24th Oct 2020


The opportunistic peace

I think I can consider myself a European patriot, but I doubt whether this is still the Europe I want to fight for. I doubt even whether this Europe is ready to fight for its future and often think that it prevents countries from waking up to the formidable challenges.

This Europe has become a haze, an ephemeral castle of values that are not defended, of pompous statements that are not put into practice.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 'What do we do with the cheap credit? What has been the impact of a decade of quantitative easing? It has hardly led to the green industrial revolution that we badly needed.'

It has become a facade of clever slogans and speeches, behind which a generation of tepid politicians and technocrats hides.

Yes, Europe is somewhat moving forwards in terms of financial and fiscal integration. But what do we do with the cheap credit? What has been the impact of a decade of quantitative easing? It has hardly led to the green industrial revolution that we badly needed.

It has hardly helped us to build an alternative for an economy addicted to consumer goods imported from countries that turn social dumping into an advantage or to fossil fuels sold by authoritarian adversaries.

The cascade of free money has allowed us to muddle through.

Further financial integration, with now the European Commission starting to borrow, could be a step towards solidarity. But today it is not.

Indeed, it helps alleviate some distress in the short term, yet as long as the financial lifelines are being used to continue to sustain reckless public spending and consumerism, spending in other words without a plan to grow the economy more productive.

This will be the most selfish act in recent economic history. It will burden future generations and by no means make the weakest member states better off.

The Green New Deal does not change this. The aspiration of the deal is laudable. But as long as we do not enforce green ambitions and protect entrepreneurs against dumping from outside, why would we expect high-tech green factories to be built in Europe?

Europe does not need a bag of money with a green ribbon. It needs a market place that is fair and applies the same rules to both domestic and external companies.

The European project is more relevant than ever, now that we face ambitious powers on all sides, and massive demographic forces builds up in the South.

Consider China

Officials like to say that all member states agree that a more assertive common position is key. There have been some critical statements from the European institutions, but what is changing in practice?

A whistleblower critical of the self-censorship of the EEAS was bullied into resignation. We still have no mechanism to finally evaluate what comes out of the dozens of expensive dialogues with China. European leaders insist that sanctions against Beijing have no effect, but they refuse to stop making it stronger.

Once more, cooperation is a pretence.

Papers from investment screening to anti-subsidy policy have very little effect. They permit politicians to claim that they do something, just to return to business as usual. It applies to many other foreign policy issues.

Operation Irini lets the European banner wave before the coast of Libya, barely masking the infighting between France, Italy, and Greece. There is a so-called European Marshall Plan for Africa, but European countries more often disinvest and disengage.

If the European institutions were established to enforce rigidity, to defend Europe's values against short-termism of the capitals, they act like partners in crime.

I am sensitive to the argument that such criticism plays into the cards of nationalists and external adversaries.

But I would rather see a swift return to a Europe of nations, a situation in which individual countries are forced to come to grips with their economic and geopolitical weakness, than a Europe that creates a false sense of solidarity and strength.

They will surely be played apart, but they are played apart today too. Let them get to grips with their uncomfortable position as quick as possible.

The European founding fathers saw their project of integration as a tranquiliser, but this Europe is tranquilising too much. The pursuit of a European peace, along the decades, has led to European paralysis.

The technocracy in Brussels could not be further estranged from the ideals, the grieve, and the sense of geopolitical peril that was present among the founding fathers.

The pretence of common European values and interests has become an alibi for states to act restlessly and opportunistically.

Let them face the real world. One day, a genuine sense of common destiny will come back.

Author bio

Jonathan Holslag teaches international politics at the Free University of Brussels.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Green Deal

East vs West split in EU on higher Green Deal target

Eight EU countries on Tuesday called on the European Commission to strengthen the Green Deal, while central and eastern Europe remain cautious - citing different starting positions and deepen inequalities.

All eyes on EU court for decision on religious slaughter

The European Court of Justice is currently facing a major question: can religious freedom coexist with animal welfare? The decision of whether religious slaughter can continue is expected in a matter of weeks.

Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

MEPs will vote this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for over one-third of the EU's annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

News in Brief

  1. UK scientists fear Brexit blow to joint EU research
  2. Greek migrant camp lockdown extended
  3. Lukashenko and 14 others in EU crosshairs
  4. EU imposes sanctions over 2015 Bundestag cyberattack
  5. Italy reignites Mont Blanc border dispute with France
  6. Commission to press Croatia on migrant 'abuse' at border
  7. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  8. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue argues that the EU is taking an approach "more based on 'political science' than demonstrated agricultural science" in its new Farm to Fork strategy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. South Caucasus death toll much worse than feared
  2. Polish court effectively bans legal abortions
  3. MEPs urge EU to be ready to dump disputed energy treaty
  4. EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'
  5. Why German presidency is wrong on rule of law
  6. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  7. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  8. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us