European Union’s woes

Murari Sharma

If you are convinced that the European Union is robust enough to weather all challenges and proper, think again. The regional economic group is facing existential crisis, both old and new.

That however does not necessarily mean that the union is about to crumble. The union is the largest economy in the world. It remains a magnet for countries seeking to join it, like Turkey and Ukraine. Germany and France, two largest economies and members of the group remain robustly committed to the union.

It, however, does not mean that the economic bloc is secure from threats to its ideals and survival. Economic crisis, potential exist of Britain, refugee influx and terrorism have posed such threats.

The economic crisis in Southern European posits the potential of shrinking the union. Greece, teetering on the brink of an economic cliff despite several international bailouts, may be forced to leave the euro to make its exports competitive to ride out of the debt hole and depression. Spain and Italy, which also have unsustainable debt, may follow suit. The euro is a key plank of the European integration project.

Britain’s exit, if it occurs, may open a hatch for others to follow suit. Britain will conduct an in-out referendum on the EU membership in 2017. The number of people for opting out is increasing steadily in opinion polls. If this trend continues, Britain may abandon the union and seek Norway’s type of relationship with it. Other members that want greater control of their borders, policies and finances, may emulate Britain.

The unceasing influx of Middle Eastern refugees has been fraying the economic bloc. In the face of nearly a million refugees arriving in Europe so far this year, the bewildered EU officials have already ditched the Dublin principle for asylum. Eastern European members have rejected the quota of refugees and erected fences on their borders. Even Germany and Sweden indicated that they are not open to refugees.

The University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, who published a piece in the The Washington Post, believes that the United States was responsible to create the Islamic State. The Western alliance is stepping up its campaign against the terror group in Syria, which will mean more refugees heading to the European shores and more terror groups coming into existence.

Now it is clear that one of the militants involved in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris had come recently through Greece. It confirms the fear that terrorists could enter as refugees to terrorise Europe. Consequently, even France wants to suspend free movement and reinstate some border controls to prevent the movement of terrorists.

All these elements have seriously undermined the key planks of the union: A broader Europe, a borderless Europe.

That should be allowed to happen. Weakening and killing the union will be a humongous mistake for Europe and for the world. The union has removed the old enmities, healed old wounds, kept Europe safe for last 70 years, and made it the most prosperous continent in the world.

A setback in the European project will likely reopen the old rivalry and wounds and make Europe once again an unstable and war-prone region. It will be a folly to let that happen.

Will the EU disintegrate soon? I do not know. But will it remain strong or become stronger? No, if the economic integration is not followed by political and strategic unification.

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