As of 1 February 2020, the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union (EU). It is the end of sixty-five years of a British policy that was not very glorious towards the construction of Europe, which was successively called contempt, then envy, then pleading, then entryism, then exception, then mistrust.
This does not, however, exonerate the continentals from all responsibilities in this regrettable divorce. If they had kept their club more attractive, the UK might still have been a part of it. Now the 27 member countries are faced with a simple alternative: to make the EU more effective in protecting its citizens or to accept that it will gradually fall apart, until it dies.
The peoples of Europe rightly want a Union that protects them from three invasive phenomena, which until now have been virtually uncontrolled: migration, Chinese commercial expansionism and America’s claim to impose its views on them. It is often forgotten that the famous Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985 by five members of the European Community (West Germany, France, Benelux) did not only provide for the abolition of controls at their common borders.
It also provided for more effective surveillance of their external borders. Today the citizens of the Schengen area (26 European states) are happy to be able to travel from one state to another without controls. At university level, the Erasmus programme has been a huge success.
But the promise of tighter control of external borders has not been kept. European diplomacy, embodied by the European External Action Service (4200 staff, €700 million budget), proved unable to anticipate the migration crisis of 2015. Revolutions in Arab countries had begun in 2011. The European border and coastguard agency Frontex was not strengthened in time.
Today, the borders of the European Union are still not airtight. The overwhelming majority of European citizens want to move from forced to voluntary immigration. Intimidated by NGOs, the European states and Frontex are not doing the right thing.
The right of asylum should be reserved for foreigners who are politically persecuted in their countries because they defend European values there. Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi was rightly granted refugee status in the EU; she truly risked her life to defend human rights in her country.
Today, however, the right of asylum is being massively abused. Used by networks of traffickers, who organise the illegal economic immigration of young men to Europe from the poor countries of Central Asia, the Middle East, the Maghreb and Black Africa. Europe has neither the economic means nor the democratically expressed will to take in all the world’s misery. The EU has allowed itself to be invaded by Chinese manufactured goods without any real compensation.
It has failed to protect its industrial champions, such as Alcatel, against unfair competition from the Chinese and against their theft of intellectual property.
In the field of artificial intelligence and 5-G networks, a ruthless economic and technological war is looming between the United States, China and Europe. In 5-G, Europe is not badly placed, holding 56 per cent of the patents, against 30 per cent for China and 13 per cent for America. The EU is now aware that it must prevent the looting of its industrial data by the incessant cyber attacks.
But it needs to go further, to be up to the challenge ahead. It needs to create flexible and efficient structures on a par with the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA, $3.5 billion annual budget) to facilitate disruptive innovation in Europe. Finally, it is high time for Europe to combat the excesses of extraterritoriality in US law.
It is not normal that European companies such as Total or Peugeot should have had to leave Iran, where they were doing good business, simply because America reneged on its commitment to honour the July 2015 nuclear agreement and decided to impose, unilaterally, an embargo on that country.
In another area, the EU has started to defend itself. Faced with the predation of the American internet giants (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), it has implemented the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). But it has yet to emancipate itself from the tyranny of the dollar in international trade.
The rebirth of the EU-27 will only take place if it takes back in hand its destiny in migratory, industrial and legal matters.
This article was first published in Le Figaro.