Paris attacks: a recap / Paris, 13 novembre : un résumé

(En français ci-dessous)

128 confirmed dead and 200 injured. These are the current result estimates of terrorist attacks that happened yesterday, Friday the 13th of November, between 9.30pm and 00.25am, in two areas east and north of Paris. ISIS claimed responsibility for these attacks Saturday morning.
Police say eight attackers have died, seven of whom detonated themselves in a suicide attack. It is still unknown whether other persons participated to the attacks or would have escaped the French police, which managed the situation quickly.

What happened

The exact scenario and modus operandi of the attacks are still not clear, as information is still being collected by journalists and the police. As at today evening, here follows what we are sure of.
Several attacks happened simultaneously across the capital: one suicide-bombing attack near the Stade de France, hosting the France-Germany football game, and other attacks in the east of Paris (tenth and eleventh quarters). The latter attacks consisted in several attackers shooting at terraces of restaurants and bars with AK-47s. Another one – the deadliest one, with an estimated 80 dead – was led in the Bataclan, a famous concert hall that was hosting the Eagles of Death Metal on Friday night – a place ISIS described in a communiqué as a « party of perversity ».

Early measures taken

Saturday morning, French president François Hollande announced a series of measures having immediate effect.
First, state of emergency was declared, in line with article 16 of the French constitution. This unique provision, already used during the 2005 banlieues riots, provides the police and administrative authorities with extended powers notably as regards free movement of people, the opening of public places and search&seizure operations. Such état d’urgence is declared for an initial period of 12 days that can be prolonged only with express legislative consent of the Parliament.
Second, border controls are temporarily reestablished, as provided for in the Schengen safeguard clause (art 2(2) of the Schengen Convention). This means the police can now stop and control anybody crossing France’s borders, may it be by land, maritime or air.
Third, a lot of public places were closed this Saturday : schools, museums, libraries, sports facilities. Some big Parisian shops (e.g. Printemps) and theme parks were also closed.
A three-day national mourning was declared. A Congress (the gathering of the French Assembly and Senate) will be held on Monday 16 November in Versailles, during which François Hollande will give a speech to the nation.

French political context and perspective

The French president has been very active and present in the media, immediately after the announcement of the first attacks. Himself had to be exfiltraded from the Stade de France, where he was attending the football game. Calling the attacks « an act of war » this Saturday morning, Hollande was answered by former president and opposition leader Sarkozy who asked for « major changes » in French security policy. Despite these early critics, national union is the motto right now in the country, where people are still under shock.
France, whose military intervention in Iraq and Syria against Daech looks to be a failure, now faces a difficult dilemma : either to continue with the air strikes currently going on in the Middle-East, and keep its official hostile position towards Bachar El-Assad, or to operate a 360° turn in its international policy in order to lead operations on the ground. Such operations would necessarily involve a collaboration with Damascus’ regime.
On a domestic plan, yesterday’s attacks show that despite the adoption of a law on intelligence having conferred strong powers to the police and intelligence services, notably powers of surveilance on the internet, France is still vulnerable to attacks coming from – most probably – the inside. It is of course too soon to engage in a political debate about what should be done in order to avoid such attacks again – always more security ? – but no doubt that the vivid print of the Charlie and of 13/11 attacks will have a strong influence on the future 2017 presidential elections.

Plusieurs fusillades et attentats-suicides ont eu lieu hier soir, vendredi 13 novembre, entre 21h30 et 00h25, dans les 10e et 11e arrondissements de Paris ainsi qu’autour du Stade de France (Saint-Denis). Le bilan est actuellement de 128 morts confirmées et d’environ 200 blessés, dont 90 en « état d’urgence ». Les attentats ont été revendiqués par Daech samedi 14, peu avant midi.
Huit auteurs de ces attentats sont morts, sept s’étant fait exploser, le dernier ayant été abattu par les forces de police. Il est encore impossible de savoir à ce jour si d’autres assaillants existent et auraient échappé aux forces de police qui sont arrivées sur les lieux très rapidement.

