European construction is challenged by a global development in which force is increasingly taking precedence over law. There are many examples of this. Turkey, like China, is deliberately flouting the law of the sea, Russia is deliberately violating its international commitments concerning the use of chemical weapons, and the United States is exploiting the law for the benefit of its companies.
Until now, Europe has remained the empire of law. The European Union was the inventor of human rights, built by law and for the right of the European peoples to live in peace, which is why it has been rather rigid in the application of its law. It has sometimes been criticised for this.
The British, in an act that makes no sense for those who claim to be a great nation, have openly and deliberately reneged on their commitments in Europe, signed less than a year ago, and are calling into question the divorce treaty that binds them to the European Union.
The European Parliament itself, the common legislator, is breaching the European treaties by refusing once again to sit in Strasbourg on the pretext of a virus that is just as active in Brussels as it is in the Alsatian capital of legal Europe. In so doing, it is proving that those, including federalists, who are calling for the European institutions to have a single seat, are right. Moreover, if they were logical and honest in their integrationist commitment, they would also demand that Belgium cede the sovereignty of the European quarter of Brussels to the 27 Member States. It is indeed not normal for the headquarters of the common institutions to be located in the capital of a State and what happens there is under the jurisdiction of Belgian law. The history of federalism reminds us how Washington, Ottawa, Brasilia, Abuja and many other capitals were born of this desire for independence with regard to local law and for the benefit of law drawn up in common.
The law is regressing everywhere and this is a challenge for Europe.
Covid-19 provides an opportunity to restrict freedoms in the name of health by prolonging unconvincing exceptional restrictive measures over time. To do this, fear is being spread and, alas, it works.
We have already witnessed anti-terrorist legislation encroaching on liberties, parliaments banning their members from being present, French judges abusing telephone tapping, Italian leaders refusing to help shipwrecked people.... We are now seeing great powers practising the politics of the fait accompli, freeing themselves from the constraints of international law, and thus depriving Europeans of years of building civilised relations between nations. The latter should not waver in their attachment to the law. MEPs should think twice before stepping into this tangled web.
The European continent must remember that only the law guarantees freedoms and protects it from excesses. Any violation, "even if it is specific and limited", as one British Secretary of State put it, brings Europe back to its most dangerous inclinations and makes the tyrants who challenge it - Chinese, Russians, Belarusians or Turks - happy. If Europe does not remain, by virtue of the law, the guardian of liberties and the example of pluralist democracy, who will?