What if we started again with culture ? Advocating for European sovereignity


Jean-Noël Tronc, March 2022 

This book was originally published by Le Seuil in April 2019, in French. It was translated into Portuguese and published by Guerra Y Paz in 2020, with a preface by my friend the great Portuguese author and journalist, José-Jorge Letria. Today, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the English version with this pre- face. This translation was commissioned in response to the requests of many colleagues around the world who were kind enough to ask me for a version they could read. Indeed, at the 2019 annual general meeting in Tokyo of CISAC, the confederation that regroups the world’s authors’ societies, I was asked to summarise the main ideas and proposals that this book sets out. 

The Covid-19 crisis, which hit creators and their collective societies particularly hard, forced me to devote all my energy to a plan to save Sacem and its members. So this publishing project was delayed, even though the English translation had been done just before the pandemic broke out. 

I took advantage of my departure from Sacem at the end of 2020, after almost 10 years at the head of the world’s leading collective management society, to complete this project and finally honour the commitments I had made to publish the book in English and, of course, to tell “the end of the story” of the adoption of the Copyright Directive. This was one of the most memorable battles fought in the European Parliament for a long time, and one in which I played a decisive part. 

When I handed the manuscript to my publisher, Le Seuil, at the end of January 2019, the outcome of this confrontation was still undecided. The book was published in France a few weeks before the final vote on the Copyright Directive, and it served as a warning of the very serious risk that the draft directive, which had become an issue in the European Parliament electoral campaign, would ultimately fail. 

We had serious reasons to be pessimistic because of the extent to which lobbying — by Google in particular, but also Facebook — had weakened the positions of those in favour of the copyright directive. The tech giants’ campaign, which began in earnest in the autumn of 2018, planted a series of fake news items about the copyright project firmly into the debate. Every MEP was now required to take a position on a text that had until then been very technical. Disinformation campaigns, such as the one conducted on YouTube, had such an impact that some MEPs told us that they were distraught by the fear that was being instilled in their children. 

Some EU states, such as Poland, the Scandinavian countries or Luxembourg, poured considerable energy into preventing the adoption of the text. In Germany, the poisonous deception reached its peak as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets at the end of March 2019, convinced by the constant haranguing on social networks that the adoption of the directive, which was very limited in scope and included new exceptions to copyright, could lead to the outright closure of internet services. 

I have therefore completed, in the third chapter of this book, my account of this memorable battle, which, observers did not emphasise enough at the time, was only very narrowly won. The text was adopted by a majority of just five votes out of 750 MEPs. 

This book was written in French, by a Frenchman, and some readers might spot a tendency to lean a certain way. To each his own culture and identity. I have tried to express a ‘European’ point of view, and I am confident in my conviction that Europe embodies the best for the future of humanity and so must embrace an ambition for power.
This is not a book about copyright, nor about the cultural industries, much less about collective management, even if references abound on these important is- sues to illustrate my point. I am convinced that the cause of creators is important for democracy and that it is best defended by non-profit collective management. This is above all a book by the convinced, and even passionate, European that I am. But I am now also the worried citizen of a continent that is now almost alone in firmly upholding the values of democracy, reason and tolerance, when, in most other parts of the world, a drift toward authoritarian and populism seems to be accelerating. 

This book was written in “the world before” — before the return of war to Europe, before the nuclear threat and the most serious humanitarian crisis to hit Europe since the Second World War.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a rude yet useful awakening. We are at risk of paying a steep price for our blindness on many fronts, starting with our military shortcomings or our energy dependence. As I write these lines, there is no guarantee that the war will not spread, in one way or another, and solidarity among Europeans could be eroded by a lasting crisis that could increasingly affect European society and the economy. The indifference — sometimes bordering on hostility — of a large part of the rest of the world underscores how isolated Europe is when it comes to the values it embodies. 

Yet one thing is now certain: the European conscience, which had long fallen into lethargy, has been awakened. Millions of Europeans are experiencing the tragedy of the Ukrainian people as if it were their own. Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine, a country comparable in size to France, in population to Spain, and by its true history — far from Putin’s revisionist fantasy — to the oldest nations of Europe, was almost unknown to the other peoples of the Continent. Little French schoolchildren do not necessarily learn the story of Anne of Kiev, who became Queen of France in the 11th century, even before the First Crusade. She was a queen whose mother was a Swedish princess, in other words, a woman from the Viking people whose descent via rivers from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea on rowing boats would be the very origin of the word “Rus.” 

