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What is the future of the European Union?

Opening Argument

Ever since Brexit, debates about the future of the EU have been at the forefront of European politics. Talk of other nations leaving the EU, such as France, Germany, and Italy, have begun, and many other nations such as Hungary have become more outspoken against the EU's actions. This controversy has shed light on some of the EU's faults: lax immigration policies, lessening the autonomy of its members, an ambiguous group of leaders, and more. Some have also accused the EU of being anti-semitic and transforming Europe into one nation as opposed to a collection of diverse cultures.

However, others argue that the EU is a crucial organization in promoting peace, citing the reason it was founded: to prevent another disaster such as a World War. While the outcome of this goal has been debated, there are also economic and political reasons why someone might support the EU. For example, it encourages the promotion of democracy and free markets abroad. It also makes transportation and currency matters a lot simpler, as EU member nations all use the same currency and do not require passports.

Given these two sides - and the rising anti-EU movements - how do you think the EU will end up? Will it become stronger, or will it eventually dissolve? Is the EU even a beneficial organization?

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  • thereptherep 61 Pts

    THE EUROPEAN PROJECT has sometimes given the impression of being in perpetual crisis. Indeed, its spiritual father, Jean Monnet, saw this as the best way to advance to his preferred goal of “ever closer union”, arguing that “Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.” Yet as the union prepares to celebrate 60 years since its founding treaty was signed in Rome on March 25th 1957, it is in deeper trouble than ever.

    A big reason for this is the politics in EU member countries. Crucial elections loom in many this year, and populist parties opposed to the European project and in favour of referendums on membership of the euro, the EU or both are likely to do well. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s anti-European Freedom Party gained seats in an election on March 15th, though fewer than many had feared. In France Marine Le Pen of the National Front is expected to win a place in the second, run-off round of the presidential election in early May, just as her father did in 2002. Although, like him, she will probably lose, she will come closer to winning than he did. And if she loses, it may be to Emmanuel Macron, who is running as an outsider with an untried political party.

    Then in September Germany will go to the polls, and the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party is likely to win its first seats in the Bundestag. Although Angela Merkel may yet remain chancellor, her new Social Democratic challenger, Martin Schulz, is running close behind her in the polls. Were he to replace Mrs Merkel, the shock to a European project that she has largely led for 12 years would be profound. Italy must also hold an election by early 2018; two of its leading parties have at different times called for a referendum on the country’s euro membership.

    One reason for the likely success of populists against incumbents is that Europe’s economic mood is so glum. Although growth has returned and the euro zone has stabilised, growth rates are still low and, notably in the Mediterranean, unemployment (especially among young people) is punishingly high. Greece remains a basket-case on the edge of default, and the markets are nervous about Italy and France. Public debts across the union remain large, and progress on liberalising structural reforms has largely stalled. The euro zone has a partial banking union, a centralised bail-out fund and a European Central Bank (ECB) prepared to act as a lender of last resort, but its architecture remains incomplete and there is little agreement over how to finish the job.

    Migration remains a huge issue. The numbers entering the EU from the Middle East and Africa have come down a lot, but mainly because of a questionable bilateral deal with Turkey to close the main transit route into Greece that could fall apart at any moment. Hundreds of would-be migrants still take to leaky boats across the Mediterranean every week. The distribution among EU countries of those refugees who have got through has created serious tensions, with Germany particularly angered by the refusal of central European countries to take more than a few. Work to strengthen the union’s external borders has been fitful at best. Internally, the Schengen frontier-free system is troubled and several border controls have been reintroduced.

    The deteriorating geopolitical environment makes matters worse. Turmoil and war across the Middle East and in north Africa were one big cause of the surge in migrant inflows. An aggressive Russia under President Vladimir Putin is now seen as a direct threat, particularly in eastern Europe. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is turning his back on a club that seems to have rejected his membership aspirations, and is spurning its democratic values as well. To cap it all, America’s new president, Donald Trump, has shown himself hostile not just to multilateral free trade and Muslim immigrants but intermittently to the EU, praising Britain’s decision to leave and urging others. That points to perhaps the biggest current concern of all: the EU’s unpopularity with both national governments and their voters. Following last June’s referendum, in which the British voted to leave by 52% to 48%, their prime minister, Theresa May, is about to trigger the two-year process for Brexit under Article 50 of the EU treaty. Brexit may be more painful for Britain than for its 27 partners, but it is still a threat to the future of a union that has previously only ever expanded. Some politicians in other countries have openly said that they want to follow Britain’s example. The EU’s popularity ratings in other member countries received a slight boost from the Brexit decision, but they remain strikingly low by past standards (see chart).

    Indeed, whenever any European treaty has been put to a vote in recent years, it has been as likely to be rejected as approved. The Danes and the Irish are famous for having to be asked to vote twice to produce the desired result. French and Dutch voters sank the EU constitutional treaty in 2005. The Dutch also rejected an association agreement with Ukraine last year. In capitals around Europe, diplomats gloomily conclude that there may never be another treaty, for at least one country would surely fail to ratify it.




  • aarong
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