The world that is not to come

June 2020 by https://mondediplo.com/

The architects of the EU have always been enemies of protectionism and sovereignty, since the creation of its forerunner, the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. They remained so through the era of the Treaty of Rome and the Common Market. So it’s unsurprising that, even with the global economy collapsing and unemployment soaring, the EU is imperturbably dreaming of further enlargement (Albania, North Macedonia) and negotiating new free trade agreements (Mexico, Vietnam). The UK may have slammed the door behind it, but let’s welcome in the Balkans. Then maybe it will be Ukraine’s turn.

No one can make a fanatic act against his nature. Europe is obsessed with creating a vast market with no borders, customs or subsidies. Without ever more trade liberalisation, it would fall apart. This is the bicycle theory: keep pedalling towards greater integration or topple over. Brussels dreams of a world like a huge oil slick on which shipments of goods glide frictionlessly to the strains of the Ode to Joy.

The thoughts on globalisation of Phil Hogan, current EU commissioner for trade, were just what we needed to hear at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, with most EU citizens still under lockdown, US-Chinese tensions increasingly rancorous and Washington flouting most of the trade ‘rules’ it had signed up to. They amount to this: coronavirus changes nothing, we simply need to speed up. Naturally, a few health sector businesses will be brought back to Europe. ‘But those are an exception,’ Hogan warned. Addressing those who talk of shorter supply chains and degrowth, he said, ‘In 2040, 50% of the global population will live less than five hours from Myanmar … It seems obvious to me that European businesses won’t want to deprive themselves of this windfall. That would be completely idiotic.’ He knows what he will be focusing on in the months ahead: ‘We need to expand our existing free trade agreements — we have them with around 70 countries — and try to contract new ones’ (1).

Online intellectuals currently have many plans for ‘the world that comes after’: by turn lyrical, polyphonic, well-intentioned, complex, united and so on. But they will remain useless verbiage if they do not address the fundamental architecture of a European Union that over decades has become ‘globalisation in miniature’ (2). The trade rules the EU dreams of imposing on the world through the size of its market may have fallen apart, to its horror, but it is clinging to its respect for ‘rules’ that are both outdated and damaging. Selling Audis to Myanmar represents its only sustaining ideal, the only plan for progress it wishes to associate with its name.

Serge HalimiSerge Halimi is president and director of Le Monde diplomatique