This trajectory symbolises how much Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been an integral part of European history and culture for well over 1000 years — to use the words of General de Gaulle, a Europe that stretches “from the Atlantic to the Urals.” 

Since the reunification that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the separation between East and West within the European Union has been a serious fault line, aggravated in recent years by a number of misunderstandings. Western Europe has often been legitimately accused of a certain contempt for the countries of the former “Eastern Bloc,” and historical and cultural knowledge of the East’s history remains quite insufficient. During the French presidential campaign, a candidate from one of the main political forces revealed on a television program that he did not know that Romania and Bulgaria were members of the European Union! 

Europe is the only continent to have been first and foremost a civilization, for 28 centuries. This is precisely one of the themes of this book.
Most of Europe ignored the real nature of the current Russian regime, its historical revisionism and the ultra-nationalism of its leader, along with its profound indifference for Ukraine as a nation. This, and the fact that Ukraine is probably the most misunderstood of the great European countries by Europeans themselves, are two cultural phenomena that would be interesting to analyse. This is not the purpose of this book. On the other hand, by choosing as a subtitle for this book “Advocating for European sovereignty,” I was siding with a very small minority (before March 2022) of those who are in favour of a Europe with real power. I refer the reader here to the remarkable analysis of Luuk Van Middelhaar, and to his distinction between the “Europe of Peace” and the “Europe of Power,” which I mentioned in the first chapter.
Russian aggression and the threats, including nuclear ones, brandished by Vladimir Putin, have made it possible to reconcile supporters of a strengthening of NATO with promoters of a European defence. 

And no political leader, even among the extreme, is considering, until further notice, offering his fellow citizens a solitary destiny by leaving the European Union. If Putin had attacked in March 2016, the Remain camp would have won by a large margin in the United Kingdom. 

Europe is not the European Union, but faced with the Russian challenge and rising threats from many sides, the European Union is indeed the matrix through which we must now patiently go through the steps towards a new deepening and a necessary enlargement of our Union to all the peoples of European civilization. The European Union is a huge paradox: envied or feared in the rest of the world by many, often decried from within by its own citizens. 

The permanent “migration crisis” that Europe is facing underscores the immense power of attraction our European civilization has on the rest of the world.
The European Union occupies a central institutional position in the heart of the European sphere. It therefore embodies this power of attraction for the rest of the planet, where millions of individuals dream of coming to Europe and then, sooner or later, merging into a model of society that is very different from their own. 

Whatever its divisions and shortcomings, the Union allows us to speak as equals in the game of great powers. This is also why what is happening today — in Ukraine with Russia’s projection of power, but also in the Sahel, where the se- curity collapse seems to be accelerating — should once again convince us that we need to strengthen democracy as well as ties between Europeans, in spite of everything. This is only possible through the construction of a true European consciousness, which I will come back to. 

As Churchill, undoubtedly the greatest of Europeans, said: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.
Yet, for a significant part of Europe’s inhabitants, this same European Union and its institutions arouse indifference or even hostility. Since the French rejection of the draft European Treaty in 2004, through the Brexit vote that deprived the EU of 13% of its population, not a single major referendum on Europe has avoided rejection by the majority of people participating. 

In the various Brussels episodes described in this book, especially in chapter three, cultural actors have often been shocked by the way decisions are made within the EU institutions. This method, slow, consensual, often technocratic, is both a strength of resistance to extremes, and therefore an asset for Europe, and a weakness, because of the lack of understanding, and even exasperation, that it can provoke among the inhabitants of the Union. 

The Union likes mushy consensus and grand abstract principles. Defining our identity through the affirmation of European values in the “Brussels” sense would certainly be a dead end. By constantly repeating that the identity of the European Union lies in the abstract values of peace, democracy and the market economy, we sink into a double denial. 

For one, these values are not reserved for Europe: New Zealand or Chile are peaceful democracies with market economies, but they are not European. Russia is an increasingly dictatorial state, yet it is at the heart of European history and culture. 

