France: Intimations of Mortality

It’s not the mortality of the European Union about which we worry.

 AP Photo
President De Gaulle gestures during a press conference in 1968 at the Elysee Palace at Paris. AP Photo

The idea that Europe is “mortal” is the latest tempête de cerveau from the president of France. He unburdened himself of this epiphany in a speech last week at the Sorbonne. It was a long address about the threats to the European Union from what reports called economic decline, waxing illiberalism, and war being levied by Russia. Muttered Monsieur Macron: “We have to be lucid that our Europe today is mortal.”

It’s not the mortality of Europe, let us say, that worries the Sun. It’s the mortality of France. It’s not that we lack for an appreciation of Europe, which we covered for some years. Yet the EU as a political construct is so young that its mortality ought to be clear. People, after all, don’t speak of the “glory that was Europe.” They speak of the glory that was France. The country is — or was — the towering institution on the continent.

In the past generation or so, however, France has been on the decline. Its taxes are the highest in the EU measured against its economy, which is slated to grow but 1 percent this year. It no longer has its own currency, the franc having been put paid, and thus has less ability to manage its own economy. When its president took office, he strode on stage not to the “Marseillaise” but rather to the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

The choice to play the anthem of the EU, rather than that of France, was meant to send a signal, the Guardian observed at the time, of Mr. Macron’s “strong pro-European message of hope and reform” as opposed to the “narrow nationalism” being peddled by his opponent, Marine Le Pen. It was meant, in the aftermath of Brexit, to underscore that France, unlike Great Britain, was doubling down on its allegiance to the continental superstate.

Some seven years later, and well into Mr. Macron’s second term, he seems to be grasping that France’s anemic economic growth is an impediment to his ambitions for Europe to assume a grander role on the world stage — to achieve “strategic autonomy,” as he has put it. “Lower growth means lower tax receipts,” his finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, warned in February, adding that “the real issue is the growth gap between Europe and the American continent.”

The startling “economic reality,” the Wall Street Journal has reported, is that Europeans “are becoming poorer.” In the past 15 years, the Eurozone expanded but 6 percent, the Journal explained, pointing to IMF data, while America’s economy grew 82 percent. No wonder Mr. Macron is trying to “restore France’s economic vitality,” as a Wall Street Journal editorial puts it, by reforming unemployment benefits to encourage getting back to work

“Europe has a structural problem with growth,” Mr. Le Maire laments, “with a lack of productivity that creates fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for European citizens.” The EU itself, with its seeming aim of swaddling the continent in a nanny-state blanket of regulation — not to mention its job-killing new “Green Deal” climate policies — surely bears part of the blame for the growth disaster that is afflicting Europe.

The point of Brexit, after all, was that an independent United Kingdom was better equipped to set economic policies for Britons than the bureaucrats at Brussels. Even if the right political leader has yet to emerge to fully capitalize on the opportunity presented by Brexit — though Liz Truss had many of the right ideas — the EU’s economic failures would appear to call into question the logic of the “ever closer union” of the EU superstate.

“The rules of the game have changed,” Mr. Macron warned at the Sorbonne, urging recommitment to a “powerful Europe.” Better for the president to reflect on the words of his predecessor, Charles De Gaulle, who opposed efforts to subsume the ancient nations of Europe under a technocratic superstate. De Gaulle spoke of a “certain idea of France” whose destiny, and glory, was inconceivable without its independence. If Europe is “mortal,” Vive la France.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use