In this post we pull together and summarise the evidence we find that the EU is fragile and its future is at risk. For more details see Evidence of Fragility (Part 1), Evidence of Fragility (Part 2) and Evidence of Fragility (Part 3). Evidence is also drawn from other posts; there’s plenty of it – and growing.
Across the EU senior figures, in and near to government, are confirming that reservations about the Project are increasing among citizens and voters. Here is a sample:
Maria Elena Boschi, Italy’s Minister for Constitutional Reform, appealed for a re-launch of the EU project saying, “Unfortunately, anti-European sentiment is not limited to the UK. It is common more or less to all our countries, and it is on the rise”.
In France Marine Le Pen sees herself as the “defender of the freedom of people to choose their destiny and choose their laws”. Her National Front is doing well in polls leading to the general election in 2017.
In Germany Frauke Petry is leading the ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) deep into euroscepticism. She says, “If the EU does not finally leave its wrong path, and the quasi-socialist experiment of deeper political integration, more European Nations will reclaim their sovereignty the way British are. The result would be more exits.”
In Austria the perception is widespread that European integration is exacerbating the downsides of globalisation and this goes to the heart of the increasing euroscepticsm.
Polls suggest that 50% of Greeks believe that their country has not benefited from membership of the EU. Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s finance minister in 2015 argues that Europe is disintegrating.
The Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, is doing well in polls prior to the general election next year. He has pressed for the Netherlands to leave the EU. Mr Wilders has said that if his party wins the election, and he becomes prime minister, there will be a referendum on leaving the European Union.
Swedish parties from both right and left express a preference that the country should leave the EU.
The multitude of problems the EU is confronted with has clearly damaged trust in politics, at both national and European levels.
Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, blames the EU for its inability to deal effectively with major issues and the consequent ill effects for Italy. Currently, Italy’s populist 5 Star Movement, which is sceptical of the EU project, would be likely to win power in Italy if an election were to be held.
In Germany the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is doing well in the polls and will present formidable opposition to the ruling coalition at next year’s national elections. According to a recent poll in Germany, nearly one-third of Germans believe that their country should leave the EU.
In 2000, bilateral measures were imposed by EU states against Austria as a reaction to the participation of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in government, casting a shadow over the relationship between the country and its EU partners.
The populist Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland has undermined independent checks on its power, from the constitutional court to public media. Such activities would disqualify an aspirant country from membership of the European Union. Mr Kaczynski, chairman of PiS, is picking fights with the EU over its attempts to get the Polish government to moderate its behaviour.
The dilemma for the EU lies 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, opposing further integration. If it does take firm action against the miscreants then it risks a full-scale rebellion against the centre, with more countries pressing to exit the Union.
Immigration & Emigration
Members of the Visegrad Group are strongly opposed to the EU’s attempt to fine them for not accepting sufficient numbers of migrant refugees in their countries. Hungary has refused to take any and the others in the group have accepted far fewer than the EU quotas required of them.
Discontent with the EU in Germany comes from the reaction to the EU’s inability to control immigration or resolve issues of where to locate migrants.
Italian leader Matteo Renzi threatened to fatally cripple the entire European project unless Brussels bureaucrats do more to sort out the migrant 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.
In Lithuania a protest party, the Peasants and Green Union Party, recently won the national election. If the party is able to form a coalition government then it will seek to reverse the emigration trend and this will bring it face-to-face with the sacrosanct fourth freedom (of people).
The EU Commission attempted to impose migrant quotas on countries but ran 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.
Economics & Reform
Senior Italians have linked hoped-for reform of the EU with Italy’s special needs, particularly the need to modify the competition rules to allow EU companies to compete more effectively outside the EU.
Luigi Di Maio, a vice-president of Italy’s lower house of parliament, said, “We want a consultative referendum on the euro. The euro as it is today does not work. We either have alternative currencies or a Euro 2”.
Discontent with the EU in Germany also comes from the feeling that Germany is expected to bail out Greece for it profligacy and so echoes the North-South controversy that divides the eurozone.
The loss of confidence in the common currency is particularly damaging for the EU because the euro was widely regarded as key to stability and an important element in facilitating the growth of a European identity.
Around one-quarter of the adult population in Greece is without work, with unemployment seen averaging 24.7% in 2016, according to the European Commission. Greece is blamed for its own problems and Brussels sees no reason to reform its policies to address the imbalances that have arisen from euro-integration.
Today’s European Union elite still adhere to an idea of European integration laid down by Jean Monnet. Crises merely require the central bureaucracy to adjust the existing technocratic plan. Beyond Brussels and Strasbourg, though, people have come to view the continuing crises with a sense of hopelessness and the impossibility of effective reform.
THE euro crisis that first blew up in late 2009 has revealed deep flaws in the single currency’s design. Yet in part because it began with the bail-out of Greece, many politicians, especially German ones, think the main culprits were not these design flaws but fiscal profligacy and excessive public debt. That meant the only cure was fiscal austerity. In fact, that has often needlessly prolonged the pain and increased resistance to EMU.
Democracy & Sovereignty
Gianna Pittella, the deputy chairman of the EPP group in the European Parliament, said that the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact is “stupid” and that there is a discrepancy between the Maastricht Treaty, which says that the EU is a union of states and citizens, and the reality, which is that citizens are not included in practice.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland’s ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party, argues that more power should be handed back to national governments. He says that the Visegrad group is seeking a “counter-revolution” to bring changes to the structure and decision-making processes of the EU. On its part, the European Commission has issued a formal warning that judicial reforms in Poland are seen as a threat to the rule of law.
After the Brexit victory in June, AfD chairman Bjorn Hocke said: “I know the German people want to be free of EU slavery.” The European policy spokesman for the party said: “Next year the AfD will enter the German parliament and Dexit will be top on our agenda.”
The question of more direct democracy is an additional ever-recurring element in Austrian EU debates.
In a letter to EU leaders, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said it would be “a fatal error” to assume that the UK vote was a specifically British issue, describing it as “a desperate attempt to answer the questions that millions of Europeans ask themselves daily” about security, cultural heritage and way of life.
The EU is founded on the idea of drawing sovereignty to the centre and its leaders are satisfied with their notion of democracy. Increasingly citizens of the EU are challenging both the foundations and the lack of democracy.
Germany’s Left Party leader Sahra Wagenknech has also called for her country to hold its own referendums on key EU decisions such as trade deals. “I believe that it’s right to give the people the chance to vote on important issues like the planned free trade TTIP deal, or other European agreements.” Such a principle does not feature in EU treaties.
Dutch voters rejected an EU partnership deal to remove trade barriers with Ukraine during a referendum in April this year.
The European Commission, which negotiates foreign trade on behalf of EU governments, did not foresee that a deal such as CETA, would attract strong opposition.
These issues, and others, point up the radical differences among EU members, which the EU wishes to quash by imposing uniformity across the region. Always their solution is more EU not a more appropriate union. It seems to us unlikely 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.