What is more, these values were not the foundation of Europe. Europe has existed for nearly 3,000 years, according to the title of a famous work published in 1961 by the Swiss Denis de Rougemont, (“Twenty-eight centuries of Europe, the European conscience through texts, from Hesiod to the present”). Europe is the only continent that is also a civilization whose roots are both Greco-Roman and 

Judeo-Christian, which does not prevent it from having adopted other civilizatio- nal contributions. Europe was not born on the day of the Schuman Declaration, May 9, 1950. We might add, in passing, that choosing this event to celebrate Europe Day each year is embarrassing. Robert Schuman was a “Munichois” politician in 1938 — one of the many French parliamentarians who voted for full powers for Marshal Pétain in July 1940. Surely, we could do with a better symbol. Since the end of the 70’s, with the election of the European Parliament by uni- versal suffrage in 1979, the European Community, which became the European Union with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, has occupied an increasingly central place in the lives of Europeans, through its decisions and its legal framework. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer citizens see European integration as a great positive cause. It is no exaggeration to say that “euro-scepticism”, in various forms, is now a majority sentiment. 

This phenomenon is fed by an inverse drift between, on the one hand, a “European machine” turned towards the deepening of the EU through the production of norms in all domains. This comes at the expense of its enlargement, and, on the other hand, the feelings of the citizens, who are often indifferent or even hostile. Retreat is not the solution. The cautious and resigned abandonment of the idea of admitting other countries into the Union is a mistake. Our Europe is a civiliza- tion, which stretches, as we have said, from the Atlantic to the Urals. To rekindle the European dream, we must re-establish the perspective of the enlargement of the Union among its reasons for being. This must be done on the condition that we assume a historical and cultural definition, and therefore a civilizational one, which would lead us to rule out any prospect of membership for countries such as Morocco or Turkey. This would not have anything to do with the question of Islam, since Albania is fully European. 

We absolutely must look for concrete ways to reverse the trend of estrangement between citizens and the EU, starting with strengthening the sense of belonging and pride. However, such feelings cannot be nourished by the institutional and technical side of Europe, which only lawyers and lobbyists can appreciate. 

The purpose of publishing this book in English today is to contribute to the search for concrete ideas for the construction of a common cultural identity that is so sorely needed.
It really is urgent. Constant efforts to rekindle the flame, such as the Conference on the Future of Europe, which was opened before the summer of 2021 and is due to last until 2022, at the end of the French Presidency of the European Union, have so far failed to generate any real interest. Worse, they simply go unnoticed amid the hubbub of the news. 

In May 1948, the International Congress of Europe was organised in The Hague under the honorary presidency of Winston Churchill to bring together all movements for European unity. The real enthusiasm around this event is in the distant past. 

Between the 2008 crisis, the Brexit crisis and Covid-19, the European Union has shown a remarkable capacity for resilience. In the face of external attacks, it has been able to resist, as we have seen so far in the failure of Vladimir Putin’s strategy to divide the EU countries over the Ukrainian question. 

After a calamitous start in the face of the Covid-19 health crisis, marked by a general “every man for himself” withdrawal and lack of coordination, the EU has pulled itself together, both through its vaccination policy, in which it was able to dispense with formal texts and take initiatives, and through a budgetary flexibility that will make it possible to say, one day, that the Germans, without whom it would not have been possible, saved the Union. 

Among the recent European Union initiatives there is one that I personally welcomed, and that was among the 18 proposals listed in the last chapter of this book. In December 2021, to mark the 20th anniversary of the euro, the ECB and the European central banks announced plans to include the faces of personalities from European history, culture and science on our euro banknotes. The embodiment of our common identity is indeed something that can be built, in a concrete way, by decisions like this that impact millions of Europeans and foreign tourists every day.
In recent months, legislation adopted by the Union such as the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Act, or the industrial project around microchips are some very encouraging examples of the EU’s ability to react together, quickly, and in the right direction. 

Above all, the immediate and unanimous reaction, unexpected in its scale and firmness, of the EU countries in the face of Russian aggression, legitimately raises immense hope in the medium term. It is up to our leaders, but also to us, the citizens of Europe, to seize this unique opportunity. 

The European adventure can move forward again, against all odds. 