Les faits

Le déroulement concret des événements n’est pas connu de manière exhaustive. Pour l’instant, les informations certaines sont les suivantes.
Trois explosions retentissent d’abord, à 21h23, autour du Stade de France dans lequel se déroule le match amical France-Allemagne, en présence de François Hollande, rapidement exfiltré. Ces explosions font quatre morts, dont au moins deux assaillants. Dans le même temps, deux bars-restaurants du 10e arrondissement sont frappés par des hommes en voiture mitraillant les passants et les personnes en terrasse. 4 hommes entrent parallèlement au Bataclan, et tirent à vue sur la foule venue assister au concert des Eagles of Death Metal, un groupe de rock américain. C’est ici que les victimes sont les plus nombreuses, avec environ 80 morts. Après une prise d’otage, trois de ces assaillants se feront exploser lors de l’intervention de la Brigade de Recherche et d’Intervention (BRI), un sera abattu. En parallèle, d’autres assaillants tirent en plein air sur des passants et une terrasse de café.


source: lemonde.fr

Mesures de court-terme

Lors d’une allocution télévisée à 10h50, ce matin, François Hollande a annoncé une série de mesures.
La déclaration de l’état d’urgence, tout d’abord, prévu à l’article 16 de la Constitution, lequel avait déjà été utilisé lors des émeutes urbaines de 2005. Cet état d’urgence confère aux autorités civiles, dans l’aire géographique à laquelle il s’applique, des pouvoirs de police exceptionnels portant sur la réglementation de la circulation et du séjour des personnes, sur la fermeture des lieux ouverts au public et sur la réquisition des armes. Un décret pris en Conseil des ministres institue l’état d’urgence, qui peut prévoir un renforcement des pouvoirs de police en matière de perquisition et de contrôle des moyens d’information. Au-delà de douze jours, la prorogation de l’état d’urgence ne peut être autorisée que par le Parlement.
Des contrôles renforcés aux frontières terrestres, maritimes et aériennes, ensuite, comme le prévoit la clause de sauvegarde intégrée à l’article 2.2 de la convention de Schengen, qui avait en fait été actionnée dès hier en prévision de la COP21, fin novembre, à Paris.
Enfin, certains lieux publics (établissements scolaires, musées, bibliothèques, équipements sportifs) ainsi que des grandes enseignes et les parcs d’attraction sont aujourd’hui fermés à Paris.
De manière plus symbolique, un deuil national de 3 jours a été déclaré et François Hollande s’adressera lundi devant le Congrès (réunion de l’Assemblée et du Sénat), à Versailles.

Contexte et perspective

Deux interventions médiatiques hier soir, d’abord devant le Bataclan, puis depuis l’Elysée, suivies de l’annonce de mesures ce matin, après la réunion d’un Conseil des ministres exceptionnel: François Hollande, faisant référence à un « acte de guerre », a semble-t-il pris la mesure de la situation. Et ce malgré la réclamation du président du parti Les Républicains, Nicolas Sarkozy, à prendre des « inflexions majeures » en matière de sécurité. Une critique qui n’entame pas l’union nationale, symbolisée par les drapeaux désormais en berne, mais qui pourrait être source d’un clivage gauche/droite peu commun en matière de politique internationale.
La France, en constat d’échec devant l’intervention en Irak et en Syrie contre Daech, est face à un dilemme : soit elle conserve un mode opératoire actuel défaillant (intervention aérienne uniquement) en restant fidèle à son refus de coopérer avec le régime de Bachar Al-Assad, soit elle initie une intervention plus poussée contre Daech, qui serait faite « en concertation avec ses alliés », selon François Hollande. Cette dernière hypothèse pourrait donner deux options à ce dernier : mener une coalition armée au sol, au titre de la légitime défense – nonobstant les débats sur la justification juridique d’opérations menée contre un acteur non-étatique sur ce fondement – ou bien faire appel à Damas et rompre ainsi avec la position diplomatique officielle française selon laquelle le président syrien a vocation à quitter le pouvoir.
Sur le plan intérieur, la loi sur le renseignement adoptée à la suite des attentats Charlie a d’ores et déjà considérablement renforcé l’arsenal juridique à la disposition des autorités, notamment concernant les outils de surveillance. Difficile d’imaginer une loi créant des instruments nouveaux et plus efficaces. Si les français savent déjà que « le risque zéro n’existe pas », la probabilité est grande que les politiques ne se contentent pas d’une telle situation après un événement si dramatique.
Il est donc à prévoir que le débat politique français, après la classique période d’union nationale, se portera, une fois de plus, sur les enjeux sécuritaires. Voire européens, avec une remise en cause de Schengen de la part des partis d’extrême-droite. Il sera intéressant de veiller aux glissements sémantiques d’une droite toujours plus sécuritaire et d’une gauche devenue plus « responsable » grâce à l’exercice du pouvoir.

