State of the European Union
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State of the European Union

The EU’s strength remains its clout in trade thanks to its vast single market. Photo: AFP

The EU’s strength remains its clout in trade thanks to its vast single market. Photo: AFP

No, this is not about the Punch and Judy politics that have gripped the US under President Donald Trump. Rather, it is about the realities that the EU is facing in the run-up to the European Parliament elections in a few weeks. Many are rightly asking whether the EU is a superstate in the making or just an alliance of convenience.

There has arguably never been so much political bickering within the EU as in the last few years. The anti-Brussels rhetoric in Italy, Hungary and Poland will probably mean more populist politicians being elected to the European Parliament. France and Germany, while remaining solidly pro-EU, will have their sizeable share of parliamentarians who are Eurosceptic. They will presumably oppose any moves by the European Commission and Council for more integration. 

Such developments would not be good news in the present turbulent geopolitical context. President Trump will continue to downgrade trade and defence ties with Europe, if he survives the next two years of his presidency. Russia has never hidden its plans to restore its status as a superpower with ambitions to assert itself in countries on the EU’s eastern border. China, even if it is faltering in its trade dominance, seems intent to dominate the world political scene with its big strides in technology applications that could pose a serious threat to global cybersecurity. 

What will keep the EU 27 member states glued together in the next decade is not so much shared values as a knowledge that the trade advantages offered by the large EU market are far superior to what either China or the US can offer to individual countries. 

The EU’s strength remains its clout in trade thanks to its vast single market. This strength is complemented by good business legislation and regulation that ensure that the member states’ economic interests are protected against any attempts by the current superpowers – the US and China – who are increasingly using trade and investment as a political weapon. 

The majority of EU people believe that being in the EU offers more advantages than leaving, even if many are not happy with what the EU is doing for them

Despite the major structural weakness in the EU’s governance, fear of the unknown in the form of possible consequences faced by those who leave the Union, will ensure that the EU and the euro will continue to exist for long. However, this will not be a union of values but a marriage of convenience. 

It is unlikely that the member states will agree unanimously on any important governance issue. For instance, a fiscal union as well as a banking union are indispensable to ensure that the euro continues to exist as a currency shared by so many different states that have such divergent records of economic performance. 

Preserving the principle of sovereignty of the individual member states will often be a pretext to veto fiscal union used by those who base their competitive advantage around their favourable tax regimes. The necessity for unanimity in voting to affect any major changes is an anachronism that is keeping the EU from undertaking the structural changes that it needs to perform better as a superpower in trade and in defence of social values.

The talk about an EU army makes sense politically at a time when Nato is being emasculated by Donald Trump, and Russia is showing territorial ambitions on its western border. But will a European army ever be created?

This is unlikely to happen as I cannot see EU member states ever agreeing unanimously to anything substantial. We will continue to hear strongly worded declarations of pious intentions to bring about change, but see even more fudging in collective decisions that should turn intentions to reality. The EU gives more importance to symbolism in its actions rather than substance. 

I do not believe that any EU member state will follow the path taken by Britain to leave the EU. 

Trading interests and freedom of movement, as we see in the Brexit shambolic saga, will be too precious to sacrifice on the altar of macho political rhetoric. 

The big risk that this reality entails is that more and more EU citizens will grow disenchanted with politics and turn to populist mavericks to represent them in local and EU political fora. So far the majority of EU people believe that being in the EU offers more advantages than leaving, even if many are not happy with what the EU is doing for them. 

However, major social unrest may eventually erupt in one or more member states. That may be the spark that will bring the needed structural changes in the EU. 

johncassawhite@yahoo.com

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