Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Opinion

Requiem for a European dream

  • Luxembourg's finance minister Jean-Claude Juncker signs the treaty of Maastricht in 1992. He is now president of the European Commission, at a moment when we may need to go back to the pre-Maastricht situation (Photo: European Commission)

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, would 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 Francis Fukuyama many years earlier, we thought that history had ended, and liberal democracies had won the war of ideas.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Little did we realise 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 few think these ideals are still upheld today. The EU has lost its narrative.

Le Pen is not the problem

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. British Labour's half-hearted Remain stance, Renzi's removal of the EU flag from his public appearances, the disappointment of Hungarians and Poles at the EU's impotence in tackling the corruption and dismantling of democracy in their countries has sapped support.

The EU's reaction has done little to demonstrate their acknowledgement of a problem, let alone their willingness or ability to fix it. Critics have been labelled racists or forced into a binary category of pro- or anti-European, a disgraced president is running the European Commission, and citizens have been ignored when they have vetoed a new treaty, or approved Brexit, or pointed out the pathetic nature of the refugee relocation scheme.

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 just 15 years after the bridge-decorated banknotes were introduced.

A lesson from Jobs

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 percent 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 situation where the single market was the European Communities' objective, as that is where the European consensus is today. Even pro-Brexiters were in favour of staying in the single market (though the free movement admittedly remains contentious). The eurozone, Schengen, Dublin rules, foreign policy are all increasingly divisