now invoking another danger, will they ask for the help of those who have been broken and reduced? This Europe, which would offer such a trapping choice, would then become a real problem.

Director of the review Recherches Internationales

This column is produced in editorial partnership with the review Recherches internationales to which many academics and researchers collaborate and whose field of analysis is the major issues that are shaking up the world today, the challenges of globalization, the struggles of solidarity that are taking shape and appear to be increasingly inseparable from what is happening in each country.

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