In search of Europe: An interview with J. Delors
Interviewed on 8 September 2010 by Nikola Tietze and Ulrich Bielefeld for Mittelweg 36, Jacques Delors, three times President of the European Commission, speaks of “this Europe of values”, its triumphs and failures, and his hope that the federal Europe of nation-states he encouraged during his term will, eventually, become a reality.
Mittelweg 36: Is there such a thing as European society? What do you think are the circumstances in which European social relations can be seen and identified as such?
Jacques Delors: From a purely intellectual point of view, yes, there is still such a thing. European society has its own values that are deeply rooted in Greek democracy, Roman law, the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the Reformation and, in France of course, the Revolution. But these values also owe something to the contribution that Islam made through its great influence on southern Europe – something that we tend to forget. You can find its traces in Spain and elsewhere. But you will also find these values in Ukraine and, to some extent – although some people might not agree – in Turkey as well. We have inherited these historical traditions. There is a European way of thinking about things, a way that is linked to this heritage.
I do not know where the frontiers of this Europe of values are to be found but, from an intellectual viewpoint, European society does exist, even though today we have hidden our shared values. We have done so on the one hand because we are terrified by globalisation and, on the other, because we are developing a kind of individualism that is made worse by a world characterized by media coverage and a kind of politics based on public opinion polls. All those values that go to make up a society are being done away with; day after day they are being destroyed. If the values of Europe are in decline, then it is Europe that suffers. And, as a result, if Europe no longer has any confidence in its own values, then it will no longer defend them. Is the European Union going to become a society? Well, society is a very big word. Can you create a society at European level when the societies that we already have are themselves falling apart? Governments do not know how to go about it and take refuge instead in nationalism and in a certain kind of smug self-satisfaction. Nevertheless, these values do still exist. I can assure you that, if they had not existed, we could never have had those two most important events: the Schuman Declaration and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s acceptance, something that required a lot of courage from both of them. And nor would we have had the fall of the Berlin Wall or the reunification of Germany.
But even bearing this in mind, it does not make us superior to others; it is simply that we have this sense of kinship, of similarity between us, something like a river which, though today it flows underground, still bathes the shores of our thoughts and our actions. And a politician with any measure of genius can, at any time, get in touch with these shared values and bring them together. So, in that sense, Europe does exist. It is a set of values, but whether they can be perceived by politicians or by journalists may be quite another matter. You will have noticed that several heads of government refused to have these roots alluded to in the Lisbon Treaty. This was very sad, because we need to know where we have come from.
Mw 36: How did you attempt to translate the richness of these European values into an element of political dynamism in the construction of Europe?
JD: I declared: “Europe needs to have a soul”. I meant “soul” in a non-religious sense, meaning that Europe needs to know what it has been that has fundamentally brought us together through all the tragedies of our history: a certain conception of Man, of Man’s relations with other men and with society. Such relationships are unique. In this sense, we are part of a community and that, by the way, is the reason why I do not like the word “union”; I prefer to talk about a “community”. When Robert Schuman made his declaration which, some years later, was characterized in Hannah Arendt’s splendid phrase as “the pardon and the promise”, the Germans responded in the name of the values that I mentioned. Not just because it was necessary to forget the past but because a people without remembrance is a people without a future. After the history of violence, this was a spiritual event. And that is what we miss most of all today – especially in a world that is characterized by the domination of the media and the instant response. In theory, it is the job of the intellectuals and the churches to look after the soul of Europe. But for me, especially after having been President of the Commission, these are fundamental questions. I did try to bring the churches together during my presidency and I was very touched by the fact that, in Germany, both on the Catholic and on the Protestant side, there was a great deal of support for this project. As President, I would, for example, also have meetings with representatives of organizations for the protection of the environment. I chose the four leading organizations and, a week later, they came to see me: “We’ve heard that you’re going to have a meeting with a fifth organisation. No, we are the ones who have the monopoly on this.” Civil society is a very complicated business. It took eight full working days a year to hold meetings with the churches. I saw representatives of all the denominations, dined with them, had discussions with every one of them. I did the same with the International Society of Unbelievers. It took seven years of such efforts to get them all around the lunch table just one month before I left the Commission.
