Europeans are distancing themselves from the United States and are seeking an alternative solution to the Euro-Atlantic scheme facing multiple dilemmas. Addressing this fundamental question, Professor Georges Prevelakis* suggests that Europe is an Archipelago, presenting universal openness and polycentrism. Thus the Mediterranean rediscovery of Europe will prompt it to become a bridge and a link between East and West
Greek Business File – June, July, August issue
Exactly a century ago, after the First World War ended, Paul Valιry raised the question of the decline of Europe: “Will it be transformed into what it really is, namely, into a small promontory of the Asiatic continent?, he asked. This year is the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Institut franηais des rιlations internationales, one of the leading think tanks in the world. The Institute ’founder, Thierry de Montbrial, warned on the occasion of the anniversary that unless the European Union changed course, it was threatened with extinction. In the same talk he called upon the members of the European Union to undertake the task of collective psychoanalysis – to lay on the table not only their thoughts but also their arrière-pensées.
The idea of the United States of Europe
Dramatic variations of the European question have been asked at either end of these two warnings. As a response to anxiety over European decadence, Richard von Couvenhove-Kalergi and Aristide Briand in the 1920s introduced the idea of the United States of Europe. Hitherto held up as a model for the United States of America, Europe thus acknowledged the American spiritual hegemony. This idea provoked intense reactions. Some characterized it as reactionary; others saw it as a danger to world stability. These objections reflected the fear that a United States of Europe would give rise to a federation of capitalist and colonialist forces bound to oppress the rest of the word. This would lead to the formation of antagonistic geopolitical systems, condemned to continual world wars. Others argued that a United States of Europe was an impossibility, inasmuch as the substructure of European history and geography was radically different from that of America. The peoples of Europe could not accept centralization or the levelling of their identities.Twentieth century history bore out this criticism. Hitler tried to unite Europe by force in a purely reactionary undertaking. The United States halted this eff ort, at the same time proving its unfeasibility. The Stalinist undertaking that followed along the same lines was thwarted by the reaction of the Americans—and the resistance of national identities.
Europe in the Cold War and beyond
During the Cold War a distinctive scheme of European convergence took shape, although it was far removed from the rationale of Briand and Kalergi. Only a part of Europe was united, albeit mainly economically; the rest of Europe – behind the Iron Curtain – was subject to Soviet domination. Western Europe was integrated in a broader Atlantic system, the defensive function of which was determined by the United States of America. Cold War Europe was a composite network open to the world, not a centralized and inward-looking continent. American world domination became quasi-absolute after the end of the Cold War. It is true that the economic dynamism of Europe and the reunification of Germany created a climate of European self-confidence, which once again fostered the idea of a European federation. However, during this period all significant geopolitical options, despite the progress of the European Union, were determined by the United States.
Today the European Union has become aware of the consequences:
- Euro-Atlantic expansion towards the east has revived Russian nationalism, poisoning the European Union’s relations with its powerful neighbor, on whom it depends for its energy security.
- The massive expansion of the European Union has increased heterogeneity and has multiplied its internal disagreements and tensions, resulting in today’s serious challenges to political cohesion.
- The two Gulf Wars, and the second one in particular, have contributed to the destabilization of the Middle East and created the issue of political Islam, with the concomitant threat of terrorism in Europe, waves of migrants, and the rise of extreme right-wing tendencies.
- Lastly, unbridled economic globalization, together with rapid technological developments, have laid the groundwork for economic and social crises within the member-states of the European Union.
During the same period, i.e. the thirty years since the end of the Cold War, China has vigorously endeavored to regain the ground it had lost since the 15th century, when it was an equally powerful world pole in Europe. The European Union is having an existential crisis on account of these developments. At the same time the United Kingdom has opted to withdraw from the Union, and President Trump is turning against Europe.
The new plan of the United States of Europe
It is no surprise then that for the first time since the Second World War, Europeans are distancing themselves psychologically from the United States and the Anglo-Saxon world and are seeking an alternative solution to the Euro-Atlantic scheme. Using different terminology, certain European intellectuals and politicians have re-intro duced the plan of the United States of Europe. They propose:
1. the setting up of an autonomous and unified defense;
2. the deepening of economic and banking unification;
3. the development of a unified European foreign policy;
4. clear and definite demarcation of Europe’s territory and borders;
5. protection from the flow of immigrants;
6. control of foreign investment and foreign commercial penetration;
7. protection of the autonomy of European technology.
