Unity instinct overrides regionalism in Europe

By George N. Tzogopoulos Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/1 19:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The EU has been harshly criticized since the outbreak of the debt crisis. The inability of European politicians and policymakers to act in good times for bad ones in parallel with some eurozone asymmetries could have led to a breakup. The German-invented bailout was finally required to save the euro system. This rescue mechanism offered the necessary institutional framework for the provision of loans to bankrupt countries which were unable to access international markets. However, it also marked the end of a long period during which the EU was an easy donor. Its new role resembled a policeman's supervising the release of loan tranches in exchange for austerity and painful reforms.

Going back to developments in 2010, 2011 and 2012, several analysts and international media were continuously predicting the death of the eurozone. More importantly, these fears were fueling uncertainty and pessimism in a period during which experience was limited, challenges unprecedented and decisions difficult.

But the fears proved to be wrong. The euro was an important bet for the European integration project and leaders of member states did not want to risk a failure. By contrast, their priority was to keep and possibly strengthen it. They passed the most critical test in early 2015. A Leftist Greek government having - in theory - a revolutionary agenda almost positioned itself outside the eurosystem. Such a development could have arguably triggered the exit of other countries.

It did not happen, though, as a compromise was finally reached between Athens and Berlin.

In 2015, another important issue caused worry within the EU. The flow of refugees from Middle East countries to Europe revealed the lack of unity among member states. Some of them such as Germany and Sweden were prepared to help and host displaced persons desperately in need of aid. Others such as Austria and Hungary opted for a closure of borders ignoring the drama that showed another side of humanity.

Despite the success of far-right parties across Europe, Brussels found a solution. The EU-Turkey agreement of March 2016 led to a reduction in the number of refugees reaching Europe by crossing the Turkish coast to the Greek islands. Although the problem has not been resolved, the situation seems to be under control.

In 2016 two additional events jeopardized the European project. The result of the UK referendum in June and the election of Donald Trump as US President in November had the potential to act as destabilizing factors.

On the one hand, Brexit might open the door for other countries to leave the EU, should the process be successful for the country and unsuccessful for Europe. And on the other, Trump has attached almost no significance to the EU considering Brexit a "wonderful thing." Pessimistic voices rose again predicting that Brussels would not escape the new labyrinth. 

Both Brexit and Trump rather pushed Europeans to act united than discourage them. By Berlin and Paris - especially after the victory of Emmanuel Macron - they were regarded as the long-missed springboard to push Europe forward. In particular, after British citizens decided to leave the EU, "the 27" had to display their ability to defend their cause. Initial results are vindicating them. It is the UK which is suffering from isolation contrasting the populist views of Brexiteers.

The Trump impact is speeding up European reforms. It is perhaps the first time in recent years that Germany and France are prepared to act together and proceed toward necessary changes. Although more time is required and some differences remain between the two, the joint determination is evident.

Last but not the least, the EU remains a safe haven - under difficult circumstances - for citizens across member states. The Catalonia imbroglio, the danger of separatism and the lack of commitment to stay within the EU is boosting anti-independence parties in the region. A recent poll published by El Mundo newspaper outlined the origins of this tendency after the initial enthusiasm of some populist Catalans who are counting on secession. 

All this does not mean that the future of the EU is necessarily bright. Problems such as unemployment and the lack of good avenues for the younger generation can cause difficulties. Nonetheless, the tendency to secede is less powerful than the one opposing it.

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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