In talking about the building of Europe I would make a distinction between two things: on the one hand there is the Europe of values, in which, with all due respect to those who would claim otherwise, Catholicism, or rather Christianity more generally, played a major role. The coexistence of differing religious trends lent support to the idea that antagonism and hatred should not be allowed to continue and that we should build a form of reconciliation that did not exclude recollection of past tragedies. Briefly put, Europe is, in that sense a social democratic and Christian democratic construct. On the other hand, we have the European construct as a model to make us reflect upon globalization. The UN might be interested in the way we have agreed to get together to manage part of our sovereignty under the ægis of the law. This is what distinguishes the European Union from the Council of Europe. Indeed, this transfer is the specific feature of the Union because of the way that we get together to create mutual support; we have solidarity de facto; there exist real elements of solidarity between us, solidarity that really counts and not just solidarity that is profitable. And when it comes to that kind of thing, if it is not working properly then you pay. You pay because you have bent the rules on fair competition, or you pay because you have behaved badly in relation to costs and, finally, you will be threatened with a red card if you do not abide by the agreements and rules that have been established. Indeed, we ought to be telling Bulgaria and Romania to get on with the social integration of the Roma, using the money that the Commission has earmarked for that objective, or else they will be handed a red card. Having said that, the way that the Roma are treated in France and Italy is no less scandalous. Of course, the Roma cannot go just anywhere but to conclude from that that it is acceptable to destroy the places where they live and force them to return to Romania or Bulgaria is scandalous. So it is the “de facto concrete elements of solidarity” that affect the individual citizen, essentially through economic factors. These were the bases on which the European Union was constructed. Admittedly, application of these principles within the European Union can bring about divergence or crises but there is a limit to these because we accept the primacy of law.
Given that the construction of Europe derives from shared values and the primacy of law, it is consequently founded on an agreed sharing of sovereignties.
Mw 36: Indeed, you said in an interview that “Pro-Europeans ought to be concerned with the future of the nation-state”. What kind of relationship ought we to envisage between a European society of shared values and the nation-states?
JD: I do not believe that nations should disappear nor do I believe in the prevailing wisdom that economic and monetary union can bring about political union, especially since the political forum continues to be the nation, and the best service one can render it from a democratic point of view is to respect the democratic structures within the framework of the nation-state. Therefore, I am in favour of a federation of nation-states. I am not asking the Germans and the French to give up being what they are, but I am saying to them: consider, in the real world, both your shared values and your shared interests. But, even if Europe does have these shared values, the nation is still an element of belonging that must be neither neglected nor given too much importance. We each have our own attachment to our national heritage. I am all the more inclined to say this because, as Freud said, we are nowadays fixated on small differences: Serbia and Montenegro, Flanders and Wallonia, Northern Ireland and the Republic; these are the things that we must fight against, not by preventing the existence of distinguishing features, but by saying to people: “Where does that get you?” Simultaneously, there are those values that lead us towards some form of convergence and, on the other side, moods of the times that urge us to create painful divisions. We have not heard the last of such divisions. And why is that? Because there is a malaise among people who are living through our times. They are frightened by globalization and, at the same time, attached to their territory, where they have attachments that are familial, geographical or otherwise. Between globalization on one side and local attachments on the other, the nation can no longer arrive at any kind of synthesis other than by exacerbating nationalism, and this can be seen in many European countries. Refusal of globalization, claiming that it is absolutely inimical, will not offer any solution either. Only by building a Europe that is a federation of nations can we find a response to this malaise, a response to the turmoil caused by globalization, a response that pays due respect to familial and geographical attachments; this is the way to create an equilibrium between globalization and the sovereign state that is prepared to delegate certain powers, by creating a strong and influential structure.
The reality is that, by building Europe, we have, it seems to me, a system that is ahead of the rest of the world. This is what we have to make our citizens realize. But our politicians see only the short term and the shifts in public opinion. As a result, there are two factors that are missing: awareness of our shared values and the challenge that Europe has to face. These two factors are a matter of survival or decline in the face of globalization and the kind of nationalism that is obsessed with minor differences. And this challenge is one that has to be faced by the strongest European power: Germany.
