EU Crises, Causes and Opportunities Part I
The EU is in perhaps its most serious crisis ever and is being challenged both internally and externally. Internally, we see a growing crisis of trust between peoples and elites. Large parts of the population in EU countries are critical of the EU and blame the EU for many of the societal problems member states struggle with. The British people have recently voted to leave the union, and many fear that other countries will follow suit. Externally, the EU is being challenged by a more assertive Russia that is actively contributing to the destabilization of Europe and a more protectionist , unpredictable United States following the election of Trump as the new president .
- What has been achieved through the European integration process?
- What major challenges does the EU face, and why?
- How will the EU respond to the challenges?
- Will the answer be increased integration or further disintegration and increased nationalism?
2: EU – a union built on crises
Historically, the integration process has often emerged strengthened by various crises. The death of the EC and later the EU has been announced many times without this having happened. Integration in the 1950s was a direct reaction to World War II, a war that showed how wrong things could go if nationalism flourished. The intention was to bind the European countries – especially France and Germany – so closely together economically and eventually also politically that a new major war between the two would no longer be possible.
This was the background for the establishment of the Coal and Steel Union , and later the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community (EC) – the forerunner of today’s EU. The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 and turns 60 this year.
Since the Treaty of Rome was signed and the EC was established, cooperation has become deeper and broader: Integration has come to include more and more policy areas and more and more countries have joined. The EU currently consists of 28 member states (including the United Kingdom). After the Cold War, the EU countries took a big step forward and established a political union.
In addition to economic cooperation with an internal market , the Union should also include both a coordinated justice policy and a foreign and security policy . In the long run, defense policy would also be included. At the same time, a process was started to reunite Eastern and Western Europe.
With a gradual development, a political union has gradually emerged that covers most policy areas and includes 28 countries from both Western and Eastern Europe. Until relatively recently, the trend has also largely been towards more integration. While there have been some setbacks or breaks, the main picture is that the collaboration has nevertheless become increasingly extensive.
Ten years ago changed this themselves. Since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008 , the EU and Europe have been hit by a series of crises that have led some to question whether integration will continue, or whether the result will be a disintegration – a solution. While it is possible that the EU will emerge stronger from these crises as well, there are some indications that the current crises are more serious than the previous ones.
What makes the current situation so serious is that it is not a single crisis, but a series of crises (both internally in the EU and externally to the outside world) that the EU must deal with at the same time .
3: Several parallel crises
So far, there has been pressure for more cooperation and transatlantic solutions to deal with the challenges facing Europe. Most crises are also of such a nature that individual countries will not be able to solve them alone. In this way, there is still a need for the EU. The question is which EU and whether there is a political will in the individual member states to continue to support transnational solutions when populism and nationalism are on the rise. And if there is still a political will to support common solutions, are the current EU institutions strong enough to deal with the crises?
According to ETHNICITYOLOGY, the EU has already started a process to deal with crises better. In the last couple of years, the EU has more or less managed to deal with the economic crisis, revised its neighborhood policy, developed a new global strategy for a more effective foreign policy, strengthened work on border control and handling migration through cooperation agreements with third countries. For these EU Commission initiatives to succeed, Member States must support them.
We see that nationalist currents have become more prominent and that populist political parties are gaining more support. Nevertheless, the latest opinion polls (Eurobarometer, Oct. 2016) show that a large majority of those polled are still positive about the EU and that the Union is important for maintaining peace and security in Europe.
Furthermore, an overwhelming majority answer that the EU should also have more decision-making power in areas such as the fight against terrorism (80%), tackling migration (77%) and the climate challenge (71%). Even when it comes to providing jobs and welfare, over 60% answer that the EU should have more decision-making power.
It is unclear how these polls relate to the increased support EU-critical and nationalist parties receive around Europe. But it can be due to frustration that many problems that have not yet been solved have made people extra impatient . In this way, the populist political parties, despite their EU skepticism, seem to be offering something new. If that is the case, the support for these parties can change quickly if credible alternatives emerge.
It is interesting that in France, the independent presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron, also has great support. He has chosen to break with the established parties, but comes from the Socialist Party (sos.dem.). At the same time, he is a convinced European who, like the people, wants more pan-European decision-making power to solve today’s crises.