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Macron Calls for the EU Superstate

Imagine yourself reading an op-ed column for a major Western newspaper. What would you expect it to call a political leader who, challenging assertions that he represents second-rate power, calls for a stronger border to protect his community? Who calls for centralisation of power to protect from foreign competition, the political influence of foreigners, the crisis of global financial capitalism, and great power aggression?

If the political leader is called a defender of the pillars of democracy who stands for unity against demagogues, then you might be dubious of the columnist’s claims. But this is precisely the response that Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European Renaissance has received. Starry-eyed about Macron’s challenge to Brexit, nationalism, and Euroscepticism, his admirers ignore the substance of what the French President is calling for.

Macron’s purpose is to weaken the powers of the European nation-state,  dissolve its frontiers—then centralise these powers and reconstitute these frontiers on a continental scale. The irony of Europhiles is that they replace one form of nationalism with another: “country first”, is out, but “Europe first” is in.

This irony reveals a fundamental ambiguity at the heart of the European project, between the two kinds of justification for European integration on offer since the origins of the project. One kind of justification rested on the rhetoric of cooperation and compromise following the First and Second World Wars. In the past, states competed and even fought with one another. European integration was a way to signal that the rules of the game of international relations were changing—within Europe and outside of it. This project coincides with what Franco-American historian Stanley Hoffmann called the “resigned” nations. These nations accepted their weakness in changed geopolitical circumstances, acquiescing to their economic or military dependence on stronger powers. By prioritising dependence, this version of European integration draws states closely together, pacifying a region prone to conflict. States give up their unrealistic interest-based political ambitions for the sake of a quiet cooperative venture.[1]

The second justification is not to weaken states. Instead, federalists aspired to draw European states together in order to create a new one, a superstate like the United States. On the basis of Europe’s geopolitical position during the early years of the Cold War, where European countries were squeezed between two superpowers and marginalised, federalists concluded that they needed to construct a Western European entity. Turning the bipolar contest of the Cold War into a tripolar contest,  a European hegemon could then wrest strategic advantages from the US and Russia. If the former justification appealed to the “resigned” nations, the latter justification appealed to the “resisters.”[2] The architect of this vision of federalism was the enormously influential businessman and counsellor to princes, Jean Monnet. To be sure, Monnet‘s public relations team preferred to emphasise the first justification rather than the second. But the second justification was especially attractive to French federalists. As Hoffmann observed, the French “looked back to the days when Europe held the center of the stage and forward to a time when Europe might again be an actor, not a stake: the anomaly was the present, not the past.”[3]

These federalists held the cards in the early 1950s, and pushed the most ambitious federalism possible: the elimination of national defence. In 1952, France, Italy, West Germany, and the Benelux countries signed a treaty to create the “European Defence Community” (EDC), establishing a pan-European defence force directed not by national governments, but by a supranational committee.

But the federalists flew too close to the sun. The EDC scheme fell apart over the question of what the ultimate political goal of the European project should be. The urgent priority was security, which entailed U.S. protection and satisfying U.S. strategic interests. The EDC seemed like it was securing both European security and American strategic interests. It made Europe safer from the communist threat by having Europeans defend themselves, and developed a Western European army that could free up American forces for deployment elsewhere–such as in South Korea.. As long as that belief prevailed, the question of the ultimate direction of the European project could be sidestepped.[4]

But others insisted on raising that question. Nation-based “resisters” believed that the federalist “resisters” were misreading the geopolitical situation and drawing the wrong conclusions. For them, the superpower conflict was temporary, not permanent. If the conflict turned into superpower stalemate or even détente, it gave middle powers more freedom to manoeuvre. These resisters contended that the federalists were giving away freedom for the sake of an amorphous political project. The loss of national sovereignty meant not only a loss of control over what direction the European project would take, but a loss of freedom of action to handle foreign and domestic concerns. The ultimate direction Europeans followed needed to foster their freedom, not suppress it. The Gaullists wanted to preserve the resources of traditional French diplomacy and strategy to give the nation-state the freedom to decide what to do at home and abroad. Others, like French Premier Mèndes-France, thought priority should be given to domestic reforms—destined to take a second-place in a Europe fixated on the process of integration. It was his government that discarded the EDC.