Germany is, in any case, in an extraordinary position. Never before has it been the lead nation in Europe to the extent that it is today. Previously, it accepted compromises and therefore concessions because of its past and also because of the political intelligence of Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, which I will never tire of praising. But today Germany holds the leadership. Does it realize this? Because of this leadership it has certain special obligations. What is at stake is Germany’s responsibility to be aware of its own formidable economic competitiveness and to make this competitiveness fit with a common European economic policy. Today, the ball is in their court.
However, the Germans are no longer defending the communitary system. And you cannot count on the others. Benelux, which was previously very European is shattered; it no longer really exists. And those who were most attached to the system, the Italians, are much less influential than they were in the past. Nevertheless, the Franco-German axis could, in my opinion, represent a force for Europe. I have been saying so for a long time: “Let us work at the Franco-German alliance. Let us work at understanding each other: trade unions, business leaders, politicians, intellectuals.” This is a job that remains to be done. We have a Franco-German Council, we say nice things about each other in our speeches, but the question remains as to whether France and Germany can continue to talk to each other, whether they can go on living with each other. To answer this question we need people who know the right way to formulate the problem. But the problem itself is just as much French as it is German.
Moreover, against this kind of background, my concept of a federation of nation-states must not only be distinguished from a federalist Europe but also from a Europe characterised by “Westphalian” sovereignty. Let us take as an example the European climate-change programme. The Commission’s programme was excellent. Unfortunately, however, European heads of state, in particular those of Britain, France and Germany, wanted to play starring roles in Copenhagen. Instead of allowing the representative of Europe to speak, as happens, for example in commercial negotiations, they wanted to make their speeches and to shine. But Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel could and should have played a unifying role – a role that would have been possible for each of them. As a result we have never seen Europe looking so ridiculous, given that, in the course of the final meeting in Copenhagen, the door was closed and they were not even able to take part in the discussions.
You can also see this spirit of competition in the way that certain European posts are filled. A person will be appointed to an important post as a function of his or her nationality or as a way of making up for another post having gone to other countries. It is also ridiculous to suppose that, because a commissioner has been appointed to a political portfolio, for example a High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, that we have a common foreign policy. All that is second-rate, nineteenth-century diplomacy of the Metternich kind and has nothing to do with European progress. That is where we are at the moment.
Having said that, there are so many bonds between us that we would have to do something really stupid to get rid of them altogether. Simply put, we would all sink together like the passengers on the Titanic.
Mw 36: So you would say, then, that the future of Europe and of European society, too, as an expression of shared values, depends on the political intelligence shown by governments of member-states of the Union in building a federation?
JD: Yes, and in that sense what our summits lack today are true European militants. To understand what I mean, consider the following extraordinary event. At the beginning of the 1970s, the dollar went off the gold standard. There was panic and then an increase in energy prices. Germany’s Helmut Schmidt declared: “We’ll have to tighten our belts by a couple of notches”. The reaction of Jaques Chirac, Giscard’s prime minister: “If we just increase growth by 2 per cent, all will be well”! Opposite poles! By some kind of miracle these two men, Giscard and Schmidt agreed to set up the European Monetary System. That was a considerable achievement and they deserve to have statues put up to them. The way they overcame the differences in economic concepts and shaped their vision of Europe was quite outstanding. I have met some exceptional people in my time, people who have had prophetic or visionary powers. And I would just like to say that I am not telling you this because I am 85 years old, or because I look down on the people in power today, but I am disappointed when I listen to them and when I see what they are doing. That kind of vision simply no longer exists. When I was President of the Commission we made agreements, we felt that it was absolutely essential that Europe should move forward. It is true that nowadays they are able to say: “But, M. Delors, we did move things forward and we are avoiding a much worse crisis.” That’s true, but we don’t just need firefighters; we need architects too. And there are no architects left – and no visionaries either. The Europe of the founding fathers was exemplary in terms of morality and spirituality. You know, in the few days before Robert Schuman made his declaration, there were grave tensions within the French government. Schuman had to send an emissary to see Adenauer, who was also quite an exceptional character. These people managed to overcome sources of mistrust that had been around for a century. It was wonderful that there should be such men who were able, without giving up in any way, without any human weakness, to join in a chorus of reconciliation and fair exchange. That is what Europe is about. Without that, it is nothing. From it we have derived a series of economic and institutional structures. But the sense of conviction and commitment has gone. We no longer even have the courage to argue in order to try to reach a resolution. This is a Europe that is psychologically and politically sick.
