The problem with Europe

Since its founding in the wake of World War II, the EU has faced different crises but nothing comparable with the current challenges that bring its very future into question

The arrival in Europe of two million refugees has tested the strength of Schengen

Since its roots were established in 1951, the EU has never faced a crisis as deep as the present one. The idea of creating a supranational structure to facilitate economic exchange between member states and prevent another continental conflict in the wake of World War II was formed by France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and West Germany as the High Authority. This would later become the European Commission and the Common Assembly, which would become the EU Parliament. After a shaky beginning, the Treaty of Rome (1957) established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community, embryo of the future customs union allowing the free movement of goods.

The change of heart that saw the UK apply for admission in 1961 was vetoed by De Gaulle, something many think was not such a bad idea, as Britain has become a thorn in the side of EU institutions since joining in 1973. From the rejection of monetary union to the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher, the UK's growing disaffection with the common project has strained relations. Yet, the British are not the only ones to experience a rise in Euroscepticism. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a pivotal moment in the EU's development. German unification coincided with the fall of the Iron Curtain, as the Soviet bloc broke up. One of the most dramatic consequences was the war in Yugoslavia, which exposed the security weaknesses of the Union, particularly its inability to prevent massacres and ethnic cleansing. Peace was only achieved after NATO intervened under US pressure, which eventually led to Kosovo becoming an independent state, although unrecognised by some EU members, among them Spain.

The year 2004 saw the adhesion of 10 new member states, mostly from former communist Eastern Europe, in a rapid expansion based more on political than economic criteria. The differences between some new members and existing members was marked, and required millions of euros in spending in these states to level the playing field. Ironically, Euroscepticism has grown in some of these countries, and even Poland and Hungary have elected governments that test the democratic limits required as part of the bloc.

Europe has begun the new year with the need to resolve these issues but also with other urgent challenges. The refugee crisis, Greek bankruptcy, fundamentalist terrorism and growing nationalism in nations like Scotland or Catalonia are on the agenda in Brussels, which has shown a worrying paralysis.

It is the opaque and long winded style of European governance that is the source of many problems. A club of 28 members with individual and diverse interests poses a difficult panorama for reaching consensus. One solution would be a real transfer of political and economic power from the states to EU institutions so that they can act with greater speed and efficiency. This seems utopian, firstly because governments of member states have demonstrated their reticence to cede powers but also because the growth of openly Eurosceptic and anti-European electoral options is now a reality.

Given this situation, the pos-sibility of introducing mechanisms putting an end to fiscal havens and  unfair competition within the EU seems unthinkable. In fact, finally managing to shore up the Eurozone and complete the reforms already initiated in response to the financial crisis and save the single currency would be a huge success. Overcoming the dilemma between austerity and growth, combatting unemployment, promoting the pooling of debt, coordinating infrastructure and drawing up a common energy policy seem out of reach of the current European leaders.

Migrant crisis

The arrival in Europe of two million refugees has tested the strength of Schengen, the treaty that guarantees the free movement of people and goods between signatory states. The pos-sible suspension of this principle would be a mortal blow to the EU that cannot be ruled out. Some governments in recent years have invoked temporary suspension clauses and others, such as Hungary, have taken things into their own hands and built fences on their borders with states such as Serbia and Croatia, which are not part of Schengen. France, Austria, Denmark and Sweden have also implemented controls and EU home affairs ministers have discussed a two-year moratorium treaty to see out the influx of refugees.

Nor is the fight against Euroscepticism helped by how shamelessly public money is spent on officials and politicians while citizens are told they must accept sacrifices. A case in point is that of the former socialist minister Magdalena Alvarez who, despite having to resign the vice presidency of the European Bank for Public Infrastructure for alleged corruption, every month receives a pension of more than 10,000 euros, which will see her through until she retires in 2017. Building Europe on such rotten foundations might just prove to be impossible.

UKs' future in the EU

At the end of February, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum for Thursday June 23 on whether Britain should stay in the European Union or not. As in any referendum, the question to be put to voters is crucial, and so far MPs have accepted the one proposed by the Electoral Commission: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

Before making his announcement, Cameron spent two days negotiating a reform package with other EU state leaders in Brussels. Among the conditions of the agreement is that the package will only come into effect if the UK votes to stay in the EU. Included in the package are such things related to limiting benefits for migrant workers, maintaining the pound within the Eurozone, safeguarding the City of London as a financial centre, guarantees of UK sovereignty, increasing competitiveness and placing certain limits on the free movement of some EU citizens into the country. / Catalonia Today

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