Vocal Europe: Last year, in his address to the European Parliament’s plenary session, the president of the European Commission talked about the “polycrises” facing Europe. One year after, the crises are still there and Europe is facing a plethora of populist, far-right and Eurosceptic movements that may be enhanced by national elections. In 2017, would the EU emerge stronger or weaker?
Janez Jansa: We can be satisfied if the EU at the end of 2017 emerges at least in the same condition as it is now. Undoubtedly we will be still at the crossroad. And yes, forthcoming elections in Germany and France will significantly, if not decisively, determine the near future of the historical EU project.
Vocal Europe: “Brexit” is seen by many as a revolt against globalization, and the rift between globalization’s winners and losers is dividing the European society. The latest Eurobarometer, released in December 2016, shows that the unemployment is considered the main challenge for the EU (45%). However, globalization is here to stay and, it seems, also the modest economic growth in Europe (European Commission expects 1.6 growth in 2017). What can EU do in order to better manage the effects of the globalization?
Janez Jansa: Globalization is not an option. It is a reality brought by technological development. And we face positive and negative impacts of it. The responsibility and the success for the governments and international institutions is to encourage positive and fight negative consequences. The most challenging consequence of the globalisation is not unemployment in some parts of the industrialised countries, but a new emerging military-China, reaching to the level of 50% of the US military power . Russia, a regional and nuclear power, having in mind the size of its economy and military, is not the main concern for the Euro Atlantic world and world peace. Having said that China is the biggest winner of the globalisation. There is no balance and division of power, no free civil society, no free speech, no free elections and no democracy. Today we may have a responsible leadership of the China Communist party, but next politburo can be totally different. Risk is enormous. But this fact is not yet obvious to the masses of voters in EU countries, neither in the US. The biggest mistake made by the West after the end of the cold war was that the so-called Alliance of the democracies with strict rules was not formed. Instead, we got G 8 and G 20. So we have faced a proliferation of the most advanced technologies, invented in the west, that was available for almost anybody who had money. EU has to be aware of the priorities among the global challenges to be able to properly address them.
Vocal Europe: How did the European Union fall into the pitfall of low growth, high inequalities, and macroeconomic disequilibria between the EU countries? In your opinion which concrete and immediate reforms should be undertaken to address those challenges?
Janez Jansa: One of the reasons is fast enlargement after the collapse of the Berlin wall. One important thing is to harmonise the legislation and the rules, but harmonising basic knowledge and habits is a totally different challenge. This is possible only if we have in mind the original philosophical foundations of the EU. But the enlargement itself had and still has more opportunity than challenges. The main problem is that the Union of values has been mostly lost as a guideline for current ruling political class in many EU member states and in the EU institutions especially. It has been replaced by pragmatic issues treated as strategic priorities, partisan agendas and political correctness.
On one side the EU institutions enforce strict rules to the applicant countries, on the other side they tolerate the selective justice, total media monopolies and stolen elections in some of it’s member countries. Low growth, high inequalities, and macroeconomic disequilibria among the EU countries are all solvable problems, mostly within known frameworks of the EU, but only if we have time to deal with them. If the only crisis management is on the top EC agenda, than all these problems will grow tremendously. So, we have to be aware of the coming strategic problems and have to prepare solutions in advance. Other than the challenges brought by globalisation, five biggest challenges of modern Europe are: aging population in the majority of European countries, migration pressure onto the borders due to wars and poverty, strengthening of radicalism in the Islamic world and Islamic ghettos inside the EU, renewed territorial and cold-war appetites of Moscow, and inapt political Western class that was born into prosperity and has lost its values.
Vocal Europe: Donald Trump declared that will propose offering to end sanctions on Russia for Crimea’s annexation in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal. In your opinion, can Trump’s presidency impact the EU’s relations with Russia? How do you see the EU-Russia relations in 2017?
Janez Jansa: Within one year we can find more tense relations between US and Russian Federation than during the last years of Obama administration that has appeared very loud but weak. And the EU can start to play a role which was regrettably neglected after the collapse of the Soviet union.