Mw 36: What do you mean by “true European militants” or by European “architects” and “visionaries”?
JD: By “visionaries” I mean people who will evoke, stimulate or awaken in us that which is best in the human race. Any President of the Commission who had gone in for this kind of prophecy would have been considered some kind of fanatic. Politicians need, rather, to be among the architects of Europe, that is, they need to make our shared values and our European law match up harmoniously with the expression of shared interests. In my opinion, this awareness of shared interests is not sufficiently widespread. And yet, it is through the formulation of shared interests that Europe can exist and can renew itself. One of the great disappointments in my career is seeing our leaders, one after the other, going to negotiate with Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in order to obtain special terms for gas and gas pipelines. It is scandalous and unrealistic. It puts you in mind of the Horatii and the Curiaces. [Three representative of Rome, the Horatii, and three of Alba, the Curiaces, fought in single combat to resolve a conflict between the two cities. All were killed except for one of the Horatii. Ed.] That was why I proposed setting up a European Energy Community, simply so that the Europeans could rebuild their coherence and their strength. The Europe of common interests is, today, a means of renewing the Europe of rights.
When I took up my post at the Commission I told the leaders of the member states: “Look, for five, six or ten years, you have been in trouble: you are losing jobs, you have increasing unemployment, your rate of growth is lower; create a common market that will stimulate your economies, fulfil the vision of 1957.” It was on the agenda. That was the prevailing idea of that time, aimed at turning common interests into concrete reality. Today we have to find other ideas to mobilize Europeans. If I were President of the Commission I would find the right idea. It would be a practical idea. We would be a long way from shared values. It would be more likely to be something like: “Do not take your eye off the ball”. I suggested a common energy policy because I thought that that was where perception of common interests and a shared attitude to foreign policy both came into play at the same time, particularly in relation to Russia and other oil-producing countries.
Basing Europe on shared interests is all the more important inasmuch as it is such shared interests that give legitimacy to the communitarian system. So then it becomes a matter of political education. We have to get people to understand: “You have your national institutions. But we have handed part of our sovereignty over to Europe. When we get together we have shared interests, we make progress together.” In a Europe based on shared interests I do not gain at another’s expense. The political education problem is simple: how can I, as a head of state or major political figure in my own country, claim that Europe is essential, that it is a family and then go on to say, after a meeting of the European Council, that I have gained something at another’s expense? No, I have to say: “We made compromises because the situation that we are in is always one of tension between power and solidarity. In a Europe based on shared interests you cannot win at the expense of others.”
Mw 36: How does this Europe that you are so keen on, based on shared interests, fit in with the European Union’s system of institutions?
JD: The system of institutions tells you how to proceed, if I can put it like that, when formulating shared interests and when defending them. As I made clear when I was presenting the Single Act (the treaty agreed in 1987 and 1988), it makes possible a common sense approach through competition that provides stimulus, cooperation that provides strength and solidarity that creates unity. In principle this system of institutions has been in existence since the European Coal and Steel Community agreement of 1951 and it is a brilliant system. Every time that there has been progress in Europe it has been because the communitarian system has worked well. Every time that the communitarian system has been called into question we have had a crisis or stagnation. Take, for example, the Commission. The Commission is not “the boss”. The President of the Commission is not a head of state but rather a political official whose attention is focused on the positions of the member countries, who is concerned to reconcile points of view, to achieve convergence so that it becomes possible to move forward. As President of the Commission, I considered myself to be at the service of the heads of member states. The more I was at their service, the more they asked of me. That is the compensation. And, in the end, the Commission’s everyday concern is what is in the interests of Europe, and it tries to see how these interests can be translated into action to be put before the European Parliament and the heads of government, and how it can suggest to them options for the main directions that Europe should take.
