Hubert Védrine, former Diplomatic advisor to the President of the Republic during the time of Mitterrand, Secretary General of Elysee Palace from 1991 to 1995, and the Foreign Minister from 1997 to 2002, visited Helsinki as a guest of the Association of the former Finnish students of ENA in Paris.
Mr. Védrine started his speech by describing the international context. During the cold war everything was clear – we were either in one camp or in the other, east-west. Since the end of Soviet Union, there is no consensus of the world. Instead, we have different “grilles de lecture”, understandings. In 1991 and after, there was a wave of euphoria. We had won the cold war – end of history (Fukuyama). The idea reigned that liberal democracy would be brought everywhere. Huntington raised his voice, however, to remind us that there are other civilizations, there can be clashes. In the 1990s, Huntington showed vigilance when he warned against idea of human progress. By the end of the 1990s, the world seemed more like that of Huntington’s than that of Fukuyama’s. Védrine called us of the neo-conservatism of President Bush.
Védrine reminds us that there are no clear answers to what is the world today: Are we in an international community, in a unipolar world, or a multipolar world … And is this good or bad? What about the multilateralism of the UN? Or, are we in a system which is more chaotic. Or an a-polar world. Chaos? It is characteristic that there are such doubts about the character of our world, instead of just one understanding. There are people who can impose their reading of the world on others, such as the president of the United States. But what do we understand by security in Europe? We have to understand the context and the threats: The administration of President Bush made terrorism a central explanation. Not everybody in the world was convinced but they had not the capacity to reformulate stronger explanations or definitions of the threats.
A different American administration could have reacted differently (against Al Qaida, Iraq…). Different western policies are possible, underlines Védrine. There are, for example, different understandings of the reasons behind the activities of Hamas. Today’s situations should not be viewed fatalistically. USA could have decided to not make war in Iraq. Védrine reminds the audience of the diplomatic skills of Nixon and Kissinger, for example, when handling the threat of China. That was a totally different type of policy from the US policies towards Iran today, Védrine says. Today the US policies only consolidate the hard liners there.
What are the threats for the security in Europe today? According to Védrine, terrorism is not a threat, because terrorists cannot achieve their objectives in the Arab world. They have not been able to change all the regimes in the Arab world. They have not succeeded in their goals today and they will not succeed, emphasizes Védrine. How long will this situation last? Maybe 10-20 years, we do not know, but modernity is stronger than anything, says Védrine. Terrorism is a serious question, but it can be handled by police information technologies, etc. According to Védrine, Bush has ignored the political context that is linked to terrorism. It is a huge mistake to talk about terrorism all the time because that is what the terrorists want. It is tragic that the attention given to terrorism incites new attacks. On the contrary, terrorism should be played down.
Terrorism is not a problem to the west today. The west has dominated the world since 500 years – cf. colonialism. According to Védrine, the west is still a leader in the fields of economy and intellectual life. We know what is right and what is wrong.
USA is still the biggest world power, but new powers are emerging: China, India, and others. We can talk about 15-20 emerging powers, such as Iran (with a different regime), South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey. These countries develop and create global enterprises. The big multinational firms used to be western, but today they can be from elsewhere, too. Big investors come from the Arab world, China, and Russia. We (the Europe) are losing the monopoly of history – the power. Of course, we have not lost influence, but somehow Europeans are not seeing the situation properly. We are still paternalistic: we want to bring good to all people, but these emerging powers will take their place in the global system.
If we keep talking about the Security Council reform without being able to really do it, the Americans will do it, and make it such that it will legitimate the American policies and if the Security Council does not accept the reform, the Americans will by-pass it, says Védrine. Only modern Europeans talk about the ideal of multilateralism, he adds.
For Védrine, the question number one in terms of security (not in military terms, however) is how we westerners will react in front of the emerging powers – well or not well. The reactions may include worries, militarization, preventive action, even paranoia (which we see today with regard to terrorism) or, as Védrine hopes, calculated policies and strategies. How shall we answer to this threat? Westerners all together? Europeans together? Or country by country? Should we treat the questions from the viewpoint of a Westerner or a Frenchman, for example? It is not simple, says Védrine.
The USA thinks only of itself and its allies. Europeans are not so sure about their reactions. Should the European approach be created in partnership with the USA? Védrine says that this is not easy as Europeans talk about an Alliance with two pillars, which is something that has not been done before. Is it possible to create a European pillar for NATO, to have more European influence, thinks Védrine. Of course, it is difficult to influence the Americans. For example alongside with the Iraqi case, Tony Blair has tried to push Bush to change his policies in Middle East, but absolutely with no influence (there is no peace process in the Middle East). Even Churchill could not influence Roosevelt.
When we oppose the USA, we do not have influence either, reminds Védrine, and says that France has tried that many times.
Védrine talks about the Lisbon Treaty: what it clarifies, and what not? It is good that the treaty marks an end to the debate on the “constitution”. He says that it was evident that it was never a question of a constitution in the first place inside the EU. It was an international treaty. The talk about a constitution was not useful, it was counter-productive. If there would have been a referendum in Germany, it would have been lost also. Lisbon treaty ends the blockade, but 12 years were lost in this debate.
The differences between the Lisbon Treaty and the constitutional treaty are not huge. We will never have a federal system like the one in the USA, says Védrine. All powers will never be given to the Commission, or to the European Parliament. The Lisbon Treaty will stabilize the situation. EU will be a confederation of nation-states in the Euro zone as Jacques Delors had predicted long time ago. Védrine cannot see that the 27 or more member states would start to discuss a new treaty. It is Lisbon that stays. New projects can be started in this framework, for example in the fields of European defence, migration, and energy. There will be new policies but the structure will not change – EU will stay a union of states.