Publicités
Paris attacks: a recap / Paris, 13 novembre : un résumé

Réalités françaises

Hier j’ai voté. Par procuration, j’ai voté, dans ma circonscription du Centre, depuis Amsterdam où j’ai suivi les résultats des élections européennes, pays par pays, mais aussi région française par région française.

FN (Front National) 25% UMP&DVD (EPP) 20% PS (Socialists) 14% UDI (Liberal Democrats) 10%
FN (Front National) 25% UMP&DVD (EPP) 20% PS (Socialists) 14% UDI (Liberal Democrats) 10%

Aujourd’hui je suis choqué. Par le résultat du Front National dans mon pays, tout d’abord, mais aussi par le désintérêt constant que l’UE – que j’appellerai ici l’Europe – suscite chez les électeurs, et surtout, chez mes amis, pourtant eux aussi faisant partie de cette fameuse génération Erasmus. Cette génération, qui n’a pas vécu autre chose qu’une Europe unie, est la même qui, dans le même temps, n’a jamais connu autre chose qu’une croissance économique faible ou nulle. Celle qui se fait rabâcher jour et nuit le contexte de crise dans lequel elle se voit forcée de vivre, et dans lequel elle ne se voit plus, comme en Espagne ou en Grèce, vivre un avenir certain. Celle qui est la plus pessimiste au monde, bien aidée par des aînés animés par le doute et par l’art constant de la critique. Combien de mes amis sont convaincus que le vote est inutile ? Comment pourrais-je leur donner tort de penser que leur situation personnelle ne se résoudra que s’ils travaillent dur? De penser que le salut passe d’abord par le travail, et non par l’attente passive d’un politique distant dont les frontières intellectuelles sont fermées depuis les années 80 ? Combien de mes amis se sentent profondément européens, mais sont profondément apolitiques ? Et combien sont si las qu’ils en viennent à quotidiennement dénigrer leur propre pays, si riche et plein d’avenir ?

Alors, aussi choqué que je puisse être, je ne suis également ni surpris, ni en colère ; car si le résultat d’hier découle de multiples facteurs, il y en a un que l’on peut d’ores et déjà souligner. Ce facteur principal, c’est la peur qui envahit les esprits, qui les rend apathiques, qui empêche toute réflexion, contrecarre l’initiative et l’ouverture sur les autres.

Première réalité: le personnel politique français n’est pas à la hauteur des enjeux européens. Les journalistes n’ont pas le recul nécessaire. S’entraînant mutuellement dans un savoureux mélange d’ignorance teintée de goût pour la polémique nationale, ces deux professions se livrent un débat de qualité médiocre sur les plateaux télé et radio. Il ne faut pas se surprendre alors qu’un débat médiocre engendre un résultat médiocre. Si la campagne des européennes avait fait l’objet de plus d’attention et de rigueur de la part des partis politiques français, si les journalistes ne confondaient pas le Traité de Rome avec le Traité de Lisbonne (entendu hier soir sur iTélé!), et si l’on expliquait mieux le fonctionnement des institutions européennes, pourtant pas plus compliquées que celles de la Ve République, dans les collèges et lycées… Si toutes ces conditions avaient été réunies, alors un réel débat aurait pu émerger. L’on aurait débattu d’une vraie redéfinition de la place de la France en Europe, sur son rôle et les solutions qu’elle peut apporter contre la léthargie économique à laquelle l’Europe, dans sa globalité, est confrontée. Les différents partis auraient été obligés d’avoir de réels argumentaires, en lieu et place des grosses ficelles utilisées de part et d’autre.