At the present time, the way that the communitary system works has been damaged. There is a kind of scornful attitude towards the institution. This attitude already existed in France and developed further with the Lisbon Treaty. In short, the communitary system has broken down. One result, among others, is that we have meetings of heads of government that seem to go on forever. M. van Rompuy has now decided that there should be a European Council meeting every month. Anyone who knows anything about the mechanisms of decision-making could not possibly think that that would work. Twenty-seven heads of government with tons of paper: that just could not work. My Commission presented the European Council with short papers in order to ensure that, if clear choices were presented, decisions would actually be reached. The system of institutions is not working well. The only body that I would exempt from my criticisms would be the European Parliament which is carrying out its task better and better and which does have influence. At the Collège de Bruges, Chancellor Merkel has pleaded for the adoption of the Union method, which she has opposed to the communitary method. After two or three years of the Lisbon treaty being in force we will be able to judge from the outcomes.
Mw 36: Has the communitary system broken down, as you put it, because there is a problem of organization, a problem with people or a problem caused by enlargement?
JD: I have just told you what it is. I will watch, without any preconceptions, how this Union method works. But I believe it to be less effective than the communitary method.
There is an organizational problem with regard to the implications of enlargement. We had to include all those countries and it was a great joy to do so. But how were we ever going to go straight to 27? You should introduce cooperation gradually, as we did with Schengen, for example. We started with six at the outset. Faced with the problem of effectiveness in an enlarged Europe, the idea of Wolfgang Schäuble and Karl Lamers in their 1994 book Reflections on European Policy, was the beginning of a process of reflexion but, in the past 16 years, no one has taken the trouble to explain what this meant in order to evolve stronger models for cooperation. Anyway, I think that the Franco-German axis is the centre, the heart of what might reanimate Europe. The other countries will just have to accept this joint venture since they cannot manage to agree on anything. When you had a firm foundation made up of the Six, a solid Benelux bloc and eminent people in the various governments, then Europe moved forward and we worked well together in European Councils.
Mw 36: Does the way in which the Greek crisis has been handled show up the fact that the communitary system has broken down or is it, on the contrary, evidence of a renewal?
JD: In my view, we have been paying for the failures in political coordination and our collective mistakes plus, of course, the Greeks’ carelessness. Let me explain what I mean. In 1988, Chancellor Kohl asked me to chair a group on the Euro. In 1989, we submitted our report, which was based on a balance between currency and the economy. The point is that this balance was not taken into account. There was no way of changing their minds: they looked only at the currency side of the question. What is more, they laid down rules, absurd rules, and the result was that we concentrated on budgetary deficits, although there was, in 2004, a small German, Franco-German deficit. That was because, in 2004, the Germans said that we had to forget about the 3 per cent rule. But, in general, we limited ourselves to monetary policy because of German stubbornness. Because the Germans are doctrinaire, because they want the Central Bank to be independent, they dug their heels in. It was probably forced on them by internal politics because 65 per cent of Germans were against giving up the Deutsche Mark. There is a sort of fundamentalist moral stance about the currency that is understandable in terms of principles. If you have a common currency and there are rules, then you have to make the two things work together and, at the same time, coordinate economic policies. The Germans were demanding this stability pact. But, alongside the stability pact, we needed to have a pact concerned with coordination of economic policies in order that people could say: “Since we have a common currency then we are involved in all aspects affecting the interdependence of our economies and this common currency.” I proposed this in 1997. (Simply as a citizen: I had left my post as President of the Commission in January 1995.) But none of the heads of state concerned themselves with any such pact about coordination of economic policies, and the Germans maintained their stance.