A few remarks about the content of this book 

This book is a contribution to the debate over Europe around three ideas:
The first idea is that the European Union cannot continue to evade the debate over its cultural identity. Europe is a historical, geographical and cultural construct that goes back almost thirty centuries. We must both confront and assume the identity debate that is present in all our countries and is the main source of tension with Hungary or Poland. This is the theme of the first chapter and it leads to some of the main proposals of the book: the creation of a course on European history in school curricula, faces on euro banknotes, the creation of a European war college, the merging of consulates among European countries, or a technology project to develop instant automatic translators, since the language issue is also a challenge for building our future as a European civilisation.
This book develops a second idea: culture, whether it has to do with the cultural and creative industries, public policies or individual practices, is a strategic pillar for the European Union. It is even among the most important sectors of the European economy, as detailed in the second chapter. As far as the regulatory framework and legal models for the cultural economy are concerned, Europeans have invented just about everything. The last decade, which got off to a very bad start with the rejection of an international anti-counterfeiting treaty in 2010, has ended with the adoption of a new framework, adapted to the digital age, that the rest of the world can take as a model. This is the theme of the third chapter. Finally, this book addresses a third idea: that of Europe’s future in the increasingly global and digital era in which we live. As the American Samuel Huntington rightly anticipated in a famous 1996 book “The Clash of Civilizations”, the now dominant tensions between areas of civilisation and between models of society are cultu- ral in nature, with the virtual disappearance of the North-South and East-West antagonisms of decolonisation and the Cold War. From now on, Europe must assert and defend its cultural power, avoiding the misunderstandings between culture and digital technology that characterised the first years of the Internet boom (Chapter 4), and adopting a policy of influence and power — but also of protection — faced with the risk of losing its cultural and political sovereignty in the digital domain (Chapter 5).
The European Union now has a strong and supportive new regulatory framework for the cultural sectors in the digital age. When this book was written, between the summer of 2018 and February 2019, many still feared the worst. Then, in April 2019, the EU adopted one of the key texts to regain control of its digital sovereignty: the Copyright Directive. The legislation’s passage was preceded a few months earlier by the adoption of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive obliging online platforms to invest in and broadcast European works, and was followed, in the summer of 2019, by the adoption of the so-called Cable and Satellite Directive, which clarifies the European framework that ensures fair remuneration for creators. 

These three directives, together with the adoption in 2018 of the General Data Protection Regulation, signified a change of era, much more than a simple awar- eness of digital technology. In this, as in many other areas, the European Union has truly set an example for the rest of the world. 

Having participated in a very central — and personal — way in the battle for the adoption of the Copyright Directive, I can testify to the power of the multiple messages I received at the time from all over the world, in particular from my fel- low directors of authors’ societies, or artists who were members of their boards, from the United States and Canada as well as from Latin America, Africa or Asia. The transposition of the Directive into national law is almost complete in France and is well advanced in several of the 27 EU countries, but it is far from finished. Attempts like the Polish government’s appeal to the European courts against certain provisions of the Copyright Directive highlight the relentlessness of the Directive’s opponents and the efficacy of the gigantic lobbying effort certain American digital platforms carried out. 

It is important to remain more vigilant than ever in its implementation, but the essential framework is there, and will be there for a long time. The investment in European shows and films that the Audiovisual Directive requires platforms such as Netflix to make can be counted in the hundreds of millions of euros. This marks a moment of upheaval for the European audio-visual and film sector, which is currently faced with a real shortage of talent and resources, including studio space and the availability of technicians trained in the specific constraints of series production. 

In France, for example, the volume of production is set to rise 40% over the next five years, according to some estimates. This is what led President Macron to announce, as part of the France 2030 programme, an investment of €300 million for the audiovisual and film industries. In Italy, Germany, Spain, Poland and se- veral Eastern European and Scandinavian countries, the cultural industries have made similar observations. 

When they are organised, like the France Créative movement, whose birth this book recounts (notably through a founding note from 2014, in the appendix), or its counterpart Italia Creativa, both of which instigated the first studies on the economic weight of culture in France and Italy, they have been able to exert a positive influence on national and European public authorities. 

At the beginning of January 2021, we organised a delegation of about ten cultural personalities to meet no less than seven European Commissioners one after the other. These meetings raised the alarm about the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, with cultural sectors like the performing arts among the worst affected, along with tourism and air transport. An EY study published on this occasion estimated the loss of revenue linked to the Covid-19 crisis for the European cultural sectors at €200 billion (out of a total of approximately €545 billion) for the year 2020. For the future of the EU and Europeans, public policies for culture and education are essential. Bringing them together under the same European Commissioner, a task now carried out with great talent by Maryia Gabriel, is an excellent thing. The Union, and each country, must invest massively in these sectors. Just as with the energy or defence industries, Europe must not accept losses of sovereignty in these areas. At a time when the foundations of freedom are in danger from within the great powers themselves — witness the assault on the Capitol or the emergence of digital totalitarianism in China — education remains the best weapon for democracy. It must be mobilised to strengthen our European consciousness. 