Deuxième réalité: les Français, menés par des dirigeants âgés, court-termistes et ayant une vision étroite du monde qui les entoure, n’ont plus confiance en eux-mêmes et cherchent un refuge chez des personnages leur chantant la fabuleuse ritournelle du protectionnisme de gauche, et maintenant d’extrême droite.

La France qui rayonne, la France dont la culture est enviée partout dans le monde, la France qui a tant d’atouts géographiques et économiques, la France qui devrait constituer avec l’Allemagne le cœur battant de l’Europe, la France qui a tant de potentiel ! Cette France-là ne réalise pas qu’en s’ouvrant au dialogue, à la coopération, en construisant avec ses partenaires des politiques intelligentes, elle ne pourrait que se renforcer elle-même, et renforcerait par la même occasion l’Europe toute entière. C’est pourtant ce qu’attendent nos partenaires de nous.

Une France confiante, sûre de ses nombreux atouts, avenante et qui à la fois est porteuse des valeurs européennes que sont la démocratie, la liberté, l’égalité et la fraternité entre les peuples… Cette France-là semble endormie, ou bien ne croit plus en la capacité du politique pour la faire avancer.

Troisième réalité: l’Europe n’a pas vocation à se substituer aux Nations. L’Europe est faite par les Nations. L’Europe respecte et défend les traditions locales, la diversité culturelle ; l’Europe, c’est le fait même de pouvoir librement être différent de l’autre. Comment pourrait-elle, avec un tel ADN idéologique, représenter une menace hégémonique signifiant la disparition des identités nationales, dont la protection est inscrite même dans les Traités,[1] protection maintes fois affirmée par la Cour de Justice Européenne ?[2]

Comment tant de mensonges et d’idées reçues peuvent-elles recevoir tant de crédit au sein du débat politique français ?

Le retour à la confiance est la seule issue. La confiance implique trois pré-requis : l’honnêteté politique, la compétence technique, et enfin la responsabilité démocratique. La France a désespérément besoin d’honnêteté. Elle est lasse du mensonge, du double discours et des polémiques inutiles lancées lors de débats politiques vides de sens et au contenu misérable, déconnecté de toute réalité. Faire face aux réalités, c’est s’écarter de toute opposition partisane ou idéologique pour rechercher les solutions qui fonctionnent. Ces solutions doivent avoir une composante technique, c’est-à-dire être susceptibles de fonctionner, et une composante morale, autrement dit elles doivent susciter l’enthousiasme, en définissant clairement la feuille de route, le but à atteindre et le pourquoi. Sans ces deux dimensions, la solution n’en est pas une ; c’est un faux-semblant dans lequel on essaie de se consoler : une certitude du passé, qui n’appartient plus qu’au passé. La zone de confort de la politique.

Sortons de notre zone de confort française et partons à l’assaut de l’Europe ! Les Français ne sont-ils pas un peuple de séductrices et de séducteurs, après tout ? Les Français ne sont-ils pas un peuple rationnel, intelligent ? Les Français ne sont-ils pas un peuple capable du pire, comme du meilleur ? Les Français ne sont-ils pas un peuple armé d’audace, de courage et d’ambition ? Les Français ne sont-ils pas capables de convaincre leurs partenaires pour construire un projet à la hauteur de leur talent ?

Je ne veux pas croire que les Français soient conformes à l’image qu’ils ont donnée d’eux-mêmes à leurs partenaires européens, hier. Aussi permettez-moi de le dire : Dear Europe, we are sorry. Now we will get our shit together and work hard to fix everything.

 

[1] Article 4§2 Traité sur l’Union Européenne: « L’Union respecte l’égalité des États membres devant les traités ainsi que leur identité nationale, inhérente à leurs structures fondamentales politiques et constitutionnelles, y compris en ce qui concerne l’autonomie locale et régionale. Elle respecte les fonctions essentielles de l’État, notamment celles qui ont pour objet d’assurer son intégrité territoriale, de maintenir l’ordre public et de sauvegarder la sécurité nationale. En particulier, la sécurité nationale reste de la seule responsabilité de chaque État membre. »
[2] Voir, notamment, les arrêts de la CJUE C-112/00 Schmidberger [2003] ECR I-05659; C-36/02 Omega [2004] ECR I-09609; C-208/09 Sayn-Wittgenstein [2010] ECR I-13693.

