Last week EU leaders met for their last summit before the UK is expected to trigger article 50 later this month, setting off their formal negotiations for leaving the union. This two day long summit included a focused discussion on the new white paper released by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker which details a number of possible futures of the Europe Union.
There has understandably been massive attention paid to the impact of Britain’s referendum on itself, but there is one often overlooked factor, the impact this will have on the entire Union. It is to this end that Juncker’s paper outlines the possible ways in which the EU may evolve and shape itself to emerge from the current political and economic whirlwind engulfing it.
The scenarios outlined in the paper range from the EU retreating to nothing more than a single economic market which promotes the free movement of people, goods, capital, and services. On the other end of the possibility spectrum however is outlined the possibility that the 27 remaining member states decide to do much more together, increasing and promoting European integration still further.
Of all the scenarios outlined the idea of ‘carrying on’ is considered to be the most likely outcome. This possibility would simply see the EU muddling on from where it is today and attempting to deliver on the Bratislava Declaration which was agreed upon by all those 27 states last year. Juncker admits in his paper that the EU will have to, even in this event, beef up EU security, both internally and externally, and that they’ll have to be better at tackling the migration crisis. He also admits that the EU needs to do more to improve the economic and social development of youngsters across the continent who have been badly affected by the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis, most crucially in the countries of Greece and Spain.
Of course even the future of simply soldiering on is not a certainty. If the EU suffers more setbacks in the coming years then even this simple scenario could find itself replaced with something more akin to the old ‘Single Market Model’. If that was to happen then the EU would find its many functions and responsibilities drastically reduced and limited.
Certainly the least likely future for the union, based on current trends and attitudes anyway, is the ‘Do Much More Together’. Based upon this scenario the remaining 27 states would integrate themselves much further, continuing to blur the lines between what is the EU and what are individual countries. In this scenario more resources would be shared between the 27 nations as well as power. Now power is a term that’s not been defined particularly, but in history the idea of a country’s power has always lain with the projection of its military might. Could Juncker therefore be talking about a possible European army? Such a notion has always been in play within the EU and has always been hotly debated. Yet there is not much need to dig into this scenario too deeply, it is highly unlikely given the rising tide of anti-EU feeling that is spreading across the continent.
More possible however is the scenario that’s titled ‘Those Who Want to do More.’ In this scenario, Juncker proposes the possibility of a having a smaller coalition of willing EU members working together to progress the integration policy on a more flexible basis. We can already see this scenario working within the union in the form of the Eurozone where 19 members decided to enter into a monetary union by creating and adapting the euro as their national currency.
Despite the detail enclosed within its 30 pages the worst possible scenario is missing from the paper, the total collapse of the union may be highly unlikely but with all the challenges facing the union, and the possibility of more Brexit type referendums, we cannot simply dismiss it out of hand.
Even the European Council President Donald Tusk has openly stated that the problems facing the EU at this moment in time are “more dangerous than ever”. He even identified three challenges facing the union “which have previously not occurred, at least not on such a scale”.
He discusses the rise of nationalist and anti-EU sentiment, which as I stated earlier is spreading across the continent. He also fears that the pro-European politicians are becoming too subservient to the populist sentiments, creating doubt amongst the political elite in the “fundamental values of liberal democracy”. Following on from the Brexit vote and the election of President Donald Trump the EU chief is conscious that continental Europe will be the next test to determine whether right-wing populism continues to find fertile ground to grow.
Next week the Netherlands will be going to the polls to elect a new government and here it seems that the far-right Freedom Party could emerge as the largest single party, championing eurosceptic and anti-immigration policies.
Yet it’s France where the EU’s worries really lie. Throughout the history of the union France and Germany have always been the driving force behind further integration across the continent. Marine Le Pen could end all of that.
She is the candidate for the far right National Front party and has openly called for a French referendum on the countries EU membership. She may not be the favourite to win at the moment but as I detailed in my article last week; “The New French Revolution” she could quite easily find herself through the second round of voting and be on the sprinting line to the presidency. Tusk and the other EU leaders are well aware that if she were to pull off an upset victory it could easily signal the end to French membership of the Eurozone and the EU as a whole.
Finally Tusk’s third threat is external to the EU, it’s what he call the geopolitical reality of a world changed by a newly assertive Chine and Russia, and of course the continued instability in Africa and the Middle East, both of which have created the worst migration crisis in the EU’s history.
All of which Tusk asserts are made worse by the uncertain and impulsive nature of the new US President. Trump is openly questioning most of the US’s foreign policies since the Second World War, including casting doubt over his commitment to the European Union’s ideology of integration.
If we look at Juncker’s paper as a whole it underlines the continued indecision and the unknown nature of Europe’s future post Brexit. The union is entering totally unknown waters and no-one is sure what kind of lasting effects it will have across the continent.
Many EU leaders are struggling to come to terms with the internal and external effects Brexit will have, and the decisions and conclusions they ultimately come to will have long-term political and economic consequences for the union. If they are unable to collectively overcome the challenges facing the bloc then its own members will become the greatest threat to the future of the European Union.