Europe must not go the way of decadent Venice

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After the No votes in the French and Dutch treaty referendums and even more so after the shameful demonstration of petty national short-termism of the last Brussels summit, summitwhat future can be envisaged likely long term scenarii can be envisaged for the European Union?

The first possible scenario could be described as “the temptation of Venice”; to plagiarise the title of a short book written by Alain Juppé, the former prime minister of France. But in this case, it will not be the individual escape into aestheticism of a disillusioned politician in search of esthetic comfort, but that is, the collective fall into the acceptance of decay by an entire , applied no longer to a city but to a continent. In Europe in the 1790sEurope, the end of Venice was inevitable, not just economically but because its political system and constitution were anachronistic in a world transformed by the French Revolution. Incapable of reform, herself the Republic of Venice had systematically made the wrong choices, politically and diplomatically choices, at every key turning point in the two previous centuries. By the end of the 18th eighteenth century, , while Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion made of its her territory the battlefield of the rivalry between France and Austria, the citizens of Venice had lost any sense of moral energy. the brilliant appearance of the city could no longer hide the vain and vanitous frivolity of a life that had seemingly become a perpetual carnival of both pleasure and yet frustration, as the inequality between the “haves” and the “have-nots” grew. was growing.

Today, witnessing the thousands of middle-class Asian tourists that are invade ing the still magical city-island of Venice, one is seized by a terrible historical comparison. Could Europe , knowingly or not, be on the path to transforming itself herself into the Venice of the global age; the museum relic of a civilisation that once dominated the world and that failed to re-energise itself herself after the traumas of her suicide in two world wars? one and two? World War I and II? Can one say today that, After a frustrated attempt at becoming a world actor, and model , can one say today that is Europe is has resigned itself herself to becoming a museum of a once great civilisation that which has perfected managed to maintained the itssuperior art of living well while working little? Hampered by an her aging population, demographyand its her lack of collective energy and political will, will can Europe also become also a victim of its her lack of belief in the future? Rightly or wrongly, most the majority of east Asians today are convinced that if they are earn $100 today they will earn $120 tomorrow and $140 the day after tomorrow. In most of the majority of the countries of ““Old Europe”, , -“New Europe” such as Poland or the Baltic Republics constituting maybe an “Asian Island of energetic optimism”, the opposite attitude towards the future prevails: a pessimism that leads all too often to is leading too often to an irresistible a tendency for protectionismtemptation.

The second scenario is less radical but is no more t very positive. enthusiastic eitherInstead of turning itself herself into a giant big Venice, a museum for more dynamic civilisations, Europe would become a Magna Helvetia – a big Switzerland. It would be a prosperous continent with pockets of high technological success, successa competitive civilian power that has failed to become a world actor and that compensates for its global political irrelevance with a combination of selfishness and provincialism. Europe would then become a spectator that tries to protect itself from the high clouds of history. But Switzerland remained happily and neutral ly happy in the past 60 sixty years, not only because of its thanks to her geography and the dedication of its her citizens, but because it was surrounded by democratic and benevolent neighbours. But there is no it’s Her example does not constitute a guarantee of of stability for a continent that would decide by default to remains a pure civilian power surrounded however by less placid neighbours.

For some, none of these two first scenarii scenarios do not sound too catastrophic. Do they not allude to Are they not n’t they alluding to a future of peace and relative prosperity? , if not relative geopolitical obscurity?from a “big politics” standpoint? This is an unrealistic prospect in an age of terrorism. The problem for Europe in the Venetian or Swiss hypothesis is that it is no longer – one could say less than ever – in control of its destiny. Like the Republic of Venice in the 18th century, it will be depend ing upon the benevolence t goodwill of more powerful and dynamic world actors, be they Asians or Americans. The beginning of decadence may be a constitute the most charming of period for civilisations but they you do not control the speed of their your own decay.

The third scenario is a much more disquietingone, and could be described as “the revenge of nationalism”. Nothing fails more than success”, would remarked Winston Churchill after his demise from power, right after Britain’s finest hours under his guidance in 1945. Yet nothing divides more than failure. In the entire Europe today, an continent one s senses today the emergence of nasty, populist, jingoistic trends that attack , attacking the very essence of the European construction. European countries are not about to make war on each other but their war of words among them has reached new and destabilising heights. This ese explosions of petty nationalism are reveals ing a one of the structural weakness in es of the European project, one that is largely due to great European leaders of the past such as Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president. whose name is still rightly evoked with a kind of nostalgic reverence. Yet YetIn his absolute opposition to the creation of a European kind of nationalism based on emotion, Mr Jacques Delors left , so to speak, Europe vulnerable to “naked” faced with the assaults ttacks of emotional irrationality. In the French and Dutch referendums, the Yes camp left the weapons of emotion for the sole use benefit of the No camp. had opened a boulevard to the No camp by leaving the weapon of emotions to their sole benefit. Today, , as a result, todayno sense of European patriotism can be mobilised to exert a restrain ing effect on the waves of national jingoism.and populism.

Exposing to the world its the manifestation of her divisive nationalism, Europe will no longer appear as a model, nor will she behave as an efficient actor. In political and strategic terms, the mighty of the world will be tempted to deal with Europe’s nations on a strict bilateral basis.

Of course, There is a fourth and more optimistic scenarioexists. It starts with a successful the relative success of the British presidency and presupposes a compromise between the various visions of Europe held by . of the main European actors. Europe’s success A great leap forward for A European sursautwould be based on a combination of enlightened economic self-interest,– the strength of the euro depending on the world’s belief in the continuity of the European political project – the survival of some form of a European ideal and, above all, a renewal of political leadership in Germany, Italy and France, the key founding members of the Union. It may be paradoxical but For the moment, if anyone someone in Europe has the talent, the conviction and the legitimacy to achieve such a small miracle, it is Tony Tony Blairhimself, the British prime minister. If he fails, the Venetian or Swiss scenarios, not to mention the fall into jingoism, would becomes more plausible.

The writer is senior adviser at the French Institute for International ­Relations

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