Macron won’t save the EU

Brussels knows it is living on borrowed time.

Frank Furedi

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Topics Politics World

For the EU, the French presidential election was about more than the future of France. This was a referendum on the EU’s federalist project. Brussels saw Emmanuel Macron as a representation of the EU, and Marine Le Pen as a representation of the existential threat posed by populism.

That is why the EU oligarchy took the extraordinary step of directly intervening in the French election campaign. Just days before the second-round vote, Portuguese prime minister António Costa, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and German chancellor Olaf Scholz issued a joint statement in Le Monde, pleading with voters to choose Macron in order to ‘defend our common European values’.

The tone of their statement was borderline hysterical. They claimed that the values of Le Pen and Russian president Vladimir Putin are indistinguishable. They claimed that ‘populists and the far right in all our countries have turned Mr Putin into an ideological and political model, echoing his nationalist claims. They have copied his attacks on minorities and diversity.’

It was a cynical ploy. The statement was effectively suggesting that a vote for Macron’s opponent would be tantamount to a vote for Putin. Given the levels of desperation on display among European leaders, it is no wonder the EU responded to Macron’s victory with a sigh of relief. ‘EU delighted over Macron win’, ran a BBC headline. ‘We can count on France for five more years’, declared Charles Michel, the president of the European Council.

Michel’s statement is telling. It expresses the sense that the EU is living on borrowed time. Michel clearly understands that France – the second-largest economy in the EU – remains deeply divided about the future of the EU, and that Brussels may not be able to ‘count on France’ for much longer.

EU federalists know what their problem is. Simply put, the EU lacks legitimacy. Its leaders are well aware that far fewer Europeans identify with the EU than with their nations. And so they see any aspiration for greater national sovereignty as a clear threat to the future of the EU.

In response, Brussels seems set on trying to inoculate EU citizens against the appeal of the nation and national sovereignty. As part of this, the European Parliament passed a resolution earlier this month committing the EU to a ‘common curriculum’ designed to encourage young people to accept a ‘European common identity’.

The language of the resolution is thoroughly saturated with the usual anti-populist rhetoric. It projects EU citizenship as an antidote to everything ‘from social polarisation and low institutional trust to democratic backsliding, the erosion of the rule of law, exclusionary nationalism and the instrumentalisation of Euroscepticism for political purposes’. It also promises to address ‘the rise of extremist movements, the resurgence of racism and xenophobia in all its forms, authoritarianism and misinformation and disinformation’. Through all the pejoratives, one can glimpse the real targets of this citizenship education programme — namely, national sentiments and the ideal of national sovereignty.

To counter national sentiments, the European Parliament also pledges to make ‘respect for the diversity of cultures and origins and the rejection of any kind of discrimination against women, LGTBIQ people or minorities ever more important within Europe’. It is a sign of the times that Brussels is seeking to gain legitimacy for the EU’s federalist project through the promotion of woke values.

The idea of citizenship being discussed here has little to do with its classical meaning. EU citizenship is a hollow form of citizenship that offers formal rights while denying citizens the right to shape the institutions that govern them. The principal purpose of EU citizenship is to dilute people’s identification with their national citizenship. By promoting EU citizenship through the curriculum, the EU is trying to detach young people from their national community and redirect their loyalty to the institutions of the EU.

It is unlikely that this pro-EU curriculum will help Brussels overcome its legitimacy deficit. Likewise, the EU oligarchy cannot take much comfort from the result of the French elections. Macron may have self-consciously framed the election as a referendum on the EU, and his supporters may have frequently waved the European flag at his election rallies. But the results show that there is little enthusiasm for the EU in France, and even those who voted for Macron are far from enamoured with him. He was seen merely as the lesser evil, compared with Le Pen.

A growing proportion of people in France and beyond now regard Brussels as an alien entity. For them, citizenship has meaning in the context of the nation, not the EU. Neither Macron nor a ‘common curriculum’ will change that.

Frank Furedi’s 100 Years of Identity Crisis: Culture War over Socialisation is published by De Gruyter.

Picture by: Getty.

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