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June 9, 2014 / Lukasz Cerazy

Disunited Europe

The marriage between Europe’s 28 States has soured over recent time and resulted in bickering, fighting over what is mine and increased a sense of nationalism. The results of the recent European election clearly indicate a Eurosceptic sentiment and protest against the EU, which threatens its family ties. It is unclear whether the marriage will result in divorce, however, Europe will have to renew its vows if it is to find a workable way forward and save the relationship.

French President Francois Hollande called it “a shock, an earthquake” as his party took a battering at the polls with Marine Le Pen’s closet racist National Front taking the majority of votes. Far-right parties in the Nordic countries had similarly strong elections, with Morten Messerschmidt smashing the record for personal votes in Denmark and neighbouring anti-immigration party Sweden Democrats won its two first seat in Parliament. United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) topped the polls in the UK and elsewhere the far-leftist Syriza won in Greece, with neo-Nazi Golden Dawn taking 10% and far-right Jobbik coming second in Hungary. This means that all three centrist blocks lost seats in the European Parliament to radical socialist and far-right activists. Germany’s Angela Merkel – who conversely topped the national polls together with Italy’s leader Matteo Renzi – described the far right victories as “remarkable and regrettable”. Although these radicals share an anti-establishment romanticism they are neither able to agree upon a common platform nor form a coalition; however, they will have more airtime and resource allocation to promote an anti-European agenda. This may not yet be a fatal, however, Europe will have to change quickly if it is to avoid more fruitless quarrels or even worse: divorce.

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Parliamentary result is a call for more tangible action and benefit for Europe’s diverse population. This will be no straightforward task with competing national priorities; however, addressing the three following critical issues will help assure the grumpy mood:

(1) Elect its next President: This is already proving very challenging as the leading candidate: Jean-Claude Juncker provides more of the same, which Europe cannot afford. Other candidates such as Christine Lagarde would be a viable choice as she has proven to be able to reform and lead the IMF in a very difficult financial climate. This option, however, poses the risk of a constitutional crisis if the European Parliament does not approve the candidate, so much will depend on who will be its next President.

(2) British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on whether the UK should exit the EU or not. This proposition is more than Britain’s usual lack of solidarity and complaints of EU funding (despite it only being a net contributor of 0.24% of GDP). Brits still refer to Europe as something they are not part of, however, an exit from the Union would spread precarious contagion and question the EU’s integrity. Europe needs the UK and the UK certainly needs the EU, if only because its biggest trading partner is the EU. Disintegration would be undesirable for both parties and roll back benefits established over many decades.

(3) Agree a more desirable mix between Union and national powers. This is a precarious topic as giving back powers to its members seems desirable for areas such as social benefits and healthcare, however, greater fiscal integration and collectively agreeing trading deals with non-EU states is more likely to succeed at Union level.

Getting it right is critical for Europe because disintegration would lead to unimaginable consequences. These are hard to imagine because younger Europeans did not have to grow up with war, barriers to travel & trade nor mercantilism. The genuine long-term benefits are rarely discussed as they are taken for granted. Forgetting what the past looked like is simply too costly and would go against everything that its predecessors drafted in the Treaty of Rome: A European project that had the aim of putting the region on a path of stability, security and social and economic prosperity.

Europe has to remind itself of why it is worthwhile staying in this marriage, renew its vows and make demonstrable changes to save the relationship.

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One Comment

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  1. David Cerveny / Jun 9 2014 08:05

    Interesting article Luk, thank you.

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