The core of European integration is what a layman would call a ‘European way of life’, a specific economic and social model that defines European societies and distinguishes them from the rest of the world, former WTO chief Pascal Lamy has said in web chat organised by EurActiv and the Notre Europe think tank.
Pascal Lamy is honorary president of the Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute. He was director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) from September 2005 to August 2013, served one term as EU commissioner for trade in 1999-2004 and served as chief of staff to Jacques Delors, then president of the European Commission, in 1985-1994. He spoke to EurActiv’s editor-in-chief Daniela Vincenti.
This interview is a selection of questions raised in the ‘citizen web dialogue’ organised by Notre Europe in partnership with EurActiv. You can watch the full video below.
Much has happened since you started your term as WTO director general. Some EU countries rejected the constitutional treaty; the sovereign debt crisis revealed cracks in the core elements of the EU integration; worries about sustainability of public finances and a lack of competitiveness rose and shifted the attention from Central Europe to the Mediterranean countries. In this context, what struck me is that you said at several occasions that you are a committed European. I wonder what this means: being a committed European in 2014?
After eight years at the WTO – outside of the EU institutions – I am even more a committed European. Europe itself is much clearer when you watch it from outside of Europe, than when you watch it from within. What you see is a specific model, what a layman would call a ‘European way of life’. Translating this into economics, it means a specific economic and social model, a Sozialmodell Wirtschaft.
This is my identity, and I think it is what unites Europeans. If they agree with [this model], it is quite easy to understand that we won’t get there on our own. If Europeans believe in what Europe is all about – a civilised version of globalisation – they have to fight for it.
A considerable number of Europeans see the EU as the reason for the crisis. What are the main social and economic advantages that we, Europeans, need to capitalise on to promote our model of development, especially when aiming for sustainable development?
I think what explains the current surge of populism or euroscepticism, is the economic and social crisis. If you look at European history for the last 200 years, each time there has been an economic and social crisis, it created political turbulences.
Now, there is a long-term issue too, notably that many Europeans feel the EU institutions are not politically legitimate enough. They feel we don’t have the same influence on what happens ‘up there’. As long as Europeans do not share this feeling of belonging to the same community, the legitimacy of European power will be weak.
Le Parisien had a cover story recently in which French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg was posing with the French flag, a [French] Michel Herbelin watch and a Moulinex blender. It read: ‘Made in France’. In times of economic pressure: how can one find the right balance between protectionist pressures and free trade?
There are protectionist pressures; there always have been. Because some people still believe that dropping your imports is a way to sustain your employment. But ‘mercantilism’, which is the old mantra that imports are bad and exports are good, makes no sense in today’s world.
A Moulinex blender is not really made in France. It is made in many parts of this planet and assembled in France. And that is great: it shows that France can add value to something that is for the most part produced elsewhere.
If you target your imports, the immediate consequence is that you deteriorate the competitiveness of your exports and the value addition of your economy. The sum of your value addition is your Gross Domestic Product (GDP) so restricting your imports is the best way to shrink your GDP and exactly the contrary of what we have to do to reduce unemployment.
The EU has done quite a lot to boost new jobs and try to train manpower in fields that require high quality workers. In many such fields, jobs are still vacant. What can we do to fill such posts?
A lot of that depends of the quality of domestic policies. Education will not be europeanised; it works in local and national systems. But if we pull our resources, we will be better off together than each of us alone.
Research is a good example: in biotech, nanotechnology or digital economy, investing together leads to much better results. You increase the chances to progress on innovation if many researchers work on it. Let’s keep investing in cross-European programmes, like Erasmus, and let’s pool what we do.
In the past, the Franco-German leaders have often pushed for progress on further European integration. Right now, these two take different approaches on how to integrate. When do you think the French and German leaders will come up with shared initiatives?
Well, if you look at the past sixty years of European integration, the Franco-German axis is crucial for European integration. When this engine works, Europe works better.
This is because they are the two biggest countries, and probably the two most different countries. They have different views; a different economic and social system in mind. If this converges, it could mean a big step towards [further] European convergence.
We know the terms of the trade-off [between Paris and Berlin]. The French have to become more serious about the economy, and Germans have to become more serious about foreign policy.
French spend most of their time wrangling about how to share the cake without considering how to increase it. And Germans are good at increasing the cake, but globally believe that, if there is no war with Russia and France, there is peace in the world. Well, this is not peace in the world, and if Europe wants to increase its weight in the world, it needs to care more about the rest of the world.
This basic trade-off needs to happen. It would bring this thinking to the fore of mainstream European thinking. If these two do the job, it is easier for others to join this consensus.
One participant in the online web dialogue asks: What is your next step? Jacques Delors has promoted you as a potential next Commission president in the past.
Jacques Delors is a great friend of mine who has thought me most of what I know about politics. But he just forgot that I am 66 years old. At my age, it is not reasonable to pitch for high responsibilities.
Now, I have a few passions and Europe is one of them. Sometimes passion can trump reason. But in politics, this is decided by elections. My political family has a candidates, Martin Schulz, [for the Commission presidency. After May’s elections, there is a process in which the European Council nominates a candidate taking into account the results of the elections, and we will see. For the moment, I am fighting with and behind the leader of my camp.
Rumour has it that the next Commission president could very well be someone who is not amongst the single candidates.
Being old has many disadvantages, yet one advantage is that you don’t care about rumours.