Réalités françaises

Numericable’s acquisition of SFR – between State control and European perspectives for telecoms

It’s done. The second biggest telecom operator in France, SFR, was acquired yesterday by Numericable, after two months of intensive negotiations and suspense arising from the French government’s involvement in the deal.

Credit photo: Eric Piermont, AFP
Credit photo: Eric Piermont, AFP

 

SFR is held by the Vivendi group, while Numericable, the only cable operator on the French market, is held by Altice, a Luxemburg-based holding led by the Franco-Israeli billonnaire Patrick Drahi.

Although an initial exclusive negotiation agreement had been reached between Vivendi and Altice, several alternative offers were made by the third French mobile operator, Bouygues. These offers had the effect to increase the eventual acquisition price for Altice, which amounted to €13,5 billion in cash, a €750 million earnout and a 20% participation of Vivendi into the capital of the new structure. They also created suspense as to the identity of the final acquirer, as the government also pushed towards an acquisition by Bouygues and showed strong reluctance to Mr. Drahi’s offer. In the end Numericable drove Bouygues out of the table, even though Vivendi’s supervisory board was still undecided on Friday night.

The outcome of these negotiations, which had lasted for about two months, lead us to make two significant observations. First, despite all the efforts of the French State to support Bouygues’ offer, it is in the end a multinational group led by a cosmopolitan self-made man who won the bid – a that’s good news for the consumers. Second, competition issues seem to have had a great influence on the choice between Bouygues and Altice. It is interesting to note that the French telecoms market will stay as a 4-operators structure, while in the meantime the European Commission pushes for fewer but larger operators on the EU market through the Connected Continent package that has been adopted by the European Parliament this week.

How an outdated attempt for State intervention failed

Do not misinterpret me here. States have economic interests, and they are sometimes legitimate, especially in strategic fields such as telecommunications – a competent State should be concerned about the quality of its network and of technological innovation on its territory. The USA have understood this a long time ago, and developed an approach which some qualify as an entrepreneurial State. This approach consists in first supporting research, projects and innovation, then second letting the market decide on the outcoming products, and consequently on the creation of jobs, tax revenues, and economic growth.

But that’s precisely where the French State got it wrong in the SFR case. Through the mobilization of the traditional politico-financial French establishment (Bouygues being in the top-20 of the largest French companies, with a yearly €33bn turnover), the Minister for « Industrial Recovery » – recently nominated as the Minister of Economy under the new government – Arnaud Montebourg acted as if a French firm only would keep jobs. As a puppet, Bouygues would submit to the government and preserve jobs within SFR, regardless of the bad economic perspectives the sector faces. In a surprisingly chauvinistic declaration, Mr. Montebourg went so far as to state that Swiss-resident Drahi would have to come back to France if he was to acquire SFR. A declaration that shed some light on Mr. Montebourg’s views on the free movement of capital, one of the four European economic freedoms, which also applies when it comes to Switzerland.*

Arnaud Montebourg, the new French Minister of Economy and a fierce advocate of the "Made in France"
Arnaud Montebourg, the new French Minister of Economy and a fierce advocate of the « Made in France »

Tensions were thus palpable between on the one side State-supported Bouygues and Mr Drahi, the epitomy of the cosmopolitan self-made man. This scenario benefited Vivendi which probably took advantage of the activism of Bouygues to ask Altice more. If  prices for takeovers are often over the acquired company’s real value, this time the French government indirectly helped to confirm this pattern.