Instead of a pact, a deal was made whereby the first president of the Central Bank would be Dutch, the late lamented M. Wim Duisenberg, then after that a Frenchman, Jean-Claude Trichet, and the stability pact was christened “Stability and Growth Pact”. This title is hypocritical in the sense that it is not rooted in coordination of economic policies. In other words, from the outset, there was a structural defect in relation to the proposal of the Delors Committee (1983). This structural defect produced the double effect that, on the one hand, the Euro was only walking on one leg; on the other, even though it was limping, the Euro was protecting us but it was not preventing us from doing stupid things, on the contrary. We had a single currency, there was no more devaluation and everyone was profiting by it. Let me give you a technical example. The Stability Pact never caused the Euro Councils to worry, for example, about the private debt of certain countries such as Spain and Ireland. What is more, right from the moment when we took Greece along with us, it was necessary to do something to save the Euro. Why? Because we, the Germans and the French in the Euro Council, had not been sufficiently vigilant. If it had only been the fault of Greece, then you cast out the sinner and send him to Hell. But that was not it. I have always told our German friends: “But you are responsible for what happens in the Eurozone because you are on the Council. Why did you not see it coming?” A great currency specialist, Jacques de la Rosière said: “But how is it that the Central Bank only supervised the movement of prices? Why did it not supervise private debt and, more generally, financial stability? ” Admittedly, mistakes were made, especially by Greece. But the crisis worsened because we were bad at managing the Euro. People said: “We’ll see what happens afterwards.” But “afterwards” we find ourselves in the present state of affairs: unprecedented turbulence, confusion of categories between the Twenty-Seven and the seventeen members of the EMU. Maybe there are some people who are quite pleased about this, because the more we speak about economic governance at the level of the Twenty-Seven, the less of it there will be at the level of the seventeen.
Mw 36: Could it be said today, after the dialogue about help for Greece, that it was the Euro that forced the heads of member-states of the Economic and Monetary Union to act in solidarity?
JD: Yes, because, in the end, the “de facto elements of solidarity” that bring in income and require expenditure, those that I previously stressed as being the specific feature of the European Union, were imposed. However, cooperation is the great missing link in constructing Europe. When I was President of the Commission, I had already told the heads of government of member-states: “Fulfil the 1957 idea, the large market, then add to it cooperation, which is the great missing link.” In the Single Act – the agreement of which I am most proud – everything is in the name of “de facto elements of solidarity”: competition, cooperation. It is the most balanced of the treaties. It was drawn up 80 per cent by my team and myself. We did not give way on the great principles. But with the treaties that followed, this balanced interplay between solidarity, competition and cooperation got progressively lost. The Maastricht Treaty was already badly designed in terms of political cooperation. There was, for example, a meeting where a common foreign policy was being discussed. I told them: “If we have a common defence policy we have to have a common foreign policy and if we have a common foreign policy then we have to have a defence policy.” We ended up by composing a convoluted text which means nothing in terms of defence policy, probably simply because we wanted to produce a form of words rather than any substance.
Mw 36: But today’s Europe is not just an economic and monetary union, nor does it simply come down to an attempt to conduct common defence and foreign policies: Europe has also become an area of law, justice and security. Against such a background can one still claim today that European social relations derive principally from political cooperation between governments?
JD: You are right; Europe does represent an area of law, justice and security. There are two important points. We have two areas of cooperation, two avant-gardes: the Economic and Monetary Union, which today includes 17 states, not 27, and the Schengen Agreement. For the member-states it really is a considerable imposition to accept free movement because, if you are talking about free movement of persons, you are obliged to burden yourself with problems of basic rights, conflict in the event of divorce, criminality etc. These problems concern every citizen. Basic rights are also a response to people’s aspirations. In this respect they provide an impulse toward European unification. On the other hand, I would not have drawn up a charter of basic rights. I would have written a charter of rights and duties. But let us move on. When we speak of an area of law and security we are coming back to our shared values as a feature of Europe, values that ought to restrain us from falling back into humanity’s great failings: violence, denial of the other, everyday racism. Europe is the counter to these failings, a huge common asset, and we have to fight every day to preserve it and even to improve it. As regards this notion of an area of law, we have made progress over the past 15 years.
So we can conclude that the two areas of cooperation – the Economic and Monetary Union and the freedom of movement granted by the Schengen Agreement – are acting as an avant-garde and leading Europe onwards. But, as I have already said, where I differ is in not believing that the internal market and the single currency can automatically lead to a political Europe, even though we have made a lot of progress implicitly with regard to the area of law and security. Still, I stand by the principle that we have to find a balance between the sovereign state agreeing to delegate certain powers to the Union and the building of Europe so that citizens can be freer and their standard of living and their opportunities for personal development in freedom can be increased. In short, our strength lies in unity. We will only succeed in finding such a balance through increased political coordination and a greater awareness of our shared interests. And this progress must be seen in the context of the urgent need to restore the balance between the economy and the currency within the EMU.