Let us face facts: the European project is in trouble. With the growing threat of terrorism, the refugee crisis, lacklustre economic growth and unemployment, the turmoil in Europe is unprecedented.
Added to these, the Brexit vote deeply questioned the very meaning of Europe. In future talks, the UK will have to decide if it wants to remain part of the single market. If so, it will have to continue to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services and people.
The other 27 member states of the EU have two options (this was the subject of my debate with Jean-Claude Juncker at the Jacques Delors Institute last week): either we give up and leave the European project to a slow but certain death, or we transform the EU. This is the only way forward. But we cannot transform Europe if we do not first change our state of mind.
Europeans tend to shy away from patriotism — from national patriotism, for obvious historical reasons, but also from European patriotism: there is popular mistrust, a feeling that the EU infringes upon each member state’s sovereign power. We need better to assert our European identity, based on shared values of freedom, tolerance, peace and equality, including between men and women, on a shared civilisation and on culture, and based on the notion that we have a responsibility extending far beyond our own borders. I strongly believe there is room for a European patriotism that does not negate national ones but reinforces them.
Reasserting our European identity also means coming to terms with the fact that there are borders — that Europe starts and stops somewhere.
Too often the EU has appeared to be preoccupied with unnecessary regulation. Transforming Europe also means that member states must henceforth focus on the essentials, primarily defence and security — in Europe, of course, but also in the neighbouring region of the Middle East. The French army is already doing more than its fair share: it cannot remain the de facto European army forever. France expects Europe to implement a common security strategy, with fully operational border guards and an electronic system for travel authorisation of the kind already operated by the US. The time for innocence is gone.
Finally, transforming Europe means making a clear choice to foster growth that does not only depend on the European Central Bank’s monetary policy. Europe must finance new projects and invest in digital and environmental innovation more than it does already. These sectors must be enabled to grow and to face competition from countries that have no scruples about protecting their own industries. The time for naivety is over.
For this reason, the negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership cannot carry on as they have been. If the EU is to grant market access to American companies, there has to be reciprocity. Europe is the largest trading power and will not back down. An agreement between the US and EU would of course be a great opportunity. But it must be balanced and benefit both sides. An appropriately balanced deal with Canada is imminent.
Pro-growth policy should also include putting an end to abuse of the rules on “posted workers”, which currently allow companies to send employees temporarily to other member states. Posted worker status cannot be used as an excuse to pay people less or deprive them of their employment rights.
The European market must not be a social jungle, where people are set against one another. Nor can it be a tax jungle. It is unacceptable for multinational companies to do everything in their power to avoid paying tax in the countries in which they make profits. The recent ruling of the European Commission on Apple’s tax affairs was courageous and welcome, therefore. At the same time, member states must progress towards common European tax rates. If not all 27 countries are ready to do so, then we must move forward with those that are.
These are the proposals France has put forward to transform Europe. It is now up to the EU to act on them quickly. Member states compete with large, developed and emerging nations. A strong Europe is essential if they want to carry weight on the world stage.
We cannot build a “United States of Europe”— each country has its own history, language and culture. But we can construct a sovereign Europe, a federation of nation states, strong and unashamed. We will not be the generation that buries the European project. We owe it to our young, who, for the most part, remain deeply attached to the European project. So are we.
The writer is prime minister of France
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