AFP PHOTO / ECPAD / NICOLAS-NELSON RICHARD
Paul N. Goldschmidt is a former director at the European Commission (1993-2002) and a member of the Advisory Board of the Thomas More Institute.
Though the decision of President Hollande to intervene militarily in Mali is benefitting from a wide political consensus as well as the support of a majority of the French public opinion, the debate in the media is focussing on the isolation of France, despite the endorsement of the UN and some minimal support offered by some NATO and EU allies.
Several well identified questions focus on, among others : the inevitability of the intervention on humanitarian grounds and specifically the presence of 6000 French nationals in Mali; the difficulties to define precisely the mission and consequently the criteria for disengagement; the disenchantment that will inevitably set in with the prolongation of a conflict of undetermined duration; the need for a coherent approach in the war against the twin “terrorist”/“radical Islamic” involvement (Syria/Mali) and last but not least, the limited French military capabilities having to rely on “logistical” support in the areas of transport, intelligence and equipment.
Even if the debate remains, for the time being, largely an internal French affair, it is clear that the Malian conflict is of strategic importance for the whole of Europe insofar as the war against terrorism extends beyond French borders and that a rogue State in the centre of Africa cannot be tolerated.
The result is an acceleration of the debate surrounding EU “Defence” which, in any case, was slated to be an important component of the EU work program for 2013. Indeed, the incapacity of an individual Member State to deal single handed with such an emergency is patent, while, simultaneously, the difficulties of the EU to act together is once again obvious for all to see.
This crucial subject calls for the establishment of a European “federal” approach to deal with its defence needs. It raises the same questions of “sovereignty” which already pollute the debate surrounding elements of a “federal EU” (Banking Union – EMS – Budget/own resources and indebtedness of the EU/EMU, etc.) as well as the debate concerning the cohesion of the EU itself with regard to separatist claims (Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, Lombardy…) or demands for renegotiation of Treaty obligations (U.K.).
If, intellectually, one could envisage arriving at an acceptable specific solution for each of these matters taken in isolation, it is, on the other hand, totally unrealistic to believe that a global agreement can be reached without considering an approach that ensures coherence between all matters under discussion. Thus a “federal” defence is difficult to envisage without a similar approach in other areas. The membership of the UK as an essential partner in any credible EU defence system cannot be traded against a more autonomous status within the EU. Rather, it is the converse logic that should prevail: a “federal” defence being the only answer allowing Europe to assume - as well as finance - its missions of internal protection and external projection, a similar approach needs to be implemented in the economic, financial and social fields.
Thus, the dramatic events in Mali could become a catalyser for mobilising the necessary political will to re-launch and re-enchant the debate surrounding the future of the EU. It is a unique opportunity to demonstrate the added value of the EU and show that it is the solution rather than the cause of the difficulties we are facing. It implies minor concessions by all concerned in exchange for major lasting benefits; it is illusory to believe that the concepts of solidarity and responsibility can be segmented.
As Europeans, we all aspire to provide our children with a future in which they will enjoy security from armed conflict, an economic and social model that preserves hard fought for benefits, a democratic regime in which the “federal whole” will offer far better prospects than the “sum of the national parts” and, finally, where our values continue to inspire the rest of the world.
Everyone should be aware that our incapacity to agree on a shared European future will lead unavoidably, sooner rather than later, to the decline and ultimate decadence of Europe following in the steps of other major civilisations that have disappeared.