The Germans, meanwhile, under the leadership of Chancellor Adenauer, came to believe that if the EDC encouraged American deployment elsewhere in the world, the ultimate political direction of European integration would weaken NATO and jeopardise European security. On the front line of the Iron Curtain, Germany would do nothing to jeopardise U.S. military protection. Moreover, the Germans found the “resister” justification for federalisation troubling. They were more “resigned” than “resisters.” After Wilhelm and Hitler, the goal of uniting Europe as a great power was part of the past that had to be repudiated completely.[5] So while the Germans encouraged economic integration, they gave up on defensive integration. This way they could maintain the submissive political position their past required. In the context of the Cold War, this meant political and military dependence on the United States. The United States, for its part, after pushing for the EDC in the early 1950s, switched to promoting NATO, because it preferred its centralised American command.

In short, the federalist project depended on four controversial assumptions. First, it assumed that modern geopolitics was structured around a superpower conflict, which required the introduction of another major power to improve the international system. Second, it assumed that a united Europe could achieve great power status. Third, it assumed that Europe should integrate politically and economically as quickly as possible. Fourth, it assumed that the foreign and domestic policy concerns of European nations, and the traditional nation-based institutions that handled these concerns, should be devalued, taking second place behind the priority of integration.

The major political players of the 1950s found these assumptions dubious, and believed solutions other than federalisation were more possible and desirable. With de Gaulle in power after 1958 and persistent German misgivings, the federalists were beaten politically. But their problems ran deeper. Reflecting on the period, Hoffmann concluded in 1974 that one should not hope for a resurrection of Monnet’s Europe. “The enthusiasm that propelled it is long gone”, “de Gaulle or no de Gaulle”.[6]

For some time, it seemed that Hoffmann was right. Even if the “integration by stealth”[7] of the 1980s and 1990s challenges his conclusion, the EEC-turned-EU studiously avoided treading down the failed path of the EDC. The treaties governing the use of the EU budget expressly forbid using EU money on defence and security.

But then comes the man who marched into the Elysée to the tune of the European anthem. Macron’s call for a Renaissance of Europe channels the ghost of a typical 1950s French federalist. It is Macron who resuscitates the idea of the EDC, calling for treaty changes to allow supranational institutions to take control of defence. He goes further. The European public is generally sympathetic to the EU for the “resigned” justification, as a successful cooperative venture between states hitherto prone to conflict. But Macron explicitly challenges that view:

Founded on internal reconciliation, the European Union has forgotten to look at the realities of the world. Yet no community can create a sense of belonging if it does not have bounds that it protects. The boundary is freedom in security.

Macron believes that the cooperative venture has made Europe short-sighted. So in a sleight of hand, he shifts the justification for the European project. For Macron, the pursuit of the “resigned” justification has weakened Europe, making it incapable of defending its frontiers. The “resigned” justification has compromised the second justification, that of the “resisters”. “Europe,” Macron teaches, “is not a second-rate power.” He directs the European project away from pacifying a region prone to conflict, and toward creating an entity whose strength will allow it to achieve great power status to challenge other great powers.

Like the federalist “resisters” of the 1950s, Macron sees hostile forces at work beyond the European frontiers—not quite the superpowers of old, but the major powers (grandes puissances). He warns that Europe must become a great power to match the “aggressive strategies of major powers.” To counter electoral “cyber attacks and manipulations”, he proposes vesting power in a new agency of “European experts”, and banning “the funding of European political parties by foreign powers.” Having dealt with the spectre of Russia, he names China and America as challengers to Europe, and calls for “the adoption of European preference in strategic industries and our public procurement, as our American and Chinese competitors do.” Economic interdependence or globalisation is not a hopeful transformation away from interest-based politics. Instead, it requires a stronger self-assertion of Europe’s “strategic interests,” because a country-based understanding of sovereignty is inadequate to meet the challenge. “No one country can be sovereign on their own in the face of the tech giants,” Macron proclaims. European integration, notably its signature project of monetary union the euro, is necessary to resist the “crisis of financial capitalism.”

Macron’s ambitions are bold. It is no surprise that the German Christian Democratic Union, and Alternative für Deutschland, mindful of Adenauer’s legacy, have criticised Macron’s ideas. But we make a mistake if we dismiss his agenda as merely aspirational or a distraction from his domestic troubles. He is deadly serious. Like the federalists of the 1950s, he is playing to win. If his party, LREM, wins substantially in the European parliamentary elections, he shall use that position to intensify his agenda. No longer a stealth project, the superstate is openly declared. Inside and outside its frontiers, its goal is hegemony.

[1] Stanley Hoffmann, Decline or Renewal? France since the 1930s (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), 372-73, 378.

[2] Hoffmann, 373-74.

[3] Hoffmann, 373.

[4] Hoffmann, 374.

[5] Hoffmann, 373.

[6] Hoffmann, 359.

[7] Geoffrey Smith, “Euro-what?” in World Monitor (December 1992), 44-49.

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