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EA home page » Commentary » Theses for an Alter-Globalising Europe
Theses for an Alter-Globalising Europe

By Etienne Balibar

Translation by Anna Preger 1. Now, more than ever before, politics, as Max Weber put it, can only be “global”. This does not mean that there is only one global politics possible: on the contrary there is necessarily a choice between several politics, defined by their objectives, their means, their conditions, their obstacles, their “subjects” or “wills”, the risks they involve. The field of politics is that of the alternative. If we posit that today all the possibilities fall within one trend towards “globalization”, the question then becomes: what are the alternatives to its dominant forms? Can Europe be an “alterglobalizing” force, and how? 2. To claim that politics can only be global does not equate to saying that politics is not concerned with the condition and the problems of “people” where they live, where their life history has placed them: on the contrary, it equates to asserting that local citizenship has as its condition an active global citizenship. Every local political choice of economic, social, cultural, institutional orientation involves a “cosmopolitical” choice, and vice-versa. 3. Europe’s place in the world today – in spite of a few vague diplomatic impulses – is that of a dead dog that follows the water’s current, devoid of any initiative of its own. If not – given its economic and cultural “weight” – that of a dead elephant that goes with the flow. Examples abound: from the reform of the United Nations to the enforcement of the Tokyo Protocol, from the regulation of international migration to the resolution of Near and Middle Eastern crises or the deployment of back-up troops to the wars initiated by the US. Consequently, Europe lacks the means of resolving its own “internal” problems, including institutional ones. 4. That Europe has no global politics entails that there is no – or hardly any – global politics emerging from the European nations, despite the desire of some to “keep their rank” of former great powers or to be a spanner in the works. European nations thus have no – or hardly any – home politics presenting real alternatives. National elections function in this respect as a trompe-l’œil, but one which fails to dupe everyone: hence depoliticization. Global issues therefore re-emerge in a purely ideological form: “the clash of civilizations,” and the like. 5. The causes of this situation are to be found within the evolution of historically inherited power relations that have been reinforced by the current state of affairs. But this evolution – that confers either a purely reactive or a simply adaptive function upon the “European construction” – cannot stand as a total explanation. We must supplement this acknowledgement with another one: there is a disastrous collective inability, amongst the majority of the European population, to imagine alternative policies and forms of politics, and this cannot be dissociated from the uncertainty looming over the political identity of Europe. The failure of the Constitution treaty is not the source but one of the symptoms of this uncertainty. 6. The construction of Europe as a new kind of federation began and developed during previous stages of globalization and international relations whose features have now undergone a total shake-up. This construction is an (uneven) asset, but not a necessity: its “expansiveness” must not mislead us in this regard. The USSR may have been dismantled 80 years after its formation due to its rigidity and its system of state control, but the corollary of this is not that, 50 years on, by virtue of its flexibility and liberalism, there is no risk of an EU break-up. However, such a break-up would not mean going back to square one: some things are irreversible. Thus the European construction will either establish new foundations and new objectives, or it will collapse taking along with it, for the foreseeable future, any chance of collective political action in this part of the world. 7. The forces – “right-“ as well as “left-wing” – that are opposed to re-launching the European construction, are both inside each country (as demonstrated by the “no” voters in France and the Netherlands who would have been joined by many others had the ratification campaign been pursued) and beyond Europe (in particular in the United States). But the determining factor is what I shall call “the contradiction within the European people itself”, with all its social and cultural dimensions. This is what needs to be tackled through discussion and mobilization: operating, initially, at one’s own level, across the borders. To this end, if not parties, then we at least need movements, networks, trans-European initiatives. 8. European identity – with regards to the legacy inscribed in the institutions, the geography, the culture that it must maintain – is faced with two problems whose solution will only be reached at the cost of conflicts and errors. On the one hand it must overcome its East-West divide, which shifts position at different points in time, is associated with antagonisms between “regimes” and “systems” (not without its paradoxes, for example when “Westernism” spreads to the East following “revolutions” or “counter-revolutions”), but never disappears. On the other hand it must find a balance between a “closed” Europe (therefore restricted, but within which limits?) that one may wish to homogenize, and an “open” Europe (not so much a Great Europe than a Europe of borders, acknowledging its constitutive interpenetration with vast Euro-Atlantic, Euro-Asian, Euro-Mediterranean, Euro-African spaces). This is where the “questions” now pending lie: the Turkish question, the Russian question, the British question… In order to go on, Europe must invent a variable geometry, a form of state and administration without precedent in history. 