BETWEEN COLLAPSE AND RENAISSANCE
Written By Anonymous
The European Union is a group of 28 countries, forged primarily to increase cooperation between sovereign European states and to avoid a third world war. The Union currently faces many challenges, both within its borders and abroad. The global financial crisis hit with its full force. Political and economic fallout from the crisis still lingers.
Although the crisis brought Europe closer together initially – e.g. by creating funds to save European banks and governments from default – the spirit present in those days passed seems to have faded. Despite and hatred among the people grows, not only against other people, but also between countries. Many politicians and their voters call for major reforms. Unionists propose chasing “an ever closer Union” e.g. a fiscal union or united armed forces. Others push for separatism, the expulsion of Greece from the Eurozone, or removing their own country from the Union à la Brexit.
Currently, despite its massive economic power, the European Union lacks the respect countries with equal or less GDP enjoy.
How serious certain actors can be taken shall not be answered in this article, though it should be noted that one must carefully divide between populism and politics. It is undisputed that the actions and rhetoric of its members and the (lack of) unanimity in how to counter challenges has a direct impact on the strength of the union. Rather, the importance of unity in the European Union and the implications of weakness will be discussed.
The strength of the union is not only displayed in the success of its internal policies, but also in its perception abroad. Currently, despite its massive economic power, the European Union lacks the respect countries with equal or less GDP enjoy. As a block, the European Union is that world’s largest market by GDP. However it is hardly considered a superpower in its own right. The clearly liberal foreign policy approach – partially caused by a lack of European-level military capabilities – and the mission to achieve peace by diplomacy are noble goals, but as long as the vast majority of member countries follow a realist approach, those goals only diminish the role of the European Union.
When the concept of the European Union was born, the belief that the individual nations can be transformed into a super-state comparable to the United States of America was held high by many politicians.
The European Union is often seen as a potential future superpower, a rank the EU can only achieve when it acts like a federated union. The current internal opposition to that idea and lack of unity both within the individual governments and within the citizens are the largest obstacles to achieving this goal. Movements of renationalization and disintegration are gaining the public’s support, undermining the legitimacy of the European Union and destabilizing a project that not only bundles the voices of the individual European nations but also amplifies their voices.
The European Union today is a group of 28 member states, aiming to provide a platform for politics and discourse between the members and finding compromises between the members’ stances in all areas of politics. It is a peaceful agreement, an economic community of peers committed to common prosperity. In a historically unprecedented referendum, the United Kingdom has voted itself out of the European Union and aims to leave the Union within the next two years, after exit-negotiations in accord with EU treaties.
Movements of renationalization and disintegration are gaining the public’s support, undermining the legitimacy of the European Union.
But whereas many steps were taken to merge the interest of the individual governments, the people of the European Union today do not have a single identity according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s 2012 report “Global Trends 2030: Alternative worlds”. The attempt to merge the interests of the member states’ governments have been moderately successful, while areas like regional development or judiciary rarely cause high tensions, other areas like foreign policy or immigration policy generate lots of discussion and vocal disapproval for certain policies, both within EU institutions and in public opinion.
Disunity among the people is very high compared to pre-crisis levels, with many citizens of “net-contributors” (member states that send more money to the EU than they receive in return) demanding the punishment of certain “net-recipients” (vice-versa) like Greece. Germany is seen as a hegemon and oppressor nation by many nations, especially the ones that have had to comply with austerity measures that were partially drafted, and certainly supported, by Germany.
Politicians who tend to act opportunistic and in a populist way may secure their re-election, but undermine the long-term orientated and sustainable policies they should enact.
Two factors have hollowed out member state politics. First, the political climate between debtor- and creditor-countries e.g. Greece and Germany. Second, the difficulty in finding a definitive (and coherent) Eurozone economic policy – which could lead to political alliances against Germany, as the one formed to create the ESM. These factors have lead to dissatisfaction with center parties and increasing voter turnout for radically left and right parties. The fact that various interests of nations with different economic situations and policies are tied to one currency could result in more political frictions and conflicts says Hans Kundani.