Maintaining four operators on the French market – when competition clashes with the European agenda

The French telecommunications market will accordingly welcome Numericable-SFR, an entity that will represent the second biggest force on the French market for mobile communication (around 30% of market share, after Orange’s 37%) and for fixed telephony (around 20% of market share). Aside from economic benefits the new entity can derive from the complementarity between its cable infrastructures and its mobile network, one should observe that the French market for mobile telephony will, at least for now, stay a 4-actors game, contrary to the hypothesis where Bouygues would have bought SFR. In 2011, a fourth operator entered the French mobile market: named Free, its agressive strategy with very low prices (2€ for unlimited texting + 2hours of call a month) led to huge savings for French consumers, who were 8 millions to switch from their former operator to Free (12% of market share!).

In early 2013 discussions happened between SFR and Free to consider a merger between them, as SFR was already facing difficulties. The Autorité de la Concurrence (the French Competition Authority) expressed at the time its disapproval of such an operation which would have the effect of going back to an oligopolistic market, with two « giants ». Since then the official stand of the Autorité de la Concurrence and of the ARCEP (the French Telecoms Regulatory Authority), which work together for the enforcement of competition in the sector, has been clear: going back to a 3-operators market is unacceptable.

Merger reviewal by competition authorities takes about six to nine months. If the final decision is negative, remedies have to be found by the merging parties, or a deal can also just be blocked if it is considered anti-competitive per se. The highly probable possibility for Vivendi to see the deal annulled by public powers on grounds of competition law must have been considered by them too great of a risk to accept Bouygues’ proposal. Selling SFR to a firm absent from the mobile sector represented the certainty of an effective merger within the coming year, even if guarantees concerning innovation concerning optical fiber and ultra-speed broadband will have to be shown by Mr. Drahi, alongside with guarantees on jobs preservation – a verbal promise to avoid job cuts during 36 months already worries trade unions which want a written commitment on 48 months. The French government does not abandon that easily its claims for control.

One question remains, however. The EU, through its recently adopted Connected Continent package (which also includes a provision protecting net neutrality), and through the voice of European Commissionner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, is right now advocating for a Single Telecoms market. The Commission has notably taken into account the desperate claims of big European operators such as Orange or Deutsche Telekom for a more unified European market with less actors (around 150 operators are now present on the 28 Member States) and more capacity to invest in infrastructures as well as in innovation.

Fewer, but bigger actors, in order for the European market to keep innovation on track and to resist international competition? It seems that for both national competition authorities and for consumers, the solution is far from obvious.

Numericable’s acquisition of SFR – between State control and European perspectives for telecoms

Towards a systemic change of the European political process?

Today I could write books about the municipal elections in France, with chapters dedicated to the rise of the extreme-right, the disillusion towards French politics leading to a never-reached 40% level of abstention in local elections supposed to be the heart of democracy, or again why changing the government as a consequence of this electoral defeat for the French Socialist Party isn’t going to bring anything in terms of jobs, growth or political benefits for the socialists.

To read this book, my fellow readers would need more than one glass of bourbon, though. So I will leave this issue for the moment, inviting to contact me if ever you happen to get a bottle of Jack – I’ll bring the rocks, be certain of it.
Still, I will talk about elections in Europe. About the new Slovak president, Andrej Kiska? I am not qualified enough.

Neither am I to comment on the Dutch municipal elections that took place ten days ago; after 8 months in Amsterdam I am still unable to speak a word of this curious language – a fact inconceivable in France where if you start speaking a word of Nigel Farage’s language without showing an extraordinary feeling of guilt and remorse, anybody will answer you: “qu’est-ce que putain?

Image

I will then talk about the European elections which are to come on the 25th of May. Only one round, fellas, proportional representation. Which means, yes, more voting weight for people who actually go to vote. And who will mobilized like never? I will let you guess. I do not want to take position; instead let’s see a bit how the 2014 elections will work and what they could bring to European democracy. Because this year something changes – and it can be of great importance.

Until now, and from the establishment of European Parliament elections in 1979, we were all voting for our European representatives – so-called “MEPs”. The president of the Commission – the executive branch of the EU – was then designed by the European Council (all 28 Member States chiefs of executive), the only democratic requirement as to this designation being stated in article 17§7 of the Treaty on the European Union:

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members.
If he does not obtain the required majority,
the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.

