"The future of Europe" by Thierry de MONTBRIAL - President, IFRI - BNP Paribas Austria
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December 23, 2005 -

“The future of Europe” by Thierry de MONTBRIAL – President, IFRI

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Debates outside the walls – Thierry De MONTBRIAL – President, IFRI

Catherine Acher welcomes the audience to the first in a series of “Outside the Walls Debates”, BNP Paribas’ brand new on-line forum.

To inaugurate this first event, Catherine has the pleasure of welcoming Thierry de MONTBRIAL, founder and president of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). The Institute is an independent, international center dedicated to policy-oriented research and to the analysis of global strategic, economic and political affairs. The Institute’s annual survey, RAMSES, is available on-line on the IFRI website. Thierry de MONTBRIAL is also a professor in economics and international relations at the “Conservatoire National des Arts & Métiers” and at the “Ecole Polytechnique”. He is the author of several books, including Quinze ans qui bouleversèrent le monde (“Fifteen years that turned the world upside down”) and L’action et le système du monde (“Action and the world’s system”), and has been working as a columnist with “Le Monde”, the celebrated French newspaper, since 2003.

BNP Paribas’ executives have already had the pleasure of attending two of Thierry de MONTBRIAL’s conferences. He was invited to comment on the Group’s slogan on June 2000 and he gave a memorable lecture on the Middle East’s situation in December 2003. He will today share his thoughts on Europe and try to answer this all-consuming question: “Where is Europe Headed?”

Thierry de MONTBRIAL considers Europe and its future with optimism. While we might think that such an attitude reflects natural candour, it is in fact the result of a rational analysis. For him, it is also a matter of will. Indeed Europe was not given to us, nor is it the product of supernatural forces. Europe is a political construction and its future will be fundamentally what we want it to be. Thierry de MONTBRIAL is outraged by the lack of enthusiasm that many show. The younger generation does not realize how miraculous the European construction is. If we want to go beyond the current difficulties – which of course we shouldn’t ignore – and look at the future, we must first establish a historical vision. If we are successful in transmitting enthusiasm to the younger generations, the European construction process will be successful.

A historical vision

Some people have made reference to Europe’s reunification, all the more so after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Such an analysis is quite irrelevant as Europe has never been united. Its history is marked by a never ending succession of internal wars that culminated with the 20th century World Wars. Indeed, the first globalization, that which predates the current one, was unfortunately one of wars. The First and Second World Wars nearly destroyed Europe. As a result, what was achieved in the second half of the last century is a remarkable process of reconstruction and not one of reunification. European unification was therefore built through alliances, whilst in the past it had mostly been based on the domination of one nation over the others. Such an event is unprecedented in Europe or indeed in the world.

Europe’s notable achievements

The European community as we know it is quite young. It was only “born” in 1957 and what was achieved in less than 50 years is noteworthy. We have succeeded in creating a single market (although it remains imperfect). Furthermore, war among the European Community’s members is now impossible. This should be regarded as an immense achievement, even though the younger generations take it for granted. We should not ignore that the decomposition of Yugoslavia in 1990 would have led to a massive war, had it not been for European construction. The introduction of a single currency is also almost miraculous. It is nevertheless the result of political will. European construction is regarded with much interest throughout the rest of the world, as many countries in other parts of the world are today in a very similar situation (East Asian countries for instance are exposed to potential conflicts).

Of course, nothing would have been achieved, had the European countries not agreed to give away some of their sovereignty. A new kind of political unit with specific ingredients (with absolutely no historical precedent) was also required and whilst the methods of governance can be subject to many criticisms –sometimes justified– it would be irresponsible (ridiculous even) to blame the Commission for all the union’s failings and undermining its credibility. In fact, the Commission is responsible for most of the achievements stated previously. To overcome the current difficulties we must take some distance from the object we are studying. If we are able to do so, we will create the necessary enthusiasm.

Current difficulties

We should nevertheless not underestimate the current difficulties. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe was faced with the political necessity to enlarge her Union, going from 12 members in 1989 to 25 last year. This huge enlargement, reasonable from a political point of view (one may say that Europe didn’t have the choice) gave way to what we may consider a form of “indigestion”. Europe has become too large and the system too complex, generating too many uncertainties. These uncertainties resulted in France’s electorate “Non” to the EU Constitution. Over the coming years, Europe will have to pause and digest the recent events, reflecting pragmatically on the reasons for this rejection. As it has been said before, the European integration process is only in its infancy; it will take at least two or three more generations before it is completed. But there is no reason for despair.

To know more about IFRI (19 ko), read this document (19 ko)

Listen to the interview of Thierry de Montbrial by Mrs Acher.