Vocal Europe: Which of these scenarios may improve the EU’s cohesiveness and its policies’ coherence? : the “two-speed” Europe, the intergovernmental configuration, the current way of decision-making or more integration? And which one do you think that is likely to happen?
Janez Jansa: Current crisis with Brexit and migration in the focus is not an opportunity for Europe. At least not yet. Is this the beginning of the real fight for survival of the EU project. So don’t play with new treaties, constitution proposals and other exotic solutions. Fight for Lisbon treaty to survive and to be implemented before we discuss other legal frameworks for the union.
Vocal Europe: It is widely acknowledged that the EU’s project is suffering from “fatigue. How can it be re-kindled in order to improve the EU’s capacity to address its challenges and, ultimately, to reverse the people’s discontent with the European Union?
Janez Jansa: First, we have to understand how we have came here. In May 2004, the last visible shadow of the Iron Curtain vanished from Europe. With a single stroke of the pen, the EU accepted ten new members: eight former Communist states together with Cyprus and Malta. For the first time in centuries, almost whole of the European continent entered a single political union and formed the largest territory of safety, stability, and welfare on the face of the Earth. It seemed to everyone that the smooth and wide road of the European destiny led only straight forward, while optimism splashed over the rim of political prudence. We drew plans for the EU to include the countries of the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership, we created the Union for the Mediterranean, spread the Euro zone, adjusted a new strategic partnership treaty with the Russian Federation, and promised al ruthless fight against climate changes to the Caribbean countries. We debated the European Constitution and deliberated upon ambitions for Europe’s decisive intervention in shaping the rest of the world. Everything seemed possible.
After only a decade and a half in an independent country and parliamentary democracy of our own, we – Slovenians – could relate to this particular type of optimism. We merged with it, because as the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall crumbled to the ground, we also managed to achieve a goal that merely years before had seemed impossible. We were eager to accept an extraordinary challenge: to be the first new EU member to preside over the Council of the EU and the European Council. That was in the time when the optimism of the old continent ran at its highest and my position of the President of the European Council allowed me to bear witness to that hallowed period from up close.
I noticed differences between various European politicians. Many of those in the West were already born into prosperity and persisted with a conviction that the prosperity would continue on its own, merely through the inertia of institutions’ activity. There were also those from the new member states, who were scarred by ruthless years of Communism and had to fight for their freedom and democracy.
I saw a generation of great European politicians leave the centre stage, the generation of states persons who carried their own vivid memories of the horrors of the Second World War and of all the efforts they poured into the foundations of the EU to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
They were mostly followed by technocrats, full of phrases they did not understand and brilliant disciples of political marketing with unbridled personal ambitions. That particular change of generations is among the reasons why many threats that bred in the east and the south were overlooked and now challenge Europe. World peace will be preserved and the foundations of the North Atlantic civilization and the EU bolstered, if for the next couple of years electors in key Western countries vote reasonably, avoid any extremes and detached from destructive political correctness.
From an environment, where truth is branded as hate speech almost as a matter of rule – as indicated by Orwell – the West must rise as a place of values, where truth remains the foundation of mutual respect, solidarity, and prosperity. Because Europe as a political sphere connected into the EU, may turn into a memory tomorrow. It can revert into an environment of several large warring national states with a number of satellites and a few regional alliances, which will strive to preserve remnants of independence and prosperity. This could become a territory plunged into a growing chaos and armed conflicts, which could spread inwards. On the other hand, we may hope and must fight that Europe remains a place of strengthened foundations, accord, and prosperity. At the moment, all options are possible. And if we really want to reverse the people’s discontent with the European Union, they have to get all knowledge about current situation and alternatives about the future of Europe.
*Janez Jansa is a Slovenian politician who served as Prime Minister of Slovenia from 2004 to 2008 and again from 2012 to 2013. He was also the President of the European Council in 2008.