The disunity compared with hefty political debates – e.g. how to deal with Greece, the refugee crisis or Russia – threaten the EU and impact its image. Some states prefer to remain neutral in most cases, while others have no problem with interventions, whether militarily – like France and the United Kingdom, who e.g. lead the NATO-coalition to oust Muammar Gaddafi – or diplomatically.
The European Union is also confronted with a changing international environment. Whereas nuclear weapons once were only built to deter foreign aggressors, they now serve as a shield while the nations themselves ignore international laws. Non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups, are on the rise, and the United States together with some allies have to burden the role of a world policeman, while the European Union as a whole is reluctant to overtake responsibility to an appropriate extent (also when the conflicts happened in its own backyard, like the Balkan wars in the 90’s).
The problems listed above (although the list is by far not complete) are challenges for the European Union, but they also are opportunities to strengthen ties and consensus among the members, but only if the response is correct. Politicians who tend to act opportunistic and in a populist way may secure their re-election, but undermine the long-term orientated and sustainable policies they should enact.
Disunity among the people is very high compared to pre-crisis levels, with many citizens of “net-contributors” demanding the punishment of certain “net-recipients” like Greece.
This can be illustrated with terrorism: In the near past, several attacks hit the European Union, and politicians were quick to announce increased security spending, intelligence cooperation and overall to an increased focus on “defense”, rather than tackling the roots of terrorism. [Some argue that terrorism is actually about driving countries into a paranoia and short-minded, non-sustainable policies rather than killing people. It should be noted that the translation of the Latin word “terrere” means “to startle/shock/scare”, rather than “to kill”.]
As pointed out at the Conference of the Speakers of the European Union Parliaments in Warsaw, Poland in 2012, the imbalance of power and the resulting dominance of certain countries over others is one of the key drivers of disunity in the European Union . Many policies are pushed by Germany – and ultimately also decided by Germany – and are said to only benefit Germany at the expense of other member nations says former President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi.
One of those decisions was Germany’s decision to open the borders to a sudden enormous influx of refugees, coming from Syria and other places in the Middle East trapped in some sort of unrest. The decision was not welcomed by many nations, and Austria – a comparably small player – challenged the Germans by gathering a group of nations and closing the Balkan refugee route. More nations are resisting the EU’s call for a fair distribution of the refugees, apart from a significant share of German citizens who are reluctant to sustain their country’s immigration policies.
The United States together with some allies have to burden the role of a world policeman, while the European Union as a whole is reluctant to overtake responsibility to an appropriate extent.
One possible solution would be to reform the current version of a two-chamber legislature (where the second chamber, the Council, consists of members of the executives of the member states) into a more US-like parliament, where the House of Representatives gives a higher weight to states with a higher population, but the Senate gives every state the same amount of influence. In the European Union, this could potentially avoid the dominance of larger nations over smaller ones. But even if such a reform would be implemented, the difference in economic power should not be forgotten.
Two reports were selected to point out possible future scenarios for the European Union; One was the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s report , which lists three possible future scenarios for the European Union. The second report is the Wikistrat paper “The EU in 2030”, based on a simulation. The reports and the different scenarios they list will now shortly be described, first the three formulated by the NIC, afterwards the results of the Wikistrat simulation.
The first scenario is a collapse of the European Union, caused by a massive withdrawal of euro deposits from banks. This would be caused by a nearing euro crisis and the Euro itself would collapse, following the economic damage to the Eurozone nations. While European nations would re-impose capital- and border controls, economic and political trouble would lead to a collapse of civil society. This scenario is rated as unlikely to happen.
The actual mix of multilateral foreign policies, with several member states conducting their own foreign policy and ignoring the Union’s view, blurs the Union’s foreign political approach and diminishes its role on the world stage.
A slow decline of the European Union is the second possible scenario. It would be caused by the combination of a failure to implement structural reforms, low economic growth and a high discontent from the public. The Euro – one of the backbones of the European Union – would survive, but could not compete in relevance with the Dollar or, as some suggest, the Renminbi. Caused by the before mentioned low economic growth, the European Union’s relevance and importance in the international system would be very low, what would cause member countries to gradually withdraw foreign affairs from the Union and take care of foreign affairs themselves.
