As British conservatives licked their wounds a week ago, and French voters were electing hundreds of rookies to Parliament to strengthen the hand of President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainians at last had a reason to celebrate — and they did, partying by the thousands in Kiev. For them, June 11 was the dawn of the long-awaited era of visa-free travel to Europe. One local magazine called it “Ukraine’s Berlin Wall moment.”
This event, little noticed in the midst of so many political upheavals, is a fresh sign that Europe is moving forward. Giving some 45 million Ukrainians the right to travel freely through the 26 countries of the Schengen area is something of an achievement at a time when, across the European Union, the word “immigration” sounds like a recipe for electoral disaster.
Don’t expect European Union leaders to boast about it; that is not something they are good at. Yet a new mood is taking hold in Brussels and other European capitals these days, a wind of hope and optimism rarely felt in the last two decades.
After so many existential crises, believers in the European Union are suddenly waking up to realize that the reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. The eurozone has not collapsed. Britain’s exit, which shocked and destabilized the union a year ago, is now perceived as an opportunity for the 27 remaining members to regroup.
Does anybody remember that Frexit was supposed to come next? Against all odds, the French elected a president who campaigned on building a more tightly integrated Europe. In Britain, Theresa May’s failed gamble on a snap election could have fed hopes on the Continent of a U-turn on Brexit; instead, it is seen as an annoyance by negotiators in Brussels who are eager to start divorce talks as soon as possible. Though Brexit is still regretted by many Europeans, its psychological shock has been absorbed. Now let’s get on with it and move ahead.
In Britain, France and Germany, the migration crisis is being contained, despite shamefully little progress in the search for long-term solutions. The public has held its ground in the face of devastating terrorist attacks. Populist movements are stalling, countered by re-energized democratic forces.
Last but not least, the economy is looking up after years of stagnation. Gone is the obsession with the “lost decade.” Instead, people talk of “the turnaround” and a potential “golden decade,” a phrase recently applied to Europe by Philipp Hildebrand, the vice chairman of BlackRock, in an interview with Bloomberg.
The most spectacular turnaround, obviously, was provided not by the euro but by Emmanuel Macron’s stunning victory in the French presidential election last month, followed by the overwhelming success of his new party, La République en Marche, in the first round of legislative elections on June 11. Looking at computer graphics that projected a sweeping majority for the party in the next National Assembly — perhaps more than 400 of the Parliament’s 577 seats once the second-round votes were counted — political analysts were scratching their heads last week: What kind of political life would such a chamber imply for France, with two thirds or more of its members supporting a very powerful president who faced no significant structured opposition?
In both the presidential and legislative elections, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French far right, has suffered a blow so devastating that her National Front is in total disarray, as are all the traditional mainstream parties. Ideological lines have become confused in a major political realignment. Although it would be another leap into the unknown, the French now seem ready for all kinds of experimentation to replace a broken system. Their sulky, pessimistic mood has given way to “let’s turn the tables and start all over again.”
At the very least, a huge parliamentary majority should allow President Macron to pass the economic and labor reforms he is committed to in his “transformative” agenda. Such reforms are crucial to restart the Franco-German engine and rebalance the relationship between the two countries, itself essential to any European renaissance. German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not hide her enthusiasm for her new French partner, who has been equally keen to show how closely they are working together. These days, Paris-Berlin and Berlin-Paris flights have become crowded with civil servants heading to meetings.
A new sense of urgency is crossing the Rhine. Mr. Macron’s government is openly German-friendly; five of its members, including Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, speak the language fluently. The defense ministers of Germany and France, Ursula von der Leyen and Sylvie Goulard, speak the other’s language and have hit it off, with ambitious plans for European defense. On July 13, the day before Bastille Day, both governments will hold a joint cabinet meeting in Paris to discuss proposals to strengthen and further integrate the eurozone. The Franco-German rapprochement seems to extend beyond the leadership: The latest ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll, published on June 8, showed that 94 percent of Germans saw France as a trustworthy partner, while only 21 percent thought the same of Russia … and of the United States.
The last statistic points to another factor in Europe’s revival: Donald Trump. The American president’s belated profession of faith in Article 5 of the NATO charter on June 9 will not erase the damage done at the recent NATO and G-7 summits, and by his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change. “We do have a problem with what he thinks, what he says and what he does,” a senior French official told me. “We must find ways of moving forward without the United States if they don’t want to come along. Merkel is right. The time has come to reform the E.U.”
French officials are quick to point out that partners on both sides of the Atlantic are in many ways interdependent and will continue to work together, in the fight against terrorism, for instance. Even on climate change, cooperation will find other routes, past the White House, to states and cities. “There are forces in the United States that we know we can rely upon,” Ms. Goulard, the French defense minister, said in Singapore on June 3, “and these forces will ultimately prevail.”
Most European leaders are waking up to this new reality. They don’t believe in the “adults in the room” tale anymore, once floated to enhance the influence of men they felt they could trust, like James Mattis and H. R. McMaster, to temper the instincts of an unreliable leader. In turn, those Americans will need to adjust to Europe’s own new reality.
Sylvie Kauffmann is the editorial director and a former editor in chief of Le Monde, and a contributing opinion writer.