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For an autonomous and alterglobalist Europe

Summary:
Will Europe manage to redefine its place in the world geopolitical order? With Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and rising tensions with China, circumstances oblige it to do so, but hesitations are emerging. Let’s say it from the outset: we must maintain the link with the United States, but on the condition that we gain autonomy and get away from the egoism and arrogance that too often characterise the Atlantic and Western discourse towards the rest of the world. Europe has never been so rich. It has more than ever the means and the historical duty to promote another model of development and wealth sharing, more democratic, more egalitarian and more sustainable. Otherwise, the new Western alliance will not convince anyone in its self-proclaimed crusade against autocracies and the reign

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Will Europe manage to redefine its place in the world geopolitical order? With Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and rising tensions with China, circumstances oblige it to do so, but hesitations are emerging.

Let’s say it from the outset: we must maintain the link with the United States, but on the condition that we gain autonomy and get away from the egoism and arrogance that too often characterise the Atlantic and Western discourse towards the rest of the world. Europe has never been so rich. It has more than ever the means and the historical duty to promote another model of development and wealth sharing, more democratic, more egalitarian and more sustainable. Otherwise, the new Western alliance will not convince anyone in its self-proclaimed crusade against autocracies and the reign of evil.

With the United States, Europe does indeed share a comparable experience of parliamentary democracy, electoral pluralism and a certain form of rule of law, which is no mean feat. This may justify remaining in NATO, insofar as the alliance helps to defend this model. In this case, electoral pluralism is much more firmly established in Ukraine than in Russia, and it is unacceptable to let a more powerful country invade its neighbour and destroy its state without reacting.

Discussion of borders should not be excluded a priori, but it should be done within the framework of the rule of law and on the basis of the dual principle of self-determination and the equitable and balanced development of the regions concerned (which may exclude the secession of the richest; this is not the case here). If NATO members stand for clear principles, then military support for the Ukrainians against invasion and destruction is justified, even more than at present.

It is also essential to explicitly recognise the limits of the Western democratic model and to work to overcome them. For example, it is necessary to fight for an international justice enabling to challenge the Russian military and their leaders for war crimes, provided that it is constantly recalled that the same rules should also apply to all countries, including of course the US military and its actions in Iraq and elsewhere. The principles of democracy and the rule of law must prevail everywhere and all the time.

Another example: the US Supreme Court has held for nearly two centuries that slavery and then racial discrimination were perfectly legal and constitutional, and has just ruled in its recent string of reactionary decisions that going out into the streets armed was also legal and constitutional. We must denounce the archaic institutions that abound in the United States and Europe and stop presenting ourselves to the world as a perfect and final version of the democratic model. For example, the ownership on both sides of the Atlantic of almost all the media by a few billionaires can hardly be considered the highest form of press freedom. More generally, the disproportionate hold of private money on political life is symptomatic of a low-intensity democratic model, and helps explain the lack of relevance of programmes and the record abstention of the poorest in elections. The Western countries will be in a better position to spread democratic principles if they set higher standards for themselves.

They will also be more credible if they stop pacting with the most disreputable regimes as long as this allows them to make a few more dollars. If no real sanctions have been taken against the Russian oligarchs, or indeed against the petro-monarchic fortunes guilty of the worst abuses, it is to defend the interests of the Western financial and real estate circuits that shelter these fortunes, in Paris or on the Côte d’Azur as much as in London, Switzerland or Luxembourg. It is also because this would require a transparency of assets that would risk turning against the Western fortunes. When the Chinese regime destroyed electoral pluralism in Hong Kong before our eyes in 2019, the only European reaction was to propose a new investment treaty in order to go even further in the free movement of capital, without control and without counterpart.

In general, the Western approach lacks a credible discourse on economic and social justice on a global scale. If India, South Africa, Senegal or Brazil need resources to develop, who is going to stop them from doing business with Russia? If the West does not propose a new sharing of wealth, then it is China that will manage to unite the South. It is time to move away from the logic of unfulfilled promises (in particular those made at the Paris summit in 2015 to help poor countries adapt to global warming) and move towards a logic of rights.

In concrete terms, each country must be able to have access to a share of the revenue from the world’s most prosperous economic actors (multinationals, billionaires, etc.), in proportion to its population. Firstly, because every human being should have an equal minimum right to health, education and development. Secondly, because the prosperity of the rich countries would not exist without the poor countries: Western enrichment in the past and Chinese enrichment today have always been based on the international division of labour and the unbridled exploitation of the planet’s natural and human resources. It is time to become aware of this historical legacy and to draw the consequences for the future.

Thomas Piketty
Thomas Piketty (7 May 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is a professor (directeur d'études) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), associate chair at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics new International Inequalities Institute.

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