As third scenario the NIC list what it calls a “renaissance”, which would be possible if European leaders and public opinion alike would support a more federalized union. Most likely a group of Eurozone members would start the implementation of this process, other EU member nations would observe the process and perhaps join after some time. Besides more federalized domestic politics and a more integrated single market, the federalist option would also allow member states to combine their voices and form a common, united foreign policy, what would consequently strengthen the European Union’s importance on the international stage.
Wikistrat lists four potential scenarios, which are the possible characteristics formed by two dimensions; the strength of the economy and the strength of EU identity:
As visible in the figure above, the common identity is a driving force for the long-term success of the European Union. “Withering away” will most likely result in disintegration and the formation of “clusters”, “Solidarity in misery” describes the united attempt to increase the EU’s economy through e.g. trade agreements and stronger EU institutions, “Torn apart by success” will result in a “Europe of two speeds” and certain nations being left behind, and in the “Wealthy Europe” scenario the Eurozone members will form a Eurozone Parliament that will lead to a stronger economy, at the same time they will be able to develop a stronger common identity per Dr. Robert M. Cutler of Wikistrat.
Cutler further lists several actions that have to be taken in order to improve both the EU’s economic strength and the unity among the members, actions which are similar to the ones mentioned in the NIC’s report. The most notable actions are a united international geostrategic doctrine, a more comprehensive financial- and labor-market cooperation, and closer cooperation on fiscal and immigration policies.
Before talking about the implications of the lack of unity in Europe on its grand strategy, the term itself shall be defined as follows: “Grand strategy […] refers to the collection of plans and policies that comprise the state’s deliberate effort to harness political, military, diplomatic, and economic tools together to advance that state’s national interest.” In the context of this article, this definition will be applied to the European Union, not to a single “state”.
The phrase is mostly used in the context of a nation’s (or – in this case – union’s) foreign policy. The European union already has institutions and rules in place that would de jure allow it to pursue a united, single-voiced foreign policy; most notably the European External Action Service (EEAS), headed by the European Union’s High Representative, currently former Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini.
The European Union must be able to engage abroad with more than just soft power. It must be able to intervene with military force abroad and become less reliant on the United States.
The EEAS is nowadays confronted with a changing world, to which it should be able to respond with a single voice. The actual mix of multilateral foreign policies, with several member states conducting their own foreign policy and ignoring the Union’s view, blurs the Union’s foreign political approach and diminishes its role on the world stage according to the European Commission report from 2014.
To allow the EEAS to become the single voice of its members’ foreign politics, the member states themselves must be willing to transfer political decisions to the EEAS. This would essentially reduce their own foreign political options, and while some member states are comfortable with this plan, several lack the ambition to “outsource” their foreign policy.
The extent to which the member states are able to form a unique, centralized foreign policy that is tied to generally accepted values and principles, will determine the European Union’s position on the international state and the extent to which the European Union forms the changing environment.
A Carnegie Europe report warns that only with a coherent foreign policy under the leadership of the EEAS, supported by its international network of experts and the strategies developed by these experts, the European Union can enhance its weight on the international stage, supported by stricter and stronger cooperation at home, whether by giving more power away from national capitals (as mentioned before), or by increasing military independence by reversing the current trend of demilitarization, which is especially dangerous with volatile environments not only throughout the world, but more importantly on the EU’s backyard in Northern Africa and Eastern Europe.
It should also be mentioned as the European Union – nonetheless the world’s largest trader – already harnesses its massive economic power to place sanctions on nations that violate the principles and values the European Union upholds within its borders, among others the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Belarus. Also its trade agreements and development assistance programs – with a volume of 14 billion € per year between 2014-2020, the highest in the world – are some instruments of the EU’s soft power claim Stefan Lehne and Irini Tseminidou.
The fact that there will always be some member states who send more to the EU than they receive has yet to be accepted by the people.
But the European Union must be able to engage abroad with more than just soft power. It must be able to intervene with military force abroad and become less reliant on the United States, as the United States also wish for an EU that is capable of intervening in its own backyard. This again can only be accomplished by increasing the resources, both politically and tangible, that the individual member nations transfer to the EEAS. Although several nations intervened abroad in the past years, the burden of costly and risky military interventions should be shared by all member states.