You see that our beloved leaders have to “take into account” the result of the elections to the European Parliament, the latter being able to approve or refuse the proposed candidate. If a refusal happens, only the Council can propose a new candidate. Accordingly, in theory the European Parliament can refuse all candidates the Council proposes until it is happy with somebody.

Political reality and legitimacy leaves less opportunity for the EP. In fact, the Council is the real master of the process, European leaders willing not to give the job to somebody too high-profile – and too popular. You can look at the list of former Commission presidents to be convinced.

This whole system leads to a justified criticism of the Commission: it is not democratic enough. How much percentage of the European population know and care about their Commissioners, after all? What is their political agenda? The College of Commissioners seems indeed like a distant institution which only widely press released actions are perceived as negative in public opinion.

This year, this system is supposed to change. European parties within the Parliament have decided to each designate one head-of-lists (“têtes de liste”, or Spitzenkandidaten) whom they will support for the Commission’s presidency. European citizens will thus vote for lists on the top of which figures a face and a name. If their list wins, this face will have to be president of the European executive who will be accorded more legitimacy. The Council will have to “take into account” that vote. This way, the European parties made a bet: that the 28 chiefs of executive will respect direct democracy and will not go counter the will of their own citizens. It makes no doubt that to do otherwise will be politically unsustainable from a democratic point of view.

Yet doubts subsist as to the attitude the Council will adopt. One of the two designated candidates to the Commission’s presidency, EPP Jean-Claude Juncker, is said to have another goal in mind: the presidency of the Council itself, currently held by the bleak Herman van Rompuy. A deal seems to have been concluded between him and Mrs. Merkel, who preferred Mr. Juncker over his French rival Mr. Barnier as the EPP candidate for the Commission’s presidency. Some say Mrs. Merkel supported Mr. Juncker so that, in the case the EPP wins the next elections – an uncertain perspective as polls change regularly – Juncker would withdraw from the game to get the Council’s Presidency. This would leave the hands free to the Council to designate a candidate of its choice. How would such a way to circumvent democracy be justified by our leaders before the public opinion? I will leave this to their imagination – or to the inexistence of a wide and active European public opinion.

 

But my optimism about this new system will not be altered so easily by behind-the-stage rumours. By taking advantage of a somewhat blurry provision of the TEU, European parties are actually pushing towards something everybody thought would need an impossible reform of the treaties: a real parliamentary system within the EU. The Commission is already politically responsible before the EP and can be censured by a two-thirds majority (article 234 TFEU). This tool has been used once, against the Santer Commission, but seems like a very exceptional power of control of the EP. By effectively requiring MEPs to reach a simple majority when approving the head-of-list elected by European citizens, one of the big two parties will have to make an alliance and, in consequence, to define more accurately their position on important European topics such as energy strategy, competition policy, net neutrality, external relations, etc.
Let’s hope citizens will feel more concerned about these issues as the debate in the European Parliament will be more vivid (at least, if it gets more confrontational, it will be more interesting to cover for French media).

 

Let’s also hope that sometime soon this ever-increasing influence of the European Parliament in the adoption of European law will be recognized to the extent that it will be able to propose its own legislation. But until then a lot of local and national elections in Europe will happen. Until then, such elections have a greater impact on the shaping of European democracy.

 

Towards a systemic change of the European political process?

The Crimean crisis, an opportunity for a renewed European energy strategy

At the time I am writing, Russian troops have gathered close to the now Ukrainian Eastern border with Crimea. One can wonder where Mr. Putin wants to go. No doubt that he played his cards at the right time, taking advantage of divided Europeans unable to swiftly react from a single and strong voice to the arrival of Russian troops in Crimea. It is now time for Europe to solve its systemic flaws a strong political leader can play with easily.

While the EU seemed to have learned from its divisions during the Georgian crisis in 2008 when a French-German-Polish delegation went to Kiev following the repression of political opponents by Yanukovich’s administration, it eventually went back to good ol’ national politics when having to face Russia. On the East side of Europe, there are direct concerns – let’s say by analogy – arising from Russia’s claim over a former USSR territory, and advocacy for a strong response to Crimea’s annexation. What is the point of having NATO in such situations if there is no action? On the West side of Europe, economic concerns prevail: would clear-cut economic and financial sanctions against Poutine’s regime, with which these growth-desperate countries have close economic ties, be really worth it? If such measures are directed towards second-rank Russian officials, sure they are not.

