PARIS — At a time when nationalism is coming back to life across the continent, the pro-European activism of Emmanuel Macron is to be applauded. The emergence of a new sheen of European sovereignty, which the French president regularly calls for, would allow commercial, environmental, banking, digital or migration issues to be dealt with at the appropriate level. Otherwise, citizens will be left to question this elegant but powerless institutional construction — and to make there doubts known at the ballot box.
A majority of Italians, legitimately shocked to have been abandoned by Europe in their dealing with the influx of migrants, have thus just voted to put Eurosceptic parties in power. To avoid the brutal disintegration of the European Union, it's urgent to renew its promise and reinvent its means of action. We must salute our president for this courageous attempt in a context that is anything but favorable.
But sovereignty shouldn't be confused with centralization. Emmanuel Macron's words on May 11 in Aachen, Germany, where he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize, dangerously crosses this line. From the very first sentences, the tone is set: It is the return of the Carolingian dream. And "this dream is that of a desired unity, of concord that triumphs over differences." We are therefore far from the European Union's motto, in varietate concordia, which aims at a dynamic unity, of and with our differences. On the contrary, "a concord over differences' announces a holistic unity, superior to the sum of its parts, eradicating bitterness. In a subtle and at the same time determined fashion, the vision of the Europeanists is drifting from a flexible federal model to a form of European nation-state.
The other 27 member countries have no desire to resemble us.
This conceptual bickering has extremely concrete implications for public policy. It is in the name of this almighty unity that the French president has been hammering home, louder and louder, his wish to achieve a normative convergence throughout the speeches he's been delivering on Europe. In Athens last September, he vowed to "defend social and fiscal convergence, because that is what holds us together." At the Sorbonne two weeks later, he even went so far as to redefine the single market, summoned to "become, once again, an area of convergence rather than competition." That was followed at the Gothenburg Summit by his call for the EU structural funds to be conditional on respecting social convergence. Until last week's coup de grace in Germany, where the convergence even became "democratic," a barely veiled allusion to the desire to financially punish the member states whose domestic policies don't conform to Brussels' ideals.
In Calais' Jungle migrant camp — Photo: Joel Goodman/ZUMA
That the cohesion of the Eurozone requires that it has its own budget to absorb any shocks responds to the law of economics. But the fact that that "convergence" thus applies to all countries and all sectors is the beginning of an attempt at authoritarian uniformization that can only alienate Europe from its own citizens. With all due respect to the French administration, which has been planning this project for decades, the other 27 member countries have no desire to resemble us (to the point that one of those countries has decided to leave). Can we really imagine a labor law designed in Brussels and applied in full by European officials from Amsterdam to Bucharest? Should disgruntled taxpayers have to go to even more distant and obscure commissions to address their complaints?
Not once, in his Aachen speech, did Emmanuel Macron say the words "subsidiarity" or "diversity." Yet this is Europe's strength, and, in my opinion, where its future lies: In allowing, while respecting fundamental rights and market mechanisms, the emergence of a thousand models of governance and social organization, at a national but, above all, at a regional level. Wasn't that the actual meaning of the Carolingian Empire, which decentralized the management of day-to-day affairs to hundreds of different counties?
Since Macron's party En Marche has launched a vast initiative to gather the wishes of citizens about Europe, here is my contribution: Yes to sovereign Europe; but convergence, no way! We wish to be united, not identical. Our model must be the multiple empire rather than the homogeneous nation-state. Let's not make the mistake of imposing French Jacobinism on our neighbors. In varietate concordia!