Michel Barnier, former Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, now Special Counsellor for Defence Policy to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Wednesday (1 December) that he saw a serious risk of the EU disintegrating.
Barnier spoke to an even organised by CIFE (Centre International de Formation Européenne) dedicated to the expectations that in 2016, the EU would make progress on European defence.
The veteran politician from the centre-right European People’s Party, of which he has been the Vice President, has also served as France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, as foreign minister, and as minister of agriculture. As Commissioner for the Internal Market, Barnier handled many important issues, such as the reform of the financial sector (41 pieces of legislation between 2010 and 2014), the banking union (starting with the Single Supervisory Mechanism) and the digital single market.
EURACTIV asked Barnier how he would comment on the fact that EU leaders were meeting more and more frequently, and adopting decisions which they don’t implement, as if they thought the EU would not last. Juncker has recently complained that member states don’t deliver on the various decisions made at the successive EU summits on migration held recently.
‘A moment of truth’
“You asked if Europe will last. I think this is a good question. A serious and good question. I think we have reached the moment of truth for the European project. Not only have we been conscious of Europe’s destabilisation, but of the risk of its disintegration,” Barnier said.
“I notice, as you, the coupled effect of interlinked crises. On the one hand the financial crisis, which has killed growth in a number of European countries, and from which we have not yet recovered, even if happily enough some countries are better off. On the other hand the ecological crisis, which provokes problems in Africa and movements of refugee. And naturally the wars, in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, which provoke migration movements we are unable to control or welcome. All this creates an internal situation in many European countries which can lead to a standoff,” Barnier said.
He referred to his country, where, according to polls, the far-right National Front is predicted to earn 25 to 30% of the vote in Sunday’s regional elections (6 December), and called the situation “worrying”.
“And in many countries we see the rise of populist movements, all of which are anti-European, protectionist, opposed to the single market, which advocate the return to the nation or even to nationalism,” he said.
Barnier regretted the lack of common European spirit among EU heads of state and government, and said there should be a common ground, on the basis of three or four big subjects, which clearly show that Europe can be useful today.
‘Don’t scrap Schengen, go deeper into it’
“We started doing this with financial stability, including the Banking Union, to avoid further crises. We could do it with a batter management of our common borders. To go deeper into Schengen, not to scrap Schengen. And to make Schengen work. This requires a common, a community management of the borders. And also shared sovereignty.”
In the field of security and defence, Barnier said that according to opinion polls, there is high demand for more common action.
The June 2015 EU summit decided that the Union’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, would prepare a global strategy on foreign and security policy, in close cooperation with member states, to be submitted to the European Council by June 2016.
Europe should not only be ‘a supermarket’
Barnier argued that if Europe wants to be “something more than a supermarket” and be equal to the world’s big powers, it should have “the attributes of influence”, which he said is the economy, the single currency, a foreign policy and a defence.
“We are not there,” he added.
Barnier recalled the advances in the Lisbon Treaty, on security and defence, included the new position of a double-hatted High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the Commission, the European Defence Agency, the idea for a “structured cooperation” on defence, as well as the solidarity clause on defence.
He argued that the context had evolved immensely since those decisions were made, and that with Islamic State, there was now a direct link between external and internal threats, inside the European societies .
A similar direct link, Barnier said, are the hybrid threats, in light of the Russian threat in the context of the Ukraine crisis, cyber-security and strategic communication.
“We have reached a point when the EU must imperatively succeed its strategic adaptation to this new environment,” he stressed, adding that on their side, the NATO countries were undergoing such a strategic adaptation.
As an illustration of what he called “the speed of time”, Barnier quoted from the preamble of the European Security Strategy presented by Javier Solana in 2003, which until now remains the only such policy document agreed on by all member states.
“Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th Century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history,” the first sentence of this strategy reads.
“The world has changed,” Barnier argued, emphasising the importance of its replacement by the new strategy, to be presented by Mogherini in June.
The EU will in fact present its strategy ahead of NATO, wgucg will hold its summit in Warsaw four weeks later, in July.
Brexit is mutual weakening
Asked about his views on the eventuality that the UK would leave the Union following the referendum in 2017, Barnier made a strong case that the British should not leave the Union
“I’m very much in favour of having the British on board. Yes, they would have to decide and answer the existential question they have put to themselves, whether they stay in the EU or leave. I wish that they would stay. It’s a great country, a great people, it’s a member of the UN Security Council, with an extensive diplomatic network and a defence capacity few countries have, capable of intervening on any location. I think a separation would be a mutual weakening, for them and for us,” Barnier said.
Barnier recalled that as a Commissioner, during his last mandate, he had presented 41 texts for better regulation of the internal market, and that with only two exceptions, the UK had always been on the same side.