A good article in yesterday’s Le Monde by former French foreign minister, Hubert Védrine. He points out that in the discussion around the ongoing Eurozone crisis, more federalism is viewed as a natural and common sensical step forward. Any resistance is disdainfully regarded as little more than anachronistic national atavism. That doesn’t mean federalism will happen, but it does mean that its critics appear as irrational and behind the times. Védrine takes issue with this given that on paper and in practice further moves away from national sovereignty are by no means so self-evident: deregulated financial markets were part of the cause of the present crisis and those stepping in to shore up the international economy are national governments disbursing money raised in taxes on national citizens.
In this debate, we are reminded of the name given to those who in 1982-1983 urged France’s François Mitterrand to give up on the European Monetary System’s fixed exchange rate and pursue a narrowly national solution to the economic crisis. They were dubbed ‘the Albanians’ – a sign that even then, in the early 80s, anything resembling a resolute defence of national sovereignty in economic affairs looked like the actions of a tinpot Maoist regime.
Védrine’s argument chimes with a wider debate in France around globalization. In another op-ed piece in Le Monde, Sciences Po professor Zaki Laïdi described the idea of “de-globalization”, floated by some leading figures of the French left (such as Arnaud Montebourg and Jean-Luc Mélenchon) as economically inefficient and politically worrying. A similar complaint had been made by World Trade Organization director, Pascal Lamy, for whom the idea was “reactionary”.
It is easy to dismiss an idea by calling it old-fashioned and out-dated. Védrine’s point still stands: isn’t it bizarre to call for more political union in Europe when there is so little support for the EU among citizens? Angela Merkel’s problem from the beginning of the Eurozone crisis has been to square her support for the EU bail-out packages with a predominantly skeptical German population. One of the reasons that Eurozone governments have proceeded so cautiously has been their desire to avoid introducing measures that would require modifications to existing treaties. That would mean national ratification by parliaments or peoples – something all Eurozone members want to avoid as they know the results won’t be pretty.
The French sovereignty wars reflect a deeper crisis in European economic governance. Conflict today plays out as much between disenchanted national populations and their respective political elites as between individual nation states. More federalism may be the preferred solution of markets and technocrats but it has little to offer those concerned about democracy.