EU Crises, Causes and Opportunities Part II
4: Economic crisis
After the financial crisis hit large parts of Europe in 2007-08, Germany did reasonably well. In previous years, the country had failed to be swept away by low borrowing rates and thus not over-invested in housing. The Germans were therefore spared from the sharp fall in property prices that swept over the other countries with the ensuing financial crisis, especially in southern Europe (PIIGS). Germany thus emerged as the natural leader in the EU and was concerned that countries with excessive deficits (cf. the Stability Pact ) in the state budget had to tighten.
After years of crisis meetings and tough budget cuts in many countries, the most serious economic crisis now seems to be over. Despite these measures, many countries are still struggling financially and have high unemployment (PIIGS). The fact that the economic problems persist for so long has weakened confidence in the elites. Many no longer believe that the established parties will be able to find solutions that will serve the man in the street. The target has become globalization and the political and economic elite. In particular, the elites have become targets as a result of growing economic and social disparities in many member countries.
5: From “Arab Spring” to “Arab Winter”
As the financial crisis hit Europe hard, a revolt in the Arab world against inequality, injustice and lack of democracy also began . In the beginning, many saw the uprising as a positive development, which would finally lead to a democratization of the countries in the region. Although this has been the case in some countries, such as Tunisia and (to a lesser extent) Morocco, the trend has been in the opposite direction in other countries. There they have either a new authoritarian regime (as in Egypt) or a state collapse and ongoing civil wars (as in Syria and Libya).
Furthermore, Islamist fundamentalism (IS) has emerged in several places. In close connection with this, civil wars and the danger of terrorism have also led to far more refugees and the flourishing of networks of human traffickers . Especially in 2015, the number of refugees to Europe increased dramatically. In addition, many died (and still die) while fleeing across the Mediterranean – around 5,000 in 2016.
The influx of refugees has led to a number of measures from the EU and some member states: more effective processing of asylum applications, strengthened joint border control and stronger fight against illegal immigration. However, it has also created increased disagreement both between the member countries and internally in some member countries. Some countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have been willing to accept large groups of refugees. Other countries, such as Hungary, have chosen to close their borders.
At the same time as many refugees are fleeing terrorism in their own countries, Europe has also been hit by a new wave of terrorist attacks . France and Belgium in particular have been exposed. Many of the terrorists are either French or Belgian citizens, who have often been radicalized after contact with IS.
According to EXTRAREFERENCE, there are various reasons behind the increase in Islamist terrorism against the West and Europe. Some blame the failed integration of the Muslim population. Others blame the failure to fight IS in Syria, Iraq and Libya. A combination of both of these explanations is probably the most correct. Although there is no direct link between migration and terrorism, some populist parties claim this and play on xenophobia.
Cases where terrorists have come to Europe with refugees have reinforced this notion. In the EU, therefore, a discussion has arisen as to whether there is a need to revise the Schengen Agreement and the EU’s principle of free movement of persons. For the time being, as a result of the country’s state of emergency, France has chosen to strengthen border controls. Such a temporary border control , introduced for national security reasons, is nevertheless in line with the Schengen Agreement.
6: A more assertive Russia
In parallel with the crises south of the Mediterranean and the consequences for Europe, there are challenges in the east as well . A more assertive Russia has created increased tensions in this region. Russia’s reaction when Ukraine was to sign an association agreement with the EU is an example of this. Following Russian pressure, the then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych decided to postpone the signing of the agreement and instead strengthen cooperation with Russia. This led to strong protests in Kiev in the more European-friendly part of the population.
Janukovich was eventually forced to resign. In the wake of these dramatic events, a civil war flared up in the country between the Russian-backed separatist regions in the east and the new, pro-European government in Kiev. When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, relations between the West and Russia became tense. The EU and the US decided to impose sanctions on Russiaat the same time as increasing support for democratization and institution building in Ukraine. Revelations about Russia’s influence on US elections and assumptions about ongoing attempts to influence elections in Europe have created further uncertainty about Russia’s intentions. Whether this will affect EU integration is too early to say. But it is likely that this crisis will require European rather than national solutions.