Dis­ar­ray in the Eu­ro­pean Union

Kingston Whig-Standard - - FORUM - LOUIS DELVOIE Louis A. Delvoie is a Fel­low in the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional and De­fence Pol­icy at Queen’s Uni­ver­sity.

The Eu­ro­pean Union is one of the most im­por­tant and most trans­for­ma­tive in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions cre­ated in the 20th cen­tury. Founded ini­tially as an eco­nomic com­mu­nity of six na­tions, it has grown into a gi­ant that now num­bers 28 mem­ber states. It has gen­er­ated un­prece­dented eco­nomic pros­per­ity for most of its mem­bers. Equally, if not more im­por­tantly, it has cre­ated and presided over a zone of peace in a Eu­rope that had tra­di­tion­ally been the scene of end­less and bloody wars. At the heart of this lat­ter achieve­ment was the agree­ment con­cluded in 1963 be­tween French pres­i­dent Charles de Gaulle and Ger­man chan­cel­lor Kon­rad Ade­nauer. This put an end to a hos­tile re­la­tion­ship that had seen the two coun­tries fight three wars against each other in a pe­riod of 75 years. It was also an agree­ment that solidly es­tab­lished Paris and Bonn/Ber­lin as the axis on which the Eu­ro­pean Union would turn in fu­ture. And so it proved to be.

In re­cent years, Ger­many has emerged as the an­chor of the Eu­ro­pean Union, both eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally. Un­der the un­spec­tac­u­lar but very solid lead­er­ship of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, Ger­many has helped the Eu­ro­pean Union to cope with the Greek fi­nan­cial cri­sis and other eco­nomic woes ex­pe­ri­enced by its south­ern mem­ber states. As France stag­gered un­der the lead­er­ship of the some­what er­ratic Fran­cois Hol­lande, Ger­many sol­diered on reg­is­ter­ing fairly re­spectable rates of eco­nomic growth and a very low un­em­ploy­ment rate. It was widely viewed as a model of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, as well as a staunch de­fender of the lib­eral world or­der.

In 2015, Ger­man pol­i­tics took a sud­den and un­ex­pected turn, when Chan­cel­lor Merkel took the coura­geous de­ci­sion to ad­mit more than one mil­lion asy­lum seek­ers who had been rejected by other Eu­ro­pean coun­tries on their way from the Mid­dle East. The Ger­man au­thor­i­ties did a re­mark­able job in wel­com­ing and in­te­grat­ing th­ese refugees, but their pres­ence on Ger­man soil gave rise to bit­ter po­lit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies. A far right party called the Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AFG) railed against the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion. Seiz­ing on a cou­ple of crim­i­nal acts com­mit­ted by refugees, it sought to in­flu­ence pub­lic pas­sions against them all. And it was at least par­tially suc­cess­ful, hav­ing in­creased the num­ber of seats it holds in the Bun­destag, largely at the ex­pense of Chan­cel­lor Merkel’s Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union. The most re­cent state elec­tions in Bavaria have dealt yet an­other blow to the chan­cel­lor, and she has an­nounced that she will not seek re-elec­tion at the next fed­eral elec­tion. In fact, many now won­der whether she and her coali­tion gov­ern­ment will be able to last that long, thus cast­ing a shadow over Ger­many’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture

In France, the po­lit­i­cal scene is some­what rosier. Since com­ing to of­fice last year, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has shown him­self to be a dy­namic leader. He has im­ple­mented a long se­ries of much needed so­cioe­co­nomic re­forms that his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors had been in­ca­pable of do­ing. His still fairly new po­lit­i­cal party, La Republique en Marche, com­mands a sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity in the Na­tional Assem­bly. And he en­joys the lux­ury rare among cur­rent Eu­ro­pean lead­ers of hav­ing a one-party gov­ern­ment as op­posed to a dif­fi­cult coali­tion. Macron’s prob­lems have more to do with style than with sub­stance. He is widely viewed as ar­ro­gant, and one of his se­nior min­is­ters re­signed re­cently com­plain­ing about the pres­i­dent’s “lack of hu­mil­ity.” His im­age has taken a beat­ing. His ap­proval rat­ing as re­ported by poll­sters has sunk from 53 per cent at the be­gin­ning of the year to 33 per cent in Oc­to­ber. This is a wor­ry­ing trend for the fu­ture po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity of France, where sup­port for the old tra­di­tional par­ties has col­lapsed and only the far right Na­tional Front ap­pears to be hold­ing its own.

