Jacques Attali is a man of many facets. A founder and former President of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, the author of 40 books, a pianist and conductor, he can look at life from all sides. He had the ear of President Francois Mitterand, and attended many top-level international meetings. Today, he specialises on micro-finance and new technology. But his favourite role is as prophet, looking at the world and where it’s going. As such, he faced our Euronews cameras.
Euronews: The Euro elections are upon us; the politicians say there is a lot at stake. But, it seems that the voters are more apathetic about politics than ever. Jacques Attali: No it’s not quite like that. I believe European voters are smart, and they know that when they choose a mayor, or a local council, they are making an impact, they are electing someone who has power, yet someone they can see every day. And, when they vote for a president or a national government, they know how that will affect their lives. But, in the Euro elections, there is no European government, there is no true European power. Things are a bit more hazy, and their enthusiasm is blunted by the complexity of the system. People will only truly have a vote when they can elect a President of Europe. Euronews: Do you think this is because of a lack of drama, because we’re not even electing a new President of the European Commission? Jacques Attali: I think the most important point is what’s at ‘stake.’ And there is a lot to play for: normally in these sort of elections, if one follows the prevailing political winds, there can be a complete change at the top. Today, the majority of the Euro parliament leans to the Right, but the Commission doesn’t reflect that. So, the system is incredibly complicated. Euronews: There’s a wide gap between economic and political integration in Europe. Has this made the financial crisis worse? Jacques Attali: We need to understand this. China is an integrated country, as is America. India too. But not Europe. To a certain extent, the European project was hampered by the fall of the Berlin Wall. I believe that if that had not happened, we would today have a President of Europe. Western Europe that is. But, happily, the Wall came down, and that’s good. But in some ways it re-shuffled the pack, and put back the project in favour of building a new European powerhouse. Today, amidst the current crisis, we need a political body as strong as that in the USA or in China which can launch a new budget, or infrastructure works, research, or great trans-European projects. Let’s remember that no-one in Europe is talking about ‘Nationalisation.’ We can talk about ‘Europeanisation’ but today it’s clear that we can’t propose taking businesses into public ownership even if certain projects should be the property of the European Union itself, if that were ever conceivable. Euronews: If we look a little closer at the context in which these elections are taking place, it seems that we’ve rarely lived in such tense political times. The ‘American Dream’ has died. Jacques Attali: I don’t think we should say the American Dream has died, because the US can always bounce back and rejuvenate itself and start again. China has shown the same attributes. But it’s true that, today, the idea of public services, a social justice system, a state which respects the individual and the world in general, i.e. the European ideal with education and protection for all, is something which Europe can and should be proud of. Euronews: Why are European leaders so wary about defending these ideals? Jacques Attali: Because European leaders are happy to send only mediocre politicians to Brussels. I repeat, they’re happy if only mediocre politicians end up in Brussels. Euronews: Why? Jacques Attali: Because then they can keep real power at home. Apart from Jacques Delors we have never had, for 30 or 40 years, a top drawer Commission President, simply because each time someone is sent to Brussels everyone else can be certain that he will be too mediocre to cast a long shadow. And therefore France, Britain, Germany and Italy keep their autonomy and never face a strong rival in Brussels. Euronews: There are 500 million Europeans now. If the dominant view is that of a Federal Europe, do you think this election will change the direction of Europe Jacques Attali: No, that would mean a distinction between Left and Right, and for the time being the European Left and Right, the main parties, are both supportive of the Lisbon Treaty. The most important thing, more important than these elections, is the ratification of Lisbon, which is a vital step on the road to European integration. Then, if Lisbon is ratified, European elections will take on a new importance, because they will let us advance still further. History teaches us that if Europe doesn’t get its act together in the next few years, with a proper European government, the whole European project will collapse. Because, if we don’t move forward, we will step back. And if we don’t have one Finance Minister, one budget, one economic policy, one social policy, the euro itself will have no meaning, because the euro cannot exist without a single-minded economic discipline. Euronews: So the EU of tomorrow must be completely integrated politically or will cease to exist? Jacques Attali: Exactly. Or each nation will revert to protectionism. And that is a threat to world growth. Either we’re heading towards a world government, or we’re going to put national issues first. Euronews: This idea of a world government will frighten many people. Jacques Attali: Indeed! That’s only to be expected, because it seems like a fantasy. But there is already global authority in many areas: in airline security, in football, in banking, and even if it’s hard to think of a European government at the moment – which is there but is very weak – Europe can at least pass on its experience to the world. If we’re not capable of creating an economic framework alongside a political framework in Europe, then we’re never going to do it on a global scale. And then the world economic model will break up and we’ll be back to the Great Depression. Euronews: There have been two meetings of the G20 since the start of this crisis. Jacques Attali: It’s good that they have taken place, the question is to know what happened between the G20 in London and the meeting in New York in October. If nothing happened, and I fear that’s so, it’s gong to end up as a farce. If, on the other hand, they put in place all the new rules they talked about in London, for hedge-funds, banks, ratings’ agencies, control mechanisms, then we’re on the verge of a global authority which is utterly vital. And that is important for everyone, not simply for exclusive financial operations, but for all economic powers around the world. Euronews: And that includes America and China? Jacques Attali: And Britain, another business centre. Euronews: Is there a bit of hypocrisy there? Jacques Attali: For the time being… one can say that it risks becoming something of a comedy. Euronews: M. Attali, many thanks for speaking to Euronews.