Five Reasons why Europe is Cracking

Written on May 17, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Europe, Foreign Policy, Political Economy

By José Ignacio Torreblanca, Associate Professor at IE School of Arts & Humanities

Denmark has reintroduced border controls with the populist excuse of controlling crime. By taking the step, the country that was once a model of democracy, tolerance and social justice has placed itself on the frontlines of a Europe that is increasingly surrendering to fear and xenophobia. Greece, meanwhile, has spent more than a year teetering on a cliff edge and few fellow European governments seem disappointed that it may abandon the euro – some of them are even secretly supporting the markets against Athens. Finland has thrown itself into the arms of xenophobic populism and, following in the footsteps of Slovakia, has refused to finance the bailout of Portugal. With elections around the corner, France and Italy have taken advantage of the Tunisian uprising to restrict the free movement of people within the European Union. And Germany, unhappy at managing the euro crisis amid regional elections, has broken ranks with France and the United Kingdom in the United Nations Security Council, ignoring the Libya crisis and undermining 10 years of European security policy.

With the future of the euro in doubt and the Arab world erupting, European leaders are governing on the basis of opinion polls and electoral processes, hanging on to power through any means possible even if that results in undoing the Europe that it took so much time and so many sacrifices to build. Few times in the past has the European project been so questioned and its disgraces so publicly exposed. It would seem that in the Europe of today, having a large xenophobic political party is obligatory. The truth is that Europe is cracking along four fault lines: its values, the euro, foreign policy and leadership. If there is no radical change, the integration process could collapse, leaving the future of Europe as an economically and politically relevant entity up in the air.

1. A project without fuel

This crisis is neither brief nor temporary: we are not just going through a bad patch, nor are we victims of groundless pessimism. To see the danger facing the project of European integration we only have to look back one decade. The contrast with the current situation is revealing. After launching the euro on January 1, 1999, the European Union approved the Lisbon Strategy, which promised to make the EU the most dynamic, competitive and sustainable economy in the world. The bloc also committed itself to expanding freedom, security and justice, taking European integration into areas such as policing, justice and immigration, which until then had remained on the sidelines of the construction of Europe. And to culminate this process and to give itself a real political union that would allow the bloc to become a relevant global actor in the 21st century world, it launched the process of drafting the European Constitution.

But the EU did not just look inwards, it also looked outwards: it carried out the largest expansion in its history, incorporating 10 countries from Central and Eastern Europe in addition to Cyprus and Malta, and, in a move filled with strategic vision and forward-thinking, it committed itself to opening membership negotiations with Turkey in a move that would create a valuable bridge with the Arab and Muslim world. At the same time, the bloc established the pillars of a real foreign and security policy: after years of impotence and humiliations in tiny Bosnia, the French and the British agreed to more closely coordinate on defense. Meanwhile, the European countries united, Germany included, to halt the attempts of Milosevic to ethnically cleanse Kosovo and pledged to launch a rapid reaction force of 60,000 soldiers who could be deployed outside of European territory for crisis containment and peacekeeping missions. Now accustomed to being belittled by the great powers, it is revealing to remember that, back then, with the euro in circulation, expansion underway, a Constitution around the corner and with a foreign and security policy polished by the leadership of Javier Solana, talk of Europe did not provoke weariness or indifference, but rather admiration and even, in Washington, Beijing and Moscow, unconcealed jealousy. Read more…

As published in www.elpais.com on May 15, 2011.


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