But what will be its role in the world? There are those like the Brits, who see the EU as an economic entity, thinking that the union should enlarge as much as possible, because that would make it richer. Those who see the EU as a political union, like Védrine, think that it has to stop somewhere (like the USA stopped somewhere). Americans think that we are cowards not accepting Turkey, but they are also cowards as they do not take in Mexico and give them a place in the Senate, underlines Védrine. He makes it clear that he does not believe Europeans would be ready to ratify the treaty of accession of Turkey and (as he reminds us) it is an international treaty and has to be ratified by all member-states. If we do not limit the EU geographically we cannot get people to identify themselves into the European ideal, he thinks. Védrine hopes to get rid of the commissioner for enlargement soon.
There is a huge difference between the worries of the elites in Europe and the public opinion. Public opinion, according to Védrine, would like to see the EU to develop into a big Switzerland… rich entity with wide individual freedoms, rights and security. Modern Europeans think that wars are over. It is a sympathetic thought, says Védrine, “if the whole world would be full of Europeans like us”. But elites think that we have to make a powerful Europe because we have to defend our way of life against the other emerging powers in the world. However, the public opinion is not convinced of the elite definition of the threats.
Védrine underlines that to make progress the EU has to be made into an important power (puissance). Many EU countries continue to enjoy their security being guaranteed by the Americans. They do not need a Europe of Defence. However, when we talk about a Europe of Defence today we do not talk about European defence, reminds Védrine, we talk about military capacity to intervene in external conflicts. According to him, the treaties do not say anything about defending European territory. It is about capacity of intervention, peacekeeping, anywhere in the world. It is useful but does not treat the security of Europe as such.
If Europe feels challenged by the emerging powers, it is not a military question. It is not NATO that will prevent China from becoming a major economic power. Europeans have to clarify this to themselves. If all European countries would be in NATO, this would make the Europeans stronger inside NATO. France would like to see Europeans in NATO, all 27, Védrine says, but underlines many times that he is not as such doing propaganda for NATO and that Finland will decide about its possible accession alone. Védrine, however, thinks that even public opinion can be changed as the international context has changed.
What would we do as Europeans outside NATO, Védrine asks. There was the WEU, even if it was virtual, but it does not exist anymore. In the Lisbon Treaty the security guarantees are about “good will”. There is no army behind the guarantees. Not to leave someone alone who is threatened is of course a common question inside the EU, but there is no automatism in giving help.
What the Europeans can do together? The European approach should be based on a common understanding of threats. Terrorism? Is there still a Russian question – still military or not? Or are the threats to Europe more economic? Maybe Mafia? Military replies are not useful in these cases. We have to harmonize our answers when it comes to the Russian question, for example, Védrine underlines. A road map of convergence between the Europeans is needed. Threats of today are different than before. However, Védrine does not want to talk about global threats because it makes us lose the real responsibility. Who is Mr Global? Who is the global president who should find solutions to global problems? We have a problem if everything like pollution and drugs are understood as global problems, because they are then no longer in the hands of somebody. Member-states cannot expect that the EU does something. We are the EU. Just like the United Nations as such is only a big meeting room, and the member states make the UN, Védrine reminds.
To Védrine, the problem number one is how to adapt to the emerging powers. It will be difficult, sometimes even dangerous. We have to think of a strategy. Not in a paternalistic way but with the power struggles in the world in mind. The west has to think about the future in a strategic way so that “the world will be a sympathetic international community in the future” as Védrine puts it.
Relations with NATO? Nobody wants the EU to develop military capacities aside NATO, it is impossible and too expensive, Védrine says. Things happen inside NATO and thus it is important that most Europeans are inside the alliance.
Europeans should think about their relations with Russia and China, and even with USA in a strategic way. Sarkozy is today changing the position of France inside NATO. Védrine liked the previous “soft power” position of France in NATO, but he also sees the need of strengthening the EU pillar inside the Alliance.
Questions were asked about Finland and NATO. Védrine underlined his hope that the rest of the EU member states join NATO. However, when discussing the case of Ukraine or Georgia his approach was totally opposite: He does not see any reason for enlarging NATO in Georgia or Ukraine. According to Védrine, NATO is not anymore in the logic of defence there. In the case of Ukraine, Védrine thinks that the enlargement of NATO should be stopped. Georgia is even more absurd, according to him. If Finland wants to join, that can be negotiated with Russia. But Georgia and Ukraine are all about American policies. There should be a debate with the EU partners inside the EU before any future enlargement. For example, objectives in the war in Afghanistan are not clear. Nowadays, the real threat is that NATO becomes a global actor that wants to intervene in all parts of the world, Védrine says.
Another question was posed on the Mediterranean union. According to Védrine, the current EU policies towards the Mediterranean region do not work: The EU’s paternalistic policies are not accepted by the South (when the 10 years of Barcelona process were celebrated, none of the presidents of the southern partners participated). Presentation of the new project was too provoking, however, according to Védrine, and gave the idea that it would be in competition with the EU. A compromise between Merkel and Sarkozy creates now a fusion of the idea of a union for the Mediterranean and the Barcelona process. There will be a common Secretariat – and thus a partnership which did not exist before. It’s about concrete projects, not about a utopian idea of integration. The added value, Védrine underlines, is the new-found legitimacy in the eyes of the countries of the south. They want the Commission’s aid but in a system where they are more listened to.