What prevents Europe from staying united

By Cristina Font Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/12 19:08:39

The decade has seen Europe grapple with multiple problems undermining stability and prosperity. It started with the financial crisis, rise of far-right nationalist movements, isolationism, and anti-immigration sentiment. The problems strengthen nationalist movements and weaken the European fabric to the point of threatening the integrity of the bloc.

As sociologist Michel Wieviorka suggested, the crisis encourages an ideology that supports a closed society and anti-Europeanism that propels new nationalistic movements. It's possible leaders behind nationalistic movements spout rhetoric to earn votes, but it can lead to a more authoritarian drift toward power.

The problem of nationalism that Europe faces works at two levels - federal and regional. The first one uses a populist model with far-right characteristics. This is the case with the National Front in France, The Freedom Party of Austria, Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, Danish People's Party, the Movement for a Better Hungary or Jobbik etc. Electoral success of all these parties presents a danger to the EU's spirit of unity. 

There is the movement of "stateless nations" seeking more autonomy or even independence. The EU's process of integration is feeding the regional movements. A higher level of integration means competencies at the level of state are diluted when it comes to the position where a supranational identity is involved, allowing regional layers to occupy the space left empty by states. Such reinforced secessionist movements can battle harder to reach their goal.

That is the case with Scotland where a referendum was held in 2014. After the Brexit vote, the United Kingdom's struggle with the process of its divorce from the EU is boosting the case for Scottish independence as Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, affirmed on October 8. Scotland is seeking European support for holding a second referendum that will allow it to secede from the UK and rejoin the EU as an independent nation. 

On October 27, Catalonia's parliament unilaterally declared independence from Spain, creating political and economic turmoil in the country and region, and shaking the EU to the core. 

The UK and Spain are not the only countries with active secessionist movements. Even relatively calm Germany had to deal with the Bavarian region which in the beginning of 2017 demanded that the Constitutional Court allow it to hold an independence referendum. While the Bavarian demand was denied, the Italian parliament on October 22 allowed the northern regions to vote for more autonomy from Rome. Lombardy and Veneto will move forward on autonomy in 23 policy areas.

Why is the EU a beehive of nationalistic demands? Europe is a giant Babylon tower built with the amalgamation of cultures, languages and histories - creating friction between supranational integration and national sovereignty that is one of the EU's defining characteristics.

This rift between the EU's organs of power and states has marked the European project since its beginning more than six decades ago. Consequently, the second level of conflict has emerged between the "state-nations" and stateless nations.

The EU is an entity like no other in history. Since the beginning, the rationale behind the project has been to directly challenge the classical idea of the nation-state and generate new forms of government and administration till now unknown. The plan progressively weakened nation-states and its strategic interests.

However, the current crisis in Europe provides a new backdrop. The integration projection pulls another way. Michael Keating, chair in Scottish politics, explains that Europe is suffering institutional failure. After formulating key monetary and economic regulations needed at the supranational level, it has failed to provide satisfactory means to implement them, especially during the crisis. Therefore, member states took economic austerity measures so that territorial distribution of taxes and spending became a pressing question for Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK.

All this suggests that if Europe follows on this road for long, it may break up into fragments. It is time to call for reforms. In September, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and French President Emmanuel Macron put forward a number of proposals. Juncker presented a timeline for a more unified, robust and democratic union, while Macron introduced himself as the architect of future integration. Also, regions need to be given back their lost voice after the advance made in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992.

These improvements at an institutional level will not prove effective if not followed by cultural change. The adoption of a supranational identity would allow Europe to become the United States of Europe. 

The author is a Jinrong Scholar at the BFSU Research Center of the United Nations and International Organizations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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