Either dependent on Gazprom or on Russian investors, European countries seem blocked by Putin’s strategy. Mrs. Merkel said that Germany is not dependent on Russian gas, but one should not forget the thousands of German businesses involved on the Russian market. And, most importantly, the facts themselves about gas dependence:

EU Member States' dependence on Russian gas
EU Member States’ dependence on Russian gas

And it’s not all about the gas – there is now a debate in France about the opportunity of cancelling the delivery to Russia of two war ships worth €1,1billion. Such a measure would of course constitute a sanction towards Russia’s developing army. On the other hand, it would kill jobs in Saint-Nazaire, Nantes’ historical shipyard. Probably this is why France’s Minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Fabius, conditioned such a cancellation to « a handful of measures at the European level« …

Mr. Putin knows all of this, and takes advantage from European divisions. But his poker game raises doubts about the sustainability of such a strategy.

Of course, if the situation in Crimea does not evolve into a civil war, the result will be that Russia acquired a militarily strategic position, helpful a long-term basis. It will also have shown to EU and US leaders that you should always keep in mind the importance of Russia in international relations. Isolating a country which has a veto power at the Security Council might not, to this extent, be the best strategy for international law and practice to keep solving issues that, so far, and despite all the criticisms towards the UN, are usually managed through dialogue.

On the other hand, the Crimean crisis leads the EU – and its neighbors – to question the sustainability of their economic relationship with Putin’s Russia. Excluded from the G8, isolated at the UN Security Council, where China did not join Russia’s veto on a resolution condemning the Crimean referendum, Russia also faces a greater isolation in its traditional area of influence, as after Ukraine finally signed an association agreement with the EU on Friday, the EU aims at doing the same with Moldova and Georgia, not later than June.   The response of the EU, to this day, has been the following one: try to integrate more neighbors to the European economic area through these now famous associations agreements and, more importantly, ask the Commission to develop an agenda for European energy independence. If we take as a starting point for European sovereignty and independence the need to be self-sufficient, the Crimean crisis can be considered as a good precedent for the EU – and its Member States – to wake up and take action.

It is no debate that Europeans have to reach energy independence. The main problem lies in the EU’s capacity to overcome its internal differences to define a common strategy. When it comes to energy, Member States indeed remain free to define their own policy: a clear example of this is how French and Germans differ in this area. While the French, since de Gaulle, have opted for nuclear energy – which roughly represents 75% of their electricity production – the Germans plan to shut down all their nuclear plants by 2022, counting more on renewable energy, but also coal.

The same observation can be made when it comes to perspectives on gas. Environmental concerns about the use of shale gas have arised in many Member States; concerns not entirely shared by the UK or Poland, which see their shale gas reserves as an opportunity for growth. The European Commission, well aware of these differences, therefore issued « guidelines » on shale gas in January. Translation: « European elections are coming. Let’s leave the hot potato to the States ».

In any case, shale gas alone cannot be a solution. In order to meet the ambitious EU’s 20/20/20 targets by 2020 (greenhouse gas emissions 20% lower than in 1990, 20% of European energy coming from renewables, 20% increase in energy efficiency), Europe also has to rely on more renewable energy and imports. Diversifying the sources of imports is therefore a necessity: ensuring gas supplying from Azerbaijan through the Trans-Adriatic-Pipeline by 2019 (with which Gazprom competes with its « South Stream » pipeline project passing through the Black Sea…) and importing shale gas from the USA are, to this extent, indispensable solutions right now.

On a long-term basis, what is more indispensable for Europe’s credibility is to be able to rely on itself first, and then on its partners. This needs solidarity, imagination and concessions from Member States. But the other way around leads, inevitably, to internal conflicts and divergences. To a weak Europe that lets Russian troops invade Crimea without a say.

The Crimean crisis, an opportunity for a renewed European energy strategy