The French-German axis
The heterogeneity of Europe and the frequently contradictory networks of dependence and objectives of the member states rule out the political convergence presupposed by these aims. For this reason, a new idea is being suggested: a European Union dominated by a nucleus built around the French-German axis. This new plan is simultaneously reactionary, unfeasible, and dangerous. It envisions a continental imperial Europe with an authoritarian relationship between the member-states of the Centre and those of the Periphery. If established, this version of Europe will immediately have to face the Russian dilemma. If, as will probably happen, Germany pursues a dynamic Ost Politik, the ‘Common European House’ – the nightmare of the United States of America – will be revived, thus mobilizing all American forces against it. If, on the other hand, ‘Fortress Europe’ excludes Russia, this will create a volatile front on its eastern borders. Either way, this European course of action will threaten stability. At the same time the defensive and phobic logic of ‘Fortress Europe’, combined with tendencies of economic and demographic protectionism, will aggravate a series of problems linked to the rising commercial and economic power of China and the demographic dynamic of Africa.
An impossible dilemma
Europe seems to be trapped in an impossible dilemma: either it must continue on its course of slow but steady decline and decomposition, confirming the predictions of Valéry and Montbrial; or it must once again pursue the vision of continental unifi cation in an eff ort to become a geopolitical and geo-economic assemblage on the model of the United States—with all the dangers and uncertainties entailed by this eventuality. The European quandary is the consequence of the spiritual influence exercised by America during the twentieth century. The experience of the continual successes of the United States has alienated Europe from its sources, making it forget its particular character. Many Europeans nowadays proclaim the detachment of Europe from the United States of America. It is ironical that the model they propose is American. In the face of an American continent they envision a European continent.
Europe is an Archipelago
Europe, however, is not a continent, much less a ‘promontory of the Asiatic continent’. Europe is an Archipelago. Far from being monolithic, it is characterized by the multiple fragmentation of its territories and the interpenetration of land and sea. As against introversion and centralization, it presents universal openness and polycentrism. If these traits are ignored and opposite values adopted, failure and destruction will follow. European history is made up of a succession of changes of scale which do not affect its basic geopolitical traits. The polycentric, open and culturally unified Greek world is the starting point of Europe. Through the Italian Renaissance, modern Europe, full of contradictions, conflicts, creations, discoveries, anxieties, and tragedies, has produced the world we live in. The practical mass spirit of America capitalized on European ingenuity and imagination throughout the history of the North American continent. It has always needed European inspiration. But how can Europeans find a geopolitical way out, making use of their Mediterranean traditions and heritage? If new forms are to be devised, it is necessary to understand world developments. A great historical circle is closing, the origins of which go back to the Sacking of Constantinople and the concurrent destruction of the Chinese fleet and the European religious wars two centuries later. World domination by the West, centralized territorial-political structures, and a material and mass approach to power which characterized the period now ending, have given way to a new balance of world power, reticular structures, and the increasing influence of non-material factors such the internet or the traditional factor of religion.
The new tendencies
The construction of Europe had to deal with various kinds of nationalism as its main foe. Today, despite the resurgence of extreme nationalist tendencies, the dual conflict ‘Europe vs Nationalism’ is outdated. The issue of identities is becoming much more complex, with the rise of regional identities such as that of Catalonia, and the politicization of religious ones. Migrations and technological progress favour the return of Diasporas which twentieth century nationalism suppressed or even destroyed. Large cities are gaining autonomy from the hinterland and are being organized in the form of networks. Europe must heed these tendencies, which suit its particular character. It must continue to be a non-homogeneous and open system pervaded by unifying networks of various forms, which include the institutions of the European Union. What precedents can inspire this composite European structure in the future?
The Christian world has three different traditions. Catholicism secures unity through centralization, Protestantism tends to the opposite pole while Orthodoxy is situated between the two. Although it does not lack an overarching incentive to coordination, Orthodoxy is characterized by various regimes of autonomy on different geographical scales. On a local level bishops exercise centralized power. The administrative polymorphy of the Orthodox world makes it inscrutable and often opaque. But thanks to this, Orthodoxy achieves greater unity than Protestantism and more flexibility than the Catholic world. Europe needs this kind of flexible unity.
This might be achieved through the emergence of geographical units within the framework of an expanded Europe not limited to the European Union. Far from being excluded, participation in more than one regional unit will be encouraged. The resulting European network will resemble the interlocking circles that are the trademark of the Olympic Games. For example, Greece will be a member of both the Balkan and the Mediterranean circle. This interpenetration will create the necessary articulation for the unity of the whole. The advantages of the European Union structure are, of course, undeniable. But it will be necessary to strike a balance so as to prevent the unifying tendency from creating centrifugal forces. Some of the Union’s powers will perhaps have to be transferred to the new regional institutions. At the same time, for matters requiring collective means and information, such as the war on organized crime, it will become necessary to set up collective structures with increased autonomy. For various reasons, world developments strengthen the local scale. The networks of local entities must be fostered in order to form a more unifying fabric.
*Georgios-Stylianos Prevelakis, Professor of Geopolitics, Panthéon-Sorbonne University