2014 has brightened the horizon for the European Union
With the institutions elected afresh, new policies to revive the economy and also a new strategic context, the situation that Europeans find at the start of 2015 has changed considerably. Will this be the year of recovery? How far will it be possible to say: "Europe is back?"
The common institutions have changed.
Jean-Claude Juncker's work programme heralds a real break with the past: with less regulation, he has done away with 83 draft bills and only retained 25 which focus on what is vital: reviving the economy. His plan is innovative because, for the first time, the Union's budget will be contributing and will be managed by the European Investment Bank, far out of the reach of national political clientelism. The 315 billion euro that have been provided for might possibly be doubled, if the Member States deign to join in and participate in the newly created Investment Fund.
Donald Tusk's first steps as the new permanent President of the European Council seem to have been the right ones. The heads of State and government must set the general direction and no longer lose themselves in negotiations over turgid communications and impossible arbitration. He has also made a successful entry into office.
European Parliament, whose strength lies in the fact that it is the only institution to be elected by direct suffrage, now seems to be entering maturity and should be able to restrain its legislative zeal and create a true area for political debate and express the voice of the people. The hype created by the extremists, which together only comprise 25% of the MEPs, might help unmask them and reveal their true face: heaps of demagogy, tons of xenophobia, too unrealistic, too few proposals.
After vital fiscal consolidation, made necessary by 20 years of credit spending - after structural reforms demanded in the wake of the free distribution of pleasant, but debt-financed advantages, the time has now come for investment-financed recovery. Of course, not all European States have followed the same path. Indeed France and Italy are struggling to complete the second stage, but no one is questioning either the approach or the logic of these three phases which correspond to European reality.
Yes, austerity for everyone at the same time has affected growth negatively! But another policy - i.e. the one of easy money - is not possible as long as the Member States are against totally integrating their budgets and economic policies. Individual, national fiscal policies might have worried investors and condemned these countries to bankruptcy. The Latvians, the Irish, the Greeks, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Cypriots know this better than anyone else. Recovery as suggested by the European Commission is perspicacious and well adapted because it privileges the future. Investment means preparing Europe's return. But the States have to play ball.
No one knows - himself included - whether Vladimir Putin will finally be one of the new Fathers of Europe! He has done everything possible for the Europeans stand together against the first challenge made to the continent's borders since the Second World War. Together they refused to break off dialogue with Russia which must remain a privileged partner of Europe, of which it is part. But the financial crisis, which is now affecting it shows that our leaders have succeeded in taking a firm stance. They have given the Russian leaders a chance not to flee their responsibilities again, via the simplistic solution of the wildest form of nationalism. In another era, without the European Union, the continent would have become embroiled in hot conflict. We now have to bring the Russian war in Ukraine to an end and leave room for the expression of reason and common interests.
Wars of religion, in which some would like to involve the whole world, are just as dangerous. The European Union has been called upon and it has to respond. Its values of freedom and democracy attract populations because they are respectful of the individual more than any other political system. But Europe has to organise their defence and promote them independently, autonomously and in a credible manner.
The defence of Europe is still a problem for a continent that has believed in eternal peace because it had in fact achieved it in one of the most unlikely places: at home. Several Member States demonstrated their determination in 2014 and many became aware of the topicality of the adage si vis pacem para bellum as they announced the end of demilitarisation.
2015 offers us a new aspect of a world in full transition, in which uncertainty prevails. It feeds the fears that any extraordinary periods generate - but it is now that the future is being prepared. Nothing can be taken for granted: not the emerging States - India and Brazil for example - which are experiencing real problems nor the producers of raw materials, who are suffering the volatility of resources which they believed guaranteed, nor the most cunning, who believed they had found refuge in tiny undetectable tax havens. The future is being now being laid down as the major world issues often remind us: immigration, trade, cross-border crime, and environment. The world has to learn to forge its future by cooperating again.
In this context the European Union is just one step ahead - it is accustomed to supra-nationality - and is also lagging somewhat behind - since it still has not completed everything that this implies.
Just as the quest for identity is turning into a general claim everywhere, Europe has to be able to decide what can be shared - in this case economic efficiency - and what cannot for the time being - i.e. cultural identity, the result of ancient histories in which populations find comfort. In 2015 it has to continue economic integration, which during the crisis, was and still is and will always be a guarantee for its resistance to the storm and its passport for the future. It has to be able to set major, common, strategic goals which protect its world interests.
The promotion of the democratic, representative model is part of this. Just as an example, it has to be aware of world realities: the oceans comprise 70% of the planet which are used for most of the world's trade and travel and where tomorrow's mineral resources lie. The Union is the world's leading maritime power thanks to the range of its exclusive economic zones but how long can it continue to ignore this?
Defending Europe's interests firstly means being able to defend itself and we know the reticence felt and even the division of European opinion over this issue. However several of them have decided to re-invest in defence which is a real novelty and which might lead to new developments as long as they do it independently, in other words, between Europeans.
We cannot judge the extent of European unity for the time being but it has to be assessed in the long term. If we look carefully, Europe's successes are indeed real. But whilst for the last six years it has faced some unique difficulties, the burning obligation to complete unification is more urgent than ever before. Let's hope our leaders will be able to move on to a higher level and by doing this contribute to writing some more pages of history.