Migration, trade and recalcitrant member governments continue to show up the weaknesses of the EU. First, the Express on the latest spat about migration:
“FURIOUS Italian leader Matteo Renzi today [October 27] threatened to fatally cripple the entire European project unless Brussels bureaucrats do more to sort out the migrant crisis.”
“In an extraordinary threat the apoplectic PM vowed to veto the EU budget and starve Brussels of taxpayers’ cash, inducing complete paralysis, if the refugee chaos is not fixed by the end of this year.”
“His remarkable threat marks another ratcheting up of the growing tensions between Rome and Brussels, whose friendship has been stretched to breaking point by the migration crisis.”
“Mr Renzi also strongly hinted that he will veto the EU budget in retaliation for the critical situation unless Brussels steps in and forces member states to take in their fair share of migrants.”
“An EU Commission to impose migrant quotas on countries has run into difficulty following furious opposition from eastern European countries and a less than enthusiastic response from others already struggling with the pressures of mass migration.” (The Visegrad Group have refused to take their EU-allocated shares of migrants.)
The Express quotes Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, who said: “We must use the veto. We give our money so that, in exchange for these duties, the others honour their commitments.”
“Mr Renzi has significantly ratcheted up his rhetoric against Brussels in recent weeks as he fights the dual threats of a surging right-wing movement and growing euroscepticism across Italy.”
“Mr Renzi has promised to resign if he loses the vote and the eurosceptic Five Star Movement, which is riding high in the polls, is expected to hoover up a significant number of seats in any general election which would follow.”
We reported on both Italy and the Visegrad Group in Evidence of Fragility (Part 1).
Next, the Economist weighs in with its view of the short-run crisis over the CETA trade deal with Canada:
“The European Commission, which negotiates foreign trade on behalf of EU governments, should have foreseen that a … deal such as CETA, replete with special courts for investors and complex provisions on the mutual recognition of standards, would attract … opposition.”
“But the contingencies of CETA slot into a broader pattern. From regional parliaments to national referendums and restive constitutional courts, numerous spoilers have been hindering what should be routine European business. The EU is supposed to provide a forum in which governments can mediate their differences and forge compromises. But referendums are impervious to negotiation; regional parliaments are answerable only to their voters.”
“[T]rade is the one thing the EU is supposed to be able to do well. … Donald Tusk, who chairs summits of EU leaders, warned that failure on CETA would mean the EU could never strike a trade deal again. Not only would that choke off an important source of growth; it would make it difficult to see exactly what the point of European co-operation is.”
“Yet the EU’s credibility as a trade negotiator rests on its ability to speak for its members. Without that, the world’s largest consumer market starts to lose its allure. The agonising course of CETA will not quickly be forgotten by potential partners.”
“More worrying is the damage to the EU’s self-esteem. …Striking a trade deal with a friendly partner like Canada should have been about as easy as it gets for the EU.”
The damage to perceptions was done by the time CETA was rescued. The EU’s self-esteem is its last redoubt. The propaganda put out on its behalf has been swallowed uncritically by too many who should know better.
Recalcitrant Member Governments
The Economist’s Europe correspondent (Charlemagne) has this sub-heading:
Poland’s illiberal turn poses a wicked dilemma for the European Union
“After winning the country’s first post-1989 outright majority in elections one year ago, the populist Law and Justice party (PiS) immediately set about undermining independent checks on its power, from the constitutional court to public media. Such antics would disqualify an aspirant from membership of the European Union, but it is harder to punish miscreants once they are inside.”
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Chairman of the populist Law and Justice party, “believes the Polish state was captured by a cosy, treacherous eliteafter 1989, with the connivance of the EU. His aim is to overturn and replace it.”
Encouraged by the example of Victor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr Kaczynski packed Poland’s constitutional court with his cronies.
“Most countries of the former eastern bloc joined the EU not to dissolve their sovereignty, but to safeguard it. That preserves the EU’s popularity in the region—support for membership remains strong in Hungary and Poland—but leads governments to different places. Donald Tusk, Mr Kaczynski’s predecessor (and arch-enemy), sought to place Poland at the heart of Europe and to bind it close to Germany. Mr Kaczynski, by contrast, is … picking fights with Brussels.”
“By pursuing its case against Poland to the end in order to deter others from imitating Mr Kaczynski, the commission may instead turn the spotlight on its own impotence (and fuel accusations of arrogance).”
To try to tame intransigent governments the EU introduced a ‘rule of law framework’, which avoids using the ultimate sanction of withdrawing a country’s voting rights. Article 7 of the EU treaty enables the EU to impose sanctions on member states that endanger human rights. It has never been invoked though that has recently been recommended against Austria, Hungary and now Poland.
The dilemma for the EU lies, as always, in the determination to pursue ‘ever closer union’ towards a supra-national state. If the EU does not take action against its members who are seen to attack democratic rights and processes it will encourage such governments, and others, to go their own ways. If it does take firm action against the miscreants then it risks a full-scale rebellion against the centre.
These three issues, migration, trade and ‘sovereignty’ (for want of a better word here) point up the radical differences among EU members, which the EU wishes to quash by imposing uniformity across the region. It seems to us unlikely (as well as unnecessary) that they will succeed in this and, if they neither succeed in imposing nor abandon their ideology then the European Project will fail, perhaps catastrophically.