Requiem for a European dream

Requiem for a European dream

 

 

The founding document of European integration, the Treaty of Rome is celebrating its 60th anniversary next year. Sadly, it may be its last one.

 

Like many others in Central and Eastern Europe, I spent my formative years studying European politics and policies in the hope that my country, Hungary will one day become an EU member. When this happened in 2004, an overwhelming sense of “arrival” at the ‘better’ part of Europe took hold. Just like Fukuyama many years earlier, we thought that history has ended, and liberal democracies have won the war of ideas.

 

Little did we realize that the edifice
constructed in the same year as his book was
published, may go tumbling down: half-baked
solutions and hubris will end it.

 

Europeans, and EU institutions, tend to see themselves as champions of values: human rights above commercial interests, high ethical standards that staff and politicians should respect, appreciating science above popular pressure. But ask any citizen, or passer-by on Rond-Point Schuman, and realize that few think these ideals are still upheld today as the EU has lost its narrative.

 

Despite what most Eurocrats think, the EU’s grave-diggers are not the Orbans, Kaczinskys and Farages.

 

It’s a general disillusionment, including on the
political left, as they, too, can hardly support
the EU in its current form.

 

The British Labour’s half-hearted Remain stance, Renzi’s removal of the EU flag from his public appearances, Hungarians and Poles disappointment at the Commission’s and Parliament’s impotence to tackle the corruption and dismantling of democracy in their country have sapped many Europhiles’ support.

 

Self-deception by labelling critics as racists, forcing them into the binary category of pro- or anti-Europeans, having a disgraced president run the European Commission, refusing to hear voters’ frustrations when they veto a new Treaty, vote for Brexit or point out how pathetic the refugee relocation scheme was, does little to demonstrate their acknowledgment of the problem, let alone their willingness or ability to fix it.

 

Requiem for a European dream

 

The real problem, however, is how shaky our European institutions are. While their popularity is even higher than that of the US Congress, their legitimacy is constantly challenged. If a French or Dutch election can call into question the sheer existence of these vanguards of European integration, we should start to doubt how strong the foundation of our system really is.

 

 

 

 

And the pressure is mounting. We don’t need
to have Marine le Pen elected for the Euro to crumble.

 

Italian banks, the European Commission’s leniency about deficits, and the half-baked structure of the Eurozone are enough of a deadly mix to explode as early as 15 years after the bridge-decorated banknotes were released.

 

In 1997, Steve Jobs became Apple’s CEO again. Being given the opportunity to revive an ailing company, the first thing he did was to clean up the clutter that accumulated since his dismissal: he cut out 70% of the products to focus on what Apple did best. It was painful but necessary: the alternative was bankruptcy.

 

In the EU, we are facing a similar moment. We may need to go back to the pre-Maastricht (1992) situation where the single market was the European Communities’ objective as that is where the European consensus is today.

 

Legendary European Commission President
Jacques Delors also agreed how flawed
the Euro’s creation
was.

 

Even pro-Brexiters were in favor of staying in the single market (though the free movement admittedly remains contentious). The Eurozone, Schengen, Dublin rules, foreign policy are all increasingly divisive, to the extent that meaningful policies are the exception, not the rule. They are untenable.

 

Running ahead by creating an inner circle of European integration is unworkable. Institutional and political paralysis, also partly linked to the messy decision-making arrangements in the post-Maastricht years, prevents such ideas from gaining momentum.

 

The same populist forces and lack of honest discussion that got Donald Trump elected are present, and gaining traction, in Europe. Dismissing them, as most American newspapers did, is a grave mistake. It will not only get populists elected, it can bring Europe to its knees. Unless we look into the mirror, admit our hubris, and refocus European integration, the EU as we know it is soon over.

 

(A slightly edited version of this article appeared in EUobserver today, 23 Nov 2016)

 

Posted in EU Affairs

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