With this in mind, I asked for two prefaces for this English edition. One request went to Antoine Arjakovsky, Director of a at the Collège des Bernardins. The fascinating collective work History of European Consciousness that he edited in 2016 was very useful in the writing of this book. Arjakovsky, Director of the Board of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies in Lviv, Ukraine, is among the people taking concrete action in the ongoing tragedy there. The other request went to Giuliano Da Empoli, essayist, former adviser to the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose book “The Engineers of Chaos” is a reference for anyone who wants to understand how the alliance of data experts and demagogues has contributed to the political triumph of the most dangerous populism in Europe as well as in the United States. 

I would like to thank them for their positive responses.
I would also like to thank Editions du Seuil, who authorised this publication in English, as well as my friends at the European think-tanks EuropaNova and Volta, who agreed to publish and distribute it.
Thanks also to Robert Ashcroft, who was a long-time colleague when he was head of PRS, the British equivalent of Sacem, and who was kind enough to read through the English translation.
Finally, I would like to thank the family of authors’ societies for making this pu- blication possible; it is a model that is more indispensable than ever in today’s digital and global world: the translation was done by James Connell, thanks to the communications department of Sacem, the oldest of the authors’ societies in the field of music, which I had the good fortune to lead for nearly 10 years. 


Antoine Arjakovsky 

Jean-Noël Tronc is a man of experience and conviction. A graduate of the Essec business school in Paris and of Sciences Po, he was close to Michel Rocard and Manuel Valls. He was also an advisor to Lionel Jospin on information technology issues. As director of the Society of Authors, Composers, and Music Publishers (Sacem), he poured his heart and soul into protecting the rights of creators and regulating the digital industry at the European level. In March 2022, Tronc was named to lead the Centre National de l’Enseignement à Distance (National Centre for Distance Learning), and it doesn’t take much imagination to see that hewill continue to fight for a humanist education system and a robust creative cultural industryat the national and European level. 

In this book, whose original French title is, Et si on recommençait par la culture? Plaidoyer pour la souveraineté (Seuil, 2019), Jean-Noël Tronc rightly raises the question of European cultural identity. Because, more than ever, this identity is under threat. The cultural system dominated by Big Tech, which plunders the knowledge generated by the professional media as well as the cultural content nurtured by artists, has weighed on Europe for the last thirty years as an all-powerful and inescapable civilisational model. At the same time, on the European continent, the Russian state has been challenging the democratic and liberal order as a whole. It is now threatening the whole of European civilisation through its massive use of propaganda and its desire to destroy Ukraine, which is guilty of having created a democratic nation-state on its borders and of wanting to join the great family of European nations. 

Only a sovereign Europe can resist assaults of this kind. But this means Europeans must emerge from a metaphysical torpor characterised by a belief, dominant since the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the end of history. To stand up to the new barbarians of the twenty-first century, Europeans must now emerge from this amnesiac coma that has characterised them since the intellectual victory of the deconstructionist movement. They need to recall Rabelais’ adage: “Science without conscience is the soul’s perdition.” 

There can be no European sovereignty without a common ethical consciousness and a sharedcultural identity. The problem is that the European Union spends only €250 million per year on culture out of its €260 billion budget, or about 0.001% (1/1000th) of its resources. 

Moreover, until recently, European elites, paralysed by the post-modern paradigm, were unable to propose a model that could counter ultra-liberalism and ultra-authoritarianism. This is why Jean-Noël Tronc’s pioneering thinking and tenacious commitment to a Europe of culture is so important. This means that after the time of institutional, economic and monetary construction, Europeans must become aware of themselves as a meta-nation with a particular responsibility at a time of great challenges in the globalised world. This nation of nations, or this federation of nation-states to use Jacques Delors’ words, must be able to take root in a sphere of shared experience. It must be able to project itself onto the horizon of shared expectations. This is how European civilisation can flourish in a single space-time of freedom, justice, respect for the environment, and peace. 

This new civilisational approach requires first of all a legislative battle at the level of the Parliament and the European Commission. For years, Jean-Noël Tronc mobilised his networks to ensure that a directive creating new rights for the media, authors and artists was adopted in 2019. This directive has defined more transparent conditions for relations with the major Internet platforms, notably by requiring them to pay for the content they hoover up from the websites of the news media. But it also established a three-year exception for European start- ups to foster their development and clarified the legal status of Internet users who share content. After the European cultural industry tumbled into the crisis linked to COVID19 , Jean-Noël Tronc also fought for massive public financial sup- port for Europe’s creative and cultural industries. The report he commissioned in 2021 from the consulting firm EY called for support for private investment in companies, organisations, entrepreneurs and creators in the cultural industries, but also urged stakeholders to “mobilise the imagination and creative forces of culture to meet the challenges of tomorrow.” 

