segunda-feira, 20 de junho de 2016
A week that will define Europe
A week that will define Europe
Britain’s referendum could remake the EU and the UK. Then four days later, Spain votes.
By PIERRE BRIANÇON 6/20/16, 6:00 AM CET
PARIS — In a few days’ time, the populist conservative Boris Johnson may well be on his way to becoming British prime minister. And the radical left Podemos movement could be close to the reins of power in Spain.
It’s not your father’s Europe anymore.
While neither of those scenarios is a sure thing, the fact that both are even plausible highlights the current state of the European Union. Whatever the results of Thursday’s U.K. referendum on EU membership and Sunday’s Spanish parliamentary elections, European governments and institutions will have to face up to the same sobering reality: Fierce criticism of the EU is the one thing that Europe’s varied populist, insurgent and anti-establishment movements, left or right, have in common.
Spain and Britain aren’t the only countries where traditional politics seems to have been turned upside down. Add to this the strong showing in Italy of candidates from the Five Star movement founded less than seven years ago by comedian Beppe Grillo, one of whom was slated to become mayor of Rome after Sunday’s local elections; polls that put François Hollande in fourth place in the opening round of France’s presidential election next year; and the far-right AfD movement that has shaken up German politics, just one year before general elections, as support for mainstream parties that make up the ruling coalition last month fell below 50 percent in polls for the first time since the birth of Germany’s postwar democracy.
And that’s just on this side of the Atlantic. Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, and Bernie Sanders, who for months harried Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, have upset the American political system.
Should U.K. voters decide to part from the EU, Johnson, the former London mayor and Brexit campaign poster boy, becomes a credible near-term challenger to David Cameron for the leadership of the conservative party. A victory for Leave could also call into question the future of the United Kingdom, stirring afresh demands in Scotland to break away — as well as possibly Wales and, less than two decades after peace broke out on the island, Northern Ireland.
Spain’s Podemos could build on its showing as Spain’s second most popular party to form or participate in a governing coalition, having humiliated center-left party PSOE, which ruled Spain for 23 of the 42 years since the return of democracy after Franco’s death. Podemos also supports Catalonia’s demands for a referendum on independence, which could lead to the breakup of Spain.
So far neither Europe’s governments nor the EU institutions seem to have action plans for scenarios that would have seemed far-fetched only six months ago. Some even think they shouldn’t.
Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have seemed at pains to deny they are planning to meet or talk before the British vote. Seasoned politicians know there’s not much use in thinking too hard about events that by definition will include many unknowns to allow for detailed response planning.
The next day
Paris and Berlin are mulling a swift, joint statement in case of Brexit but the message would be more political than practical, said a French government adviser. Only a few months ago both governments were still talking of an “initiative” to show they still had some sort of EU reform on their mind. Not anymore.
“It would be important to have something to show some common approach, but they can’t have a detailed plan to address something that will be complex with too many unpredictable aspects,” said Bruno Tertrais from the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris.
The need to consult voters is also one of the reasons most governments have given up on the idea that the European Union should be shored up by a new treaty anytime soon.
Given the current mood of Euroskepticism or Euro-allergy — to borrow an expression from former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine — it’s unlikely that any government would choose this moment to push for even more European integration. This time, “more Europe” isn’t being raised as the answer to the EU’s many problems, as in the past.
“I think the whole idea of European federalism has just died and now is the time for EU governments and institutions, which have been so out of touch with voters, to stop, think and reflect: What has gone wrong with the project?” said Charles Grant, the director of the London-based Center for European Reform.
Shoppers fill the main shopping street in Witney, a town in the constituency of British Prime Minister David Cameron
Beyond the consequences for U.K. domestic policy, the immediate concern of other European governments will be to avoid possible contagion and deal with the meltdown in financial markets that might follow a Brexit vote.
EU governments, as always, will rely on their central banks — the Bank of England and the ECB — to deal with the aftershocks in equity or foreign exchange markets, but neither Mark Carney nor Mario Draghi, the men who run those two institutions, respectively, can help them much with the political tremors.
Both Paris and Berlin have already sent signals they would see to it that the practical exit of the U.K. from the EU won’t be easy, in order to deter countries that might be tempted, in the near-to-distant future, to emulate Britain. There is a need to “act fast to avoid other countries starting a similar process,” outspoken French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said Friday in a radio interview.
More fundamentally, EU governments have yet to find a way to “deliver what the middle class expects: economic and social performance, and the prospect that their children will be better off than they are,” said Pascal Lamy, a former European commissioner and World Trade Organisation chief. “That was at the heart of the consensus in years past. Not anymore.”
The British vote has given ideas to politicians across the EU who are eager to show voters they will have a say on the future of Europe.
“In this context the idea that some are benefitting mightily while others are left out is a powerful source of political frustration,” Lamy added, pointing out that themes such as inequality and corruption are as important to the new political movements as opposition to economic austerity.
Part of the contagion risk is the idea of the referendum itself. The British vote has given ideas to politicians across the EU who are eager to show voters they will have a say on the future of Europe.
Ever since people started being directly consulted on the project of an EU Constitution more than ten years ago, the outcome has almost never been good for the European idea. The Constitution was rejected by the French themselves in 2005.
It’s easy for candidates running for office to promise to consult the public if and when they’re elected. But the need to consult voters is also one of the reasons most governments have given up on the idea that the European Union should be shored up by a new treaty anytime soon.
Yet while leading politicians in the EU signal their reluctance to rush toward any further new integration in the aftermath of the British referendum, they’re not clear on what concrete steps they might take. Some of it could be finishing what has been started — such as, for example, the eurozone’s banking union. But even at the eurozone level, which could solidify further into the EU’s hard core if Britain leaves, there is little appetite for new grand schemes: That would only “help revive old-standing differences of approach between France and Germany,” said a European diplomat.
There’s also the question of what role the current EU institutions — the Commission and the Parliament — might play in a new climate infused with Euro-wariness. “There’s a realization that Europe has changed much faster than its conservative, slow-moving institutional bodies,” said Vivien Pertusot from the Institut Français des Relations Internationales.
The CER’s Grant said one of the results of Brexit could be the resurgence of the old French concept of “Europe des patries” (Europe of nations) — with intergovernmental politics taking over from EU institutions and even the smaller EU members, who would be short-changed by decisions larger powers would make together. The EU institutions, he said, must work to recoup their lost legitimacy in producing actual results — on the single market, the digital economy, or the refugee problem.
A year before important national elections in France and Germany, it’s clear that Hollande and Merkel aren’t looking for any bigger ideas.