Enemies of Europe Never Changed

Ahead of the Rome Summit Andrew Moravcsik, professor of Politics at Princeton, tells Visegrad Insight that the future is going to be multi-track

Andrew Moravcsik, Wojciech Przybylski
24 March 2017

Ahead of the Rome Summit Andrew Moravcsik, professor of Politics and Director of the European Union Program at Princeton tells Visegrad Insight that the future is going to be multi-track. And that Trump will reverse his negative attitude towards EU.

Wojciech Przybylski, Visegrad Insight: At the Heinrich-Böll Foundation international conference entitled ‘Moving Forward with Europe!’ you said that the EU is now, despite all the odds relating to Ukraine or Libya the most successful it has ever been at conflict resolution. At the same time, this is matched with opposing beliefs from national constituencies who are ready to vote for someone who argues that the European Union is useless. How does one appeal to this section of society? How does one build an argument to convince people of the value of the institution when their de facto position is a general disliking or outright distain for the EU?

Andrew Moravcsik, professor of Politics and Director, European Union Program at Princeton University: I think there are now – and there have always been – a relatively small number of groups on the extremes of the political spectrum who are motivated primarily by instinctive, ideological or intuitive like or dislike for Europe. Those feelings have not changed very much over the last 50 years and, in my estimation, didn’t really contribute very much to the creation of Europe.

People who were, historically speaking, ideologically opposed to Europe, like de Gaulle, probably did more to promote Europe than anybody else. And people who were ideologically favourable to Europe, like Jean Monet, got elbowed out of the way by people who have more pragmatic views. Considering Jean Monet, people always forget that he opposed the formation of the European Economic Community, because he thought there wasn’t enough political content; alternatively, he thought we should be doing things that strengthen the Commission like atomic energy and so on.  And when Adenauer went to the German business owners, they were simply opposed to the Commission, so he just elbowed Jean Monet right out of the way.

What matters is whether there are pragmatic projects that Europeans can do together, that are convincing to the people. In any case, that’s the only way you can control the short-term political climate. So, Europe needs to choose projects and adopt policies in those issue areas that are effective and popular. Most of what it does is actually very successful.

It is striking that the current crisis really hasn’t affected the single market, nor has it really touched homeland security cooperation. Europe has had tremendous success in areas like sanctions against Russia, which you would never have really thought it would be able to do as it is quite an expensive policy to adhere to. But it does mean dealing with two issues that are very salient to voters: one is migration, the other is the euro.

On migration, I think, there is an emerging policy, which is mostly about restricting immigration to Europe or using European Union policy to protect Europe from migration. It’s a combination of building walls, doing deals with countries, giving development aid to countries and making it less attractive to be in the European Union as a migrant. And while we might have various views – ethically, economically or even geopolitically – about these policies, they are the only policies that are politically sustainable in the European Union in this current time and climate. The European Union is pursuing these policies, and it should do so effectively and emphatically state that it is effective. I think that would diffuse some of the tension and concerns.

The situation around the euro is more challenging because it is very difficult to see how to give a model, based on the incremental improvement of the current system, which at once favours countries like Germany – by giving them an artificially undervalued shadow exchange rate – and countries that have a tradition of deficit spending like Italy and Spain. Italy hasn’t seen economic growth in 15 years and this is not unconnected with the Euro. It creates, more than anything else, a lot of dissatisfaction with the European Union, and short of getting rid of the Euro, at least for some countries, it’s hard to see how you can do anything to improve their situation. This is because proposals for a stronger fiscal union would require sums of money to be transferred from country to country that are far beyond the political willingness of any state or politician, and there would be no guarantee that the lenders would ever get the money back.

You said at the beginning that you felt that I was optimistic about Europe. I think most of what Europe does is tremendously successful. I think other things are becoming successful, like the migration policy at least; it can bring migration to a sustainably controllable level. But I worry a lot about the euro, and, in some ways, it is the most important policy of all. So, I wouldn’t say I am optimistic as much as balanced.

We are just ahead of the meeting in Rome to celebrate not only the 60th anniversary but also the future manifestation of Europe. What are you expecting from this meeting, especially in the light of recently repeated claims that there are two Europes, each running at different speeds? Is that the future of Europe?

What people forget is, in the past, Europe has had a multi-speed system for 25 years now. There are countries that are not part of foreign policy cooperation, countries that are not part of the Euro, countries that are not part of the Schengen agreement, countries that are not part of social policies. In fact, a multi-speed Europe is the only way to move ahead, and I think it is healthy that the Brussels’ discourse has finally caught up – a quarter of a century late – with reality.

The more that they talk that way, the better because I think they should give an honest assessment of what the European Union does, and that way you won’t scare the Eurosceptics into thinking that this is some kind of super-state or lead Euro-idealists to expect too much of it. Any solution is going to be multi-track.

What I expect to come out of the 60th anniversary meeting will be mostly symbolic, which I, for the reasons I just talked about, don’t pay much attention to. I think there will be some movement on migration, and I think they will talk but not do anything about the euro, because it is just too costly in the short-term for policy makers to address. But I do hope that they underscore the fact that the European Union is the most ambitious and the most successful experiment of voluntarily international cooperation in human history, and 95% of what it does is tremendously successful. Europe should be more optimistic about itself, even when maybe people do not always believe it because it represents mostly what is true about Europe. There is incredible benefit to having a confident attitude when you go out in the world, talk to people in Washington or Beijing that don’t understand the European Union and really look to Europeans to give them a sense of what it is all about.

The new president of the United States is not a big fan of the EU, to say the least, and some claim that he actually dislikes or would like to do some harm to the EU. It seems to me a unique position from the American side; from the very beginning and throughout the history of the European Union, American backing for the project has been the main support and sustained the whole project all alone. How do you see this development of the US-EU relations?

Here is what you have to understand of the American presidential administrations: everyone starts off making a mess of things. America has many appointed officials, so you have to appoint all those people, and there isn’t very much expertise at the start. Presidents come from who-knows-where, and Trump has no experience, but often you have people like Jimmy Carter who was governor of Georgia, Clinton was governor of Arkansas, that don’t really understand policy and they messed things up for a year or two. Bush did as well, everybody does. Generally, they are critical of Europe and then they circle back to being pro-European. The difference is that Trump has made a large mess fast — but he is also, in foreign policy, reversing himself a lot faster.

Let us just summarize the Trump administration’s foreign policy for the last two months: he promulgated a shift in policy towards China, regarding Taiwan and China as separate during the elections, and then reversed it in the first few weeks; he promulgated the policy towards nuclear weapons in Japan and then reversed it; he promulgated a policy towards NATO and then he reversed it; he promulgated a policy regarding the moving of the capital of Israel and he reversed it; and he has promulgated an immigration policy based on expelling 14 million people and blocking all Moslems from entering, and he’s already watered it down to a ban on smaller countries — and even that he can’t enforce. He is in process of reversing his policy towards Russia, and he will reverse his policy towards the European Union, in fact we can already see it happening. The truth is that big foreign policy issues are largely determined by structural factors, you can’t just tell China or Europe what to do.

The much bigger threat to the United States in the coming years is in domestic policy, and it doesn’t come from Trump it comes from the Congress. This is the first time we’ve had an entirely republican administration in the United States for decades and their plans for reducing taxes, for reducing spending for public services, moving resources from civilian to military use. I think it is deeply troubling, and, in the end, that’s what the real fight in America over the next four years is going to be about.

Transcribed by Jakub Szymczak