When the concept of the European Union was born, the belief that the individual nations can be transformed into a super-state (what some refer to as the United States of Europe) comparable to the United States of America was held high by many politicians. Although the EU has the potential to come closer to this goal, it is still far away.
The main reason lies in history: While the USA were one group of states that united and gained independence and since then acquired 37 other states, Europe has a bloody history, with transforming borders, different languages and two world wars. The different languages are a major obstacle to European intercultural exchange and connection.
The member states of Europe do not share an equal fate, as the member states of the US do, especially in times of crisis.
Apart from that, European nations have a broad diversity of work ethics, historical friends and foes, political systems and cultures. Although the USA has different cultural and historical influences, they have one language, one of the longest sustaining democracies, “only” one major civil war and a federal government whose legitimacy is rarely questioned by the member states.
Also citizens of “net contributors”– as mentioned before – often call for tougher financial management in the “net recipient” countries. The fact that there will always be some member states who send more to the EU than they receive has yet to be accepted by the people. It should be mentioned that the situation in the United States is similar, though there are – compared to Europe – few people who e.g. call for the exclusion of certain “net recipient” states.
Currently, anti-EU parties and sentiments are on the rise, combined with increasing nationalism and polarization – especially among the youth.
Ultimately, the brotherhood and unity Europe claims to have is – compared to the United States – only given to a minor extent. The member states of Europe do not share an equal fate, as the member states of the US do, especially in times of crisis. Throughout the last centuries, Europe hasn’t accomplished a real brotherhood, after centuries filled with war among each other the states still are divided on current issues, e.g. (as mentioned before) their position on Russia argues George Friedman.
The key to long-term success of the European Union is therefore not to attempt to duplicate the US-model, rather it should ensure the points mentioned above are covered and handled correctly.
The choice of the people which party to vote for has steered both EU politics as well as national politics heavily, and the future of the EU therefore depends both on the foresight and wisdom of the citizens as well as the performance and the arguments of the political parties. Currently, anti-EU parties and sentiments are on the rise, combined with increasing nationalism and polarization – especially among the youth – the Union is on a dangerous path that would make the second scenario evermore likelier.
The loss of one of its most powerful members will without a doubt impact the EU’s international capabilities and internal stability, as the referendum sets a dangerous precedent for other nations who might opt for similar referenda.
But there are more signs that indicate that scenario #2 is already evolving; growth has been very low in the recent years – but it is projected to increase over the years to come according to The Economist – and some countries already (re)nationalize their foreign policies (one might argue that they never completely handed them over to the EU) – a good example is the split opinion on Russia and the different national positions – and thereby reduce the European External Action Service’s importance. The overall position of the European Union on the international stage can currently hardly compete against other great powers.
Apart from the above mentioned issues, the United Kindom has also voted to leave the EU and thereby puts the future of the EU in jeopardy. The loss of one of its most powerful members will without a doubt impact the EU’s international capabilities and internal stability, as the referendum sets a dangerous precedent for other nations who might opt for similar referenda – also because promising a referendum can earn politicians a significant amount of votes in the next elections.
If the European Union can restore the spirit of union within its member countries, it will achieve success and gain weight on the international stage which it again can use to pursue its ideals and goals, at home as well as abroad, and act as counterweight to established great powers and emerging powers alike. A more united and federalized union will be able to formulate a comprehensive Grand Strategy and effectively achieve the goals outlined in it.
Abraham Lincoln used the famous words “a house divided against itself cannot stand”, by which he meant that the United States had to decide between slavery and freedom for Afro-Americans, but the back then current gridlock could not endure. In the context of this article, his words are also applicable; the European Union can not endure the status quo. This is a position that is shared by the NIC, whose three scenarios list either a decline or a “renaissance”, the Wikistrat report also doesn’t include a scenario in which the current situation will endure. But this is also a position I personally share; only more unity within the European Union – on all levels – can make this union more prosperous and more relevant on the international stage in the long term – but we seem to be headed into another direction.