The Will to Power
Raphaël GlucksmannMember of the European Parliament
A dictator such as Lukashenko can send his Mig jets to divert an aircraft flying between two European capitals to kidnap a journalist; or he can bring thousands of human beings from Baghdad or Damascus to the Polish border, creating a “migrant crisis” with no other purpose than to destabilize and manipulate us. Why? Because, whether right or wrong, he believes that the European Union is structurally powerless.
We should not assume that this is an isolated case, or a simple stroke of madness carried out by a desperate tyrant. The same calculation is being made in the circles of power in Moscow, Beijing, and Ankara. In a violent and conflict-ridden world, so far from the peaceful ideal of the End of History, weakness is an invitation to aggression. We are condemned to be powerful or to no longer be.
And yet we act as if we were spectators of our inexorable decline, experienced as though it were a preordained fate. Europe has become a continent of consumers: consumers of goods produced in China and consumers of security produced in the United States. The relationship of European elites to the world is reminiscent of Hegel’s Master: enjoying the goods produced by his slave, he becomes sluggish, soft, and the slave to his slave. Until his downfall. Where do we start if we want to break free of the trap of powerlessness?
A mental revolution
What is the Master’s original sin? It is to eternally fantasize about a victory which was only ephemeral, to think that the struggle was over. It is having read Fukuyama when the Berlin Wall fell, dreaming of perpetual peace and believing that rest was possible. This is the great philosophical and political error of the 1990s and 2000s that we are paying for today.
If there is no more strategic adversary, no great theological-political conflict, no more great peril, then what is the point of pursuing power? And what good are politics, in fact? The straightforward management of common problems by a class of experts is enough. In Taiwan, I was surprised to see the most talented individuals of a generation enter the public sector and take up a political career. In Europe, they would certainly have chosen to be singers or to launch their start-ups. In Taipei, they want to serve the state. Why? Because the Taiwanese democracy lives under the constant threat of the Chinese Communist Party. This existential threat confers a sacred dimension to the common cause. On the other hand, the absence of threat makes it irrelevant and precipitates the bureaucratization of democracy, the process of de-politicization of which the European Union in its present form is the result.
So, the first challenge, in order to revitalize our polities and overcome the powerlessness that undermines them, is to understand that we are threatened. We are threatened, first and foremost, by climate collapse, which gives our individual and collective existence a tragic outlook, and thus restores meaning to the very idea of the city. We are threatened, as well, by multinationals that are becoming more powerful than our States and that play on common interests as well as on general will. Finally, we are threatened by geopolitical adversaries who impose constant power struggles on us, to which we must respond.
In the European Parliament, the Special Committee on Foreign Interference, which I chair, has for more than a year been examining the hybrid war waged by authoritarian regimes against the European Union. We are clearly not at war, but we are no longer truly at peace either. We are living in an in-between period characterized by a high level of conflict without direct military confrontation. From constant disinformation campaigns or massive hacker attacks against our institutions or hospitals, to hostile investments in our strategic infrastructures or the methodical capture of a part of our political or social elites, Putin’s Russia, XI Jinping’s China and, sometimes, Erdogan’s Turkey, are trying to weaken European democracies from within. Their actions erase all boundaries between diplomacy and politics.
We have no choice but to rediscover within ourselves a form of will to power in order to face these threats. It remains to be seen whether we can find a realistic path towards the emergence of a European power.
In the beginning, there was the market
If we do not want to fall into federalist incantations, we must understand what the European Union is today: a market. The largest market in the world. No multinational can afford to forego it, no producing country can do without it. This is Europe’s only true strength today, but it is not nothing. It is a lot, even. Provided that we do something radically different from what we have done with it up until now.
From the beginning of my mandate, I understood the division of labor that was at work within the European institutions: on one side are the debates on principles and geopolitics, on the other side is the management of commercial affairs. In the Parliament, those who wish to debate geopolitics join the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Human Rights sub-committee, while those who wish to defend the interests of large European companies join the International Trade Committee. I therefore joined both with a clear idea: to make trade a means to serve our long-term interests and principles.
The goal is to use the European market as a strategic tool for exporting standards. To that end, the European legislation on the duty of vigilance is undoubtedly the most important text of our mandate. In the way we have conceived and developed it in the European Parliament, it can be seen as the first step in the European city’s attempt to regain control of globalization. It is therefore a moment of rupture since the Brussels doxa on trade has been to promote the removal of restrictions and “obstacles” to the complete liberalization of trade.
