Victor Hugo coined in 1849 an idea that comes back over and over again

In an already quite popular interview published by the Financial Times this past week, the French president Emmanuel Macron presented his views of the covid crisis, future consequences, and Europe. He’s part of a bunch of intellectual politicians, so scarce these days. In his speech, he works with concepts, with ideas, with a strategic approach more than tactics, and he says things like “multilateralism is under threat because globalization created a growing hegemony.” You can agree with him or not, but at least you need to admit that he’s one step forward of the superficial political jargon, and of course of the scary irresponsible messages we’re unfortunately forced to listen to these days.

Europe has created, at least during the latest 40 years, a profile of “Capitalism with a Human Face”, as Samuel Brittan described 25 years ago. Addressing the ethical foundations of competitive capitalism from a strong and explicit individualist perspective, but where communities of individuals should help their least fortunate members, and having, to this end, a scheme of basic income support.

This “European profile” is based on Welfare State, where dominant public sectors have been providing the population with universal coverage for health, education, pensions, and many public services. Among the most powerful economies and societies of the world, the European model has been halfway between the Darwinist approach of the USA, and the full control imposed by the Communist Party in China. And the current pandemic crisis made these models emerge with even more clarity.

For sure, Europe has developed this idea only out of a lot of suffering. It took such a dramatic chain of events like almost consecutive WWI and WWII to realize that something should be done to avoid a complete collapse, and the Bretton Woods conference and Marshall Plan paved the way to the European fathers and founders.

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Concerning the views Macron presented, there are two different views when confronting the crisis. First, the ones who want to come back to the previous situation as soon as possible (as China and the USA are trying to do). And on the other hand, those who want to recover while taking advantage to create something new.

The question here is whether Europe is finally ready to overcome the reluctance of centuries to the creation of a genuinely single political and social space. During the latest 70 years, the continent advanced to incredible heights, building upon the economic alibi of an integrated market. Maastricht Treaty and the Euro Area, already in force for 25 years, might have seemed a bizarre idea very a few years before. But today it’s a reasonably consolidated idea, with a single currency and one European Central Bank, whom all the states involved gave away its monetary powers.

History repeats. And the famous speech that Victor Hugo pronounced during the Peace Congress at Paris in 1849, more than 170 years ago, shows that we’re all a product of our time:

Victor Hugo was, for sure, influenced by what he lived and the reality at that time. As Vicepresident of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, said in 2012:

Eight years ago, she was advocating again during the worst times for Europe after the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession, for the United States of Europe. Shortly after the Maastricht Treaty was signed, Helmut Kohl proclaimed a “United States of Europe” as an irreversible goal — although, in the end, the new Treaty had only achieved monetary union and not a political union, as Kohl had hoped.

Kroes final words at that speech in 2012, quoting a Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart book, can be repeated today: “the pressure of the crisis may unleash a dynamism that we cannot imagine in our wildest dreams. In the end, the United States of Europe may come about much faster than most people think.”

Now it’s time to know whether this current health and environmental emergency are grave enough for the citizenship of extremely different cultural backgrounds to gather around the same idea. Let’s find out id they can finally turn this “business-friendly” environment into something more profound, which was at the root of the initial approach.

Some steps seems to go slowly into this directions. Or at least, it seems to come back to a certain joint action with the involvement of the 27 countries, to some sense of unity. These days, the European Union agreed to launch a Recovery Fund, still without an specific amount, but which could allocate between half a trillion and two trillion euros to support to tackle the impact on unemployment, SMEs, and individuals. Such an amount would need to lead to a long-avoided question, because of its daunting dimension: fiscal union, the last step to a truly economic and political union. According to German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, 

It is a claim of many voices around the world today. .

Probably Europe is today in the best position to win that race, in case the countries want to be in for the competition.

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