terça-feira, 31 de maio de 2016

Hubert Védrine: It’s time for ‘a European pause’

Hubert Védrine: It’s time for ‘a European pause’
An architect of EU integration says the push for more Europe is leading people to reject it.


PARIS — The man who once was the face of French diplomacy — and a key player in European integration for almost 20 years — now says Europe needs a time-out.

Hubert Védrine was François Mitterrand’s trusted foreign policy adviser, and his chief of staff in the last years of the French Socialist’s presidency in the mid-1990s. He went on to become foreign minister under the divided government of conservative President Jacques Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, from 1997 to 2002. He was even approached by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 to serve yet another term as foreign minister.

That means Védrine was a big player in, not a mere witness to, the negotiations that led to the Schengen agreement in 1985, and the launch of the European monetary union in 1990. He had a front-row seat when Germany reunited in 1990, when the USSR collapsed in 1991, and when the euro became Europe’s common currency in 1999. Now, Védrine says, Europe needs a pause.

In a series of recent speeches, articles and interviews that have sometimes infuriated his former comrades on the front lines of European integration, Védrine, now 68, has been pushing the case that it’s time for EU leaders to deal with the growing rejection of Europe by voters and public opinion in general across the continent.

‘If you want people to massively reject Europe, just keep on’
“In most countries today you have 15 to 20 percent of voters who reject Europe altogether, and another 15 to 20 percent that remain die-hard Europhiles. That leaves at least 60 percent in the middle who are what I’d call euro-allergic,” Védrine said in an interview with POLITICO in his office overlooking the rows of trees lining the banks of the Seine, in Paris’ 8th arrondissement. “Yet you see governments and parties all over jumping up and down asking for ‘more Europe, more Europe!’”

If you want people to massively reject Europe, just keep on,” he added.

It may be strange to hear one of the architects of Mitterrand’s diplomacy take such a big step back from the enthusiasm the former president showed for European integration, and the reaction in French political circles has reflected that. Some of his former peers and other Mitterrand confidantes — such as current National Assembly foreign affairs committee chairwoman Elisabeth Guigou, who was once Mitterrand’s European affairs minister — have been especially angered by his recent statements.

But even some of those who disagree with him acknowledge that Védrine has always been lukewarm to the lyrical enthusiasm shown by some about all things European. In 2000, right after his German counterpart Joschka Fischer had proposed further European integration among a hard core of countries willing to move forward, Védrine shot down the idea. “European people, over the centuries, have suffered too much from Pied Pipers who led them to cruel disappointment,” he said.

Realism, not cynicism

A self-styled “realist” in foreign policy, Védrine doesn’t belong to the Wilsonian school of foreign policy. He’s more on the Kissinger line: Countries have interests, they act to preserve them and diplomacy is the art of compromise. Védrine shows little sympathy for those he calls “human-rightists,” such as the man who finally took on the foreign minister job under Sarkozy, Doctors Without Borders founder Bernard Kouchner. And he has little appetite for the ideological crusade he says the West embarked upon after the fall of the Soviet Union. “It’s just not true that the Western model and values appeal to all countries in the world,” he said.

Védrine refutes the notion his views are “cynical.”

“That’s not what realism is about,” he said. In a book out earlier this year, “Le Monde Au Défi” (“Challenge to the World”) he defended the idea that the so-called “international community” doesn’t exist — either in politics or the economy. Nothing can fully transcend national interests, he argues: not post-war ideals, nor post-Soviet illusions, nor the globalized market.

The only area where a common purpose could be found now, he argued, would be on environmental issues. Summits on global warming, or preserving biodiversity, offer the only real opportunities to overcome national barriers, he told me.

Back in Europe, Védrine said, the lyrical approach favored by integrationists “means that you try to shame governments by always complaining about their ‘national selfishness’ etc. But these are legitimate national interests we are talking about.”

The only man in Europe who understands the problem, Védrine said, is Jean-Claude Juncker, the current European Commission president. He said Juncker once told him the story of an EU summit that debated a plan to save water — and of the Commission bureaucrats who got to work without waiting on a plan to regulate the form of shower heads throughout the EU. That’s the type of regulatory zeal the U.K.’s Brexit campaigners denounce as a sign that the EU has gone awry.

The U.K. has all that’s good in Europe, and isn’t involved in the bad stuff — Schengen and the euro. Why leave?’
Other EU leaders also seem to have woken up to the risk of European over-reach. European Council President Donald Tusk told a gathering of the center-right European People’s Party Monday night in Luxembourg that insistence on more Europe was fueling the rise of populism. “Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our Euro-enthusiasm,” Tusk said.

As Védrine sees it, EU governments should solemnly call for “a pause” in further integration. He doesn’t think that a joint European initiative by France and Germany if U.K. voters choose to leave the bloc on June 23 would be useful. “France,” he said, “will not be strong until its economy is repaired, through fiscal discipline and structural reforms on the model of what Gerhard Schröder did in Germany.”

That is bizarre to hear from the former member of a government — Jospin’s — that pointedly and explicitly refused in the late 1990s to join the “Third Way” manifesto pushed by Schröder and U.K. prime minister Tony Blair. But it is no more bizarre than hearing François Hollande similarly laud today the same Schröder reforms on which he poured so much scorn as head of the Socialist Party back then.

True, Védrine wasn’t in charge of domestic politics at the time. But isn’t there a contradiction, I ask him, about the “pause” he’s calling for and his wish for further eurozone integration? “I agree there is one,” he said. “But we need to complete what was only partly done when we started.”

Védrine thinks that the U.K. leaving the union would be a major blow to Europe — and probably prefers to keep in a country that has always been pragmatic about the EU, and steered away from the intellectual approach more common in France or Germany. I ask him as I leave his office: What would he say to a Brexit partisan?

“That he or she is stupid,” Védrine said. “The U.K. has all that’s good in Europe, and isn’t involved in the bad stuff — Schengen and the euro. Why leave?”

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