The dangers of confrontation between the West and Islam

Very few people have influenced France’s foreign policy – and by extension, that of the European Union – over the past two decades as much as Hubert Vedrine. A close associate of Francois Mitterand for 14 years, he was a diplomatic adviser to the presidency and the foreign minister during the «pluralist Left» government under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, posts in which he played an important role in dealing with major international crises such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. His books «The Worlds of Francois Mitterand» and «France in an Age of Globalization» are considered reference works for the development of French diplomacy in the post-Cold War period. Recently, while Vedrine was in Athens to take part in a conference organized by the Economist, he gave a very interesting lecture at the Greek Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic academy on the challenges for modern diplomacy. He found time in his busy schedule to give this interview to Kathimerini. We recently celebrated an historic enlargement of the European Union. Yet skeptics say that Europe is developing into a vast free-trade zone without its own identity, becoming more and more neoliberal and Atlantic, a more «American» Europe. What is your view? I think there are two different things here. Europe is not leaning toward neoliberalism because it is being enlarged, but because the neoliberal ideology of the Chicago school, that of Thatcher and Reagan, has become prevalent throughout the world, and not only in Europe. As for enlargement, matters are clear. The EU’s founding charter [the Treaty of Rome] wanted it to open to all democratic states in Europe. Of course there are some controversial cases, such as Turkey, but with countries that obviously belong in Europe, that have a definite democratically organized state and have carried out reforms, we cannot but accept them into the Union. Directorate not good idea Faced with the Union’s institutional paralysis, with expansion to 25 member states, two ideas have been proposed: that of the «hard core» and that of a kind of directorate of powerful states. Is there a «Third Way»? Of course. Before we talk about a «hard core» or a directorate, we should look at the entire problem, which is institutional reform in the 25-member Europe. Until now, all decisions in the EU were reached based on the principle of unanimity; all the founding treaties, all the important political decisions. That did not prevent us from moving forward. When we had 10 members, many people said Europe would become paralyzed if we expanded to 12 or 15 members, that it would be catastrophic. But that didn’t happen, so we should not be so pessimistic. Even if there is a hard core, we will need a general framework for the functioning of the Europe of 25 members, a framework such as the draft constitution drawn up by the Constitutional Convention. As for the directorate, I do not think it is a good idea if it means that some countries will have specific, institutional privileges and the ability to make decisions on behalf of the others. On the other hand, I believe that all 25 member states have an interest in a convergence of opinions between the powerful countries; not to govern the others, but to avert paralysis. For example, today, if the three large countries – France, Britain and Germany – agree to a common rationale for the architecture of European institutions, things will go better. Now, as for the hard core, it is a very popular idea in my country. Ideas have been put forward regarding a hard core with Germany, with the EU’s six founding states. Blair’s referendum Many people feel somewhat annoyed with the European policy of Tony Blair and his recent decision to announce a referendum on the European Constitution. Could the referendum open a Pandora’s box, preventing the ratification of the Constitution? If it happens soon, it will be a failure, the Constitution will be rejected and we will be forced to implement the Nice Convention. But it could happen later, if Blair is re-elected, and the question would be linked to the Constitution, but also to the role of Britain in the Union generally. In that case, it could be won. To come back to the hard core, many people have proposed this, but they have not managed to agree on fundamental questions such as which countries will participate in this hard core, to what degree their integration would proceed. No one knows how acceptable this hard core would be to the European public, or what its relationship to the rest of the member states would be. Vanguard and rear guard For if there is a hard core, those outside it will object to there being first- and second-class members. If there is a type of European «vanguard,» this will automatically create a European «rear guard.» I believe that it is for all the above reasons that the issue is being discussed so much, but it is not moving ahead in practice. The only way to push European integration forward, in my opinion, is by means of cooperation between small groups of countries, according to the issue at hand. For example, a group of states interested in joint defense, another in the problems in the Balkans or the Baltics, another in social policy, and so on. This would not cause problems, because countries that are not interested in a particular issue would need not participate.