The sit­u­a­tion is far messier in Great Bri­tain. Since the Brexit ref­er­en­dum of 2016, the coun­try has been stum­bling from one mi­nor cri­sis to an­other. The early gen­eral elec­tion pre­cip­i­tated by Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May was a dis­as­ter for the Con­ser­va­tive Party, which lost its ma­jor­ity in the House of Com­mons and has re­mained in of­fice only thanks to the sup­port of an un­re­li­able North­ern Ire­land Party. The prime min­is­ter’s au­thor­ity has been un­der­mined by a fre­quently vi­cious civil war within Con­ser­va­tive ranks. The for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary, Boris John­son, has been re­lent­less in his at­tack on Mrs. May and has sought to dis­credit her in the eyes of Bri­tons and Euro­peans alike. Her per­for­mance in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Eu­ro­pean Union over Bri­tain’s exit has been less than stel­lar and there is still no so­lu­tion in sight. Whether or not a deal is even­tu­ally reached, Bri­tain’s de­par­ture will be detri­men­tal to the coun­try’s econ­omy. It will also be detri­men­tal to the Eu­ro­pean Union to lose its third-largest econ­omy, and one of only two Eu­ro­pean coun­tries (the other be­ing France) that is able and will­ing to project mil­i­tary force abroad.

In Italy, the Eu­ro­pean Union’s fourth-largest econ­omy, the gov­ern­ment is now in the hands of two pop­ulist par­ties that came out on top in last March’s gen­eral elec­tion. The gov­ern­ment has now put for­ward a bud­get that pro­poses in­creased ben­e­fits for the poor and un­em­ployed, as well as se­lec­tive tax cuts. Th­ese will re­sult in a bud­get deficit of 2.4 per cent of GDP, thus adding to the coun­try’s al­ready huge pub­lic debt, which amounts to 130 per cent of GDP. This bud­get vi­o­lates long­stand­ing norms es­tab­lished by the mem­bers of the Euro Zone and has pro­voked a strong re­sponse from the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sioner. As The Econ­o­mist put it in a re­cent ar­ti­cle: “Like a cou­ple of prize fighters be­fore a grudge match, the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion and the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment are stand­ing toe to toe. On Oct. 23, Brus­sels de­manded that the pop­ulist coali­tion in Rome re­write its 2019 bud­get. It is the first time since the launch of the Euro that the com­mis­sion has rejected out­right the fis­cal blue­print of a mem­ber state.” The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment has so far re­fused to com­ply, pro­duc­ing yet an­other cri­sis at the heart of Eu­rope.

When Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent of the United States in 2016 on a clearly na­tion­al­ist and pro­tec­tion­ist plat­form, it was widely hoped that the Eu­ro­pean Union would be able to step into the breach as the de­fender of the lib­eral in­ter­na­tional or­der. Un­for­tu­nately, the Eu­ro­pean Union has been plagued by so much po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty and so many di­vi­sions that it has not been able to take on that role. This is very re­gret­table since it leaves the West some­what rud­der­less as it thrashes around on the world scene try­ing to cope with the chal­lenges pre­sented by China and Rus­sia.

MARKKU ULAN­DER/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel speaks at the Eu­ro­pean Peo­ple's Party (EPP) con­gress in Helsinki, Fin­land, on Novem­ber 8, 2018. - EPP, the largest po­lit­i­cal fam­ily in the Eu­ro­pean Union (EU), are to elect their top can­di­date for the 2019 Eu­ro­pean elec­tions.

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