This dogma of “loosening up” has led to the breakdown of value chains, offshoring, and an explosion in profit margins, and therefore in dividends. Large multinationals have delegated the manufacture of their products to others and have thereby freed themselves from any legal responsibility. The duty of vigilance puts an end to the impunity that became the norm in the globalization of the 1990s and 2000s and imposes a set of legally binding obligations on European companies as well as on all those active within the European market.
These rules requiring them to identify, prevent, and stop all human, social, and environmental rights violations in their value chain will force them to restructure their business model. This will benefit countries that have a minimum level of respect for the rule of law. The day is coming when executives from Zara or Nike will have to face the courts in Europe because their Chinese suppliers are exploiting Uyghurs slaves. On that day, the European Union will have become a global normative power and will have decided to play a global role.
Not surprisingly, the multinationals have gone to war against this project. But resistance is not coming only from the private actors who benefit most from the current erasure of politics; it is coming in part from the political establishment itself. The Commission and some Member States have been reluctant to move forward, as if they were afraid of asserting their own power. This is why public pressure, through massive civic campaigns, will be crucial: the challenge is to compel power to act.
The meaning of strategic autonomy
The duty of vigilance is only a first step, one which is intended to give the European elites a taste for power. The foundations of global European power will subsequently need to be laid.
Our dependence on China means that any major EU policy has disastrous counter-effects. Take for example the European Green Deal, the vitally important transition to low-carbon electricity production and, specifically, the question of photovoltaic panels. China currently manufactures a large proportion of these panels using polysilicon produced by the forced labor of the Uyghurs. Our public subsidies will therefore be used to finance the Chinese concentration camp system if we do not combine the Green Deal with a genuine plan for European reindustrialization.
We must not only promptly ban any products produced by slavery from entering European territory — following the example of the United States — but we must also take measures to once again make Europe a continent of manufacturers. This can be done first and foremost by using the weapon of public procurement. The 2 400 billion euros of orders placed each year by the European public sector must be focused on companies manufacturing in Europe. This is the purpose of the Buy European Act that we are promoting in Parliament. By supplementing it with a carbon tax at the EU’s borders, a Made in Europe Act to foster the emergence of European leaders in the ecological transition or digital revolution, as well as massive investments in research and development, we will be able to lay the groundwork for a European industrial power.
But a power only exists if it has the means to defend itself. The Union will not be able to control its own destiny as long as it remains militarily dependent on the United States. Trump’s presidency was not a digression: the period of American hegemony is ending, and it is now crucial for Europe to develop a defense and security policy worthy of the name. France has an essential role to play as the only country in the Union able to offer the necessary security guarantees — including nuclear guarantees — to the whole of the common zone.
An institutional rebuilding
The question of power is, at the end of the day, the question of sovereignty. We must make the Brexit slogan “Take Back Control” our own. Convoluted treaties, the product of precarious compromises, have diluted the idea of political responsibility in a sea of bureaucracy. It is no longer clear who does what, who is responsible for what in the European architecture, and the art of governing has become one of permanent deflection.
A major reassessment is therefore necessary, a reassessment that would in certain ways be a return to basics. In the wake of the Second World War, European construction was based on concrete cooperative projects between European countries, from the ECSC to the Spaak report, including the aborted EDC project. Our “founding fathers” wanted to work together so that they could no longer wage war against each other. Their successors wanted to live together, losing sight of the objective of action. This triggered the bureaucratization of the European project, gradually delegitimizing it in the eyes of citizens.
Instead of locking ourselves into unproductive debates about federalism, we should define the major projects to be carried out on a European scale. We should then adapt our operations to these projects. In order to carry out these projects, the European institutions will have to take a federal leap in certain specific areas, imposing binding objectives on Member States and being solely accountable to their citizens. In other matters, individual nations will reclaim their preeminence.
Planning Commissioners would receive a clear and defined mandate from the European Parliament, supported by specific objectives. The Commission would no longer be a secondary government with a ridiculous budget and unclear authority. Whether in industry, energy transition, or defense, the people would know to what end they are sharing their sovereignty and how this sharing is not a loss, but a gain in power and control.
It is in this way that we will be able to address the feelings of decline, dispossession, and powerlessness that are eating away at European polities and leading the European project to disintegration. And it is in this way that we will once again be proud to be Europeans.
Raphaël Glucksmann, The Will to Power, Dec 2021,
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