His battling has not been in vain. Since March 2022 the EU has put in place rules through the Digital Markets Act to stimulate and unlock digital markets, enhance consumer choice, enable better value sharing in the digital economy and stimulate innovation. In addition, the Digital Service Act will now require on- line retailers to check the identity of their suppliers before offering their products. New obligations have been imposed on very large platforms with “more than 45 million active users” in the EU (including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter). These players will have to assess the risks associated with the use of their services themselves and put in place appropriate measures to remove problematic content. They will be required to be more transparent about the data they control and their recommendation algorithms. They will be audited once a year by independent bodies and placed under the supervision of the European Commission, which will have the power to impose fines of as much as 6% of annual revenue in the event of repeated infringements. In the context of the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the related consequences stemming from the manipulation of information online, a new article has been introduced to establish a crisis-response mechanism. This mechanism, which would be activated by a Commission decision, allows for “proportionate and effective” measures to be taken against very large platforms that contribute to spreading false information. 

It so happens that at the same time as Jean-Noël Tronc was fighting for a Europe of culture and imagination, we published, together with some thirty European historians, a unique “History of European Consciousness” (Salvator, 2016). The book is both a diachronic and synchronic account of the pulsating heart of European identity — the volcanic European 

consciousness. Without even a hint of apology, but also without denying the most glorious pages of European consciousness, we showed that during its different paradigmatic periods (the mythological age, the age of Christianity, the age of the Enlightenment and secular modernities, and the age of the political project) European consciousness has been marked by the Greek taste for universality, the Roman sense of law, the Judeo-Christian and Islamic representations of a creator God, as well as the humanist conception of the inalienable dignity of every human being. This historiographic project remains unfinished. Now, President Macron wants to relaunch it in the framework of the French presidency of the EU Council. 

Several European historians reacted immediately. 1 They say they are ready to implement a history of European consciousness that belongs both to professional historians and to every European citizen, a sort of vast mosaic of interactive and connected viewpoints that would make it possible to bring to life the great adventure of “the art of being in the European world” Will they finally be heard? No one knows. One thing is sure now, Jean-Noël Tronc’s vibrant plea for European culture deserves to be read with attention. 


September 12, 2018 was a remarkable day for Europe. On that day, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, made his last speech on the state of the Union, at the end of a mandate marked by Europe’s worst political crisis since 1957. That same day, the European Parliament was set to decide on sanctions against the Hungarian government as well as on a proposed directive on authors’ rights (*) that had sparked an intense battle. 

Each of these three events underscored a dimension of the profound crisis that was hitting Europe. In his state of the Union speech in 2016, Jean- Claude Juncker had declared that he had “never seen such a narrow field of compromise” among Europeans, nor had he experienced “national governments so weakened by populist forces.” The Union, he said, was living through an “existential crisis.” Two years after that speech, the situation had become worse, and the very existence of our Union was in play with the European elections of May 2019. 

In his essay, The Destiny of Europe1, the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev described the fracture line that divides Eastern Europeans from Western Europeans and constitutes, through its identity-focused dimension, one of the most daunting aspects of the current crisis. As its original title, After Europe, im- plied, the author feared the disintegration of the Union, which he thought would bring down Eastern Europe’s liberal democracies. 

We, as Europeans, are up against the wall. The vote in favour of Brexit showed that the unthinkable was possible: the union was losing 13 % of its population. It was as if France were to lose 8.5 million people. For the other nations, it was wrenching: it is clear that, in a threatening international environment, the Union is, more than ever, the only way forward. But at the same time, European institutions’ difficulty recognising that the system is no longer functioning correctly fuels an undeniable anger among the people whose votes – in every election since 2005 – have mostly been negative. 

However, if we cling to the idea that there really is no real alternative, we are flirting with catastrophe. Some European speeches recall Steve McQueen in John Sturges film The Magnificent Seven : 

“Reminds me of that fellow back home that fell off a ten-storey building.” “What about him?”
“Well, as he was falling, people on each floor kept hearing him say, “So far, so good.”
The years-long fight in Brussels over authors’ rights and the powers of regulation in the cultural sphere has been one of the most remarkable illustrations of Europe’s disfunction. 

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