31
Dec

A Happy New Year for Europe?

Written on December 31, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in News

As the European Union prepares to enter the new year, it faces an almost perfect storm of political challenges. The strategy it has used in the past – barely muddling through a series of calamities – may no longer be enough.
Of course, the EU is no stranger to crisis management. The euro crisis, for example, was widely expected to destroy it; but, after a couple of years of tough summits, the issue was more or less handled. Greece remains in poor shape, but it has retained its EU and eurozone membership. And the EU now has stronger mechanisms for economic-policy coordination.
But the situation today is far more demanding than anything the EU has seen so far – not least because of the sheer number of serious challenges that Europe faces. Far from the “ring of friends” that EU leaders once envisioned, the European neighborhood has turned into a “ring of fire,” fueled largely by the combination of Islamist terrorism and Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. The idea that the EU, with its open societies and firm rule of law, would inspire those values in surrounding countries has been turned on its head, with the disorder of Europe’s near abroad projecting tensions and instability into the Union.
One of those challenges is the surging refugee crisis, fueled by conflict in the Middle East, especially Syria. To be sure, only a tiny fraction of those who have been displaced are currently seeking to enter the EU, and the million refugees expected to arrive this year represent only about 0.2% of the EU’s population. But when so many arrive in so short a time in just a few countries, the EU’s capacity to manage the influx has been overwhelmed, and controls at some borders within the Schengen Area have been restored.
In 2016, EU countries can be expected to get a handle on the immediate challenge, agreeing to key steps to control borders and share the burden of migration more equitably. But the longer-term challenges – integrating the refugees into European society and countering the rise of xenophobic political parties – will be far more difficult.
Even without the refugee crisis and its aftershocks, the EU would be facing a demanding agenda. Progress on both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and a single digital market are central to the EU global competitiveness, as are efforts to implement the planned capital-markets union. As if that were not enough, a new “global foreign and security strategy,” to replace the one that was developed during the more optimistic days of 2003, must be in place by June.
To fulfill this demanding agenda, the EU must be at its best, cooperating effectively on multiple fronts simultaneously. That will be extremely difficult at a time when the United Kingdom is flirting with withdrawal. Although it seems increasingly likely that British Prime Minister David Cameron will strike a deal with his European counterparts by February, the chances that British voters will endorse the deal in the subsequent referendum, which Cameron has promised to hold in 2017, are probably no higher than 50/50.

Read more at https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/european-union-crises-brexit-by-carl-bildt-2015-12#ljsqb1lyrzoDSxOH.99

Carl Bildt was Sweden’s foreign minister from 2006 to October 2014 and Prime Minister from 1991 to 1994, when he negotiated Sweden’s EU accession.

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