9. Facing the decline of the American hegemony in the world (which is relative, but irreversible and precipitated by the “neo-conservative” attempt to re-establish it by force), Europe must choose between two strategies, which will gradually entail consequences in every area of political and social life: either attempting to form one of the “power blocs” (Grossraum) that will compete with one another for supremacy over a new global configuration, or forming one of the “mediations” that will attempt to give birth to a new economic and political order, more egalitarian and more decentralized, likely to effectively curtail conflicts, to institute redistribution mechanisms, to keep claims to hegemony in check. The first way is doomed to failure (even at the cost of an evolution towards totalitarianism, that might increase insecurity, terrorism being one of its aspects). The second is improbable without a considerable degree of collective conscience and political will, rallying public opinion across the continent. What is certain is that the terms of the alternative cannot be conflated within a rhetoric of compromises between national and communitarian bureaucracies. 10. Between the “North”, which most of Europe pertains to, and the “South” (whose geography, economy and degree of state integration are increasingly changing), there is not only an interdependence but a genuine reciprocity of possibilities of development (or “co-development”). It is important to recognize this and turn it into a political project. The fact that Europe was the starting-point for the “Westernization of the world”, in ways that were, to varying degrees, marked by domination but which today are universally challenged, represents in this respect both an obstacle and an opportunity to be seized: these are the two sides of the “post-colony”. Only a project such as this would allow for a balance to be found between a Europe focused on law-and-order, violently repressing the migrations it itself provokes, and a Europe without borders, open to “unrestrained” migration (that is to say, migrations entirely ordered by the market of human instruments). Only this would allow for conflicts of interests and culture between “old” and “new”, “legal’ and “illegal”, “communitarian” and “extra-communitarian” Europeans to be addressed. It is thus not an administrative but an existential priority. 11. Against the backdrop of the uninterrupted Middle Eastern crisis that is in the process of becoming a regional war, the war in Lebanon highlighted the urgency of creating a political space encompassing all the countries surrounding the Mediterranean – only such a space can offer an alternative to the “clash of civilizations” in this highly sensitive and crucial region. As for the Israeli-Palestinian question that is its epicentre, the extreme anti-Zionist discourse should not be condoned; rather, concertedly and without delay Israeli expansion should be stopped and the rights of the Palestinian people recognized – rights that are officially championed by European nations. More generally, this hotbed of wars and ethnic-religious hatred should be turned into a site of cooperation and institutionalized negotiation, with repercussions across the globe. It is, for obvious reasons, Europe that should take the initiative. France, with its shared and troubled history with the Maghreb, has a particular part to play here. 12. Crucial to alterglobalization are the following legal and political projects:
  • The democratic regulation of migration flows, therefore the reform regarding the right to mobility and residence, still marked by national interests at the expense of reciprocity;
  • “Collective security” and, correlatively, the penal responsibility of states and individuals regarding supranational affairs, therefore the reform of the UN, still held back by its support of decisions inherited from the Second World War and the logic of power;
  • The reinforcement of the guarantees of individual freedom, minority rights and human rights, therefore the practical and legal conditions of humanitarian intervention;
  • The merging of the instances of economic negotiation and regulation, of those controlling tax evasion and those concerning social rights, so as to sketch out on a global scale a Keynesian model now dismantled on a national level;
  • Finally, the prioritization of ecological risks over the other factors of insecurity rehearsed by Kofi Annan in his Millennium speech.
This list is not a closed one, but it demonstrates how diverse and interrelated the elements now forming, on a global scale, the substance of real politics, are. 13. The above theses are merely propositions to orient and open a debate. Rather than presenting solutions, they are attempts to explicate contradictions that cannot be evaded. It is now a question of establishing the touchstones of rigour and integrity for a political debate in Europe today. And this debate will enable us, hopefully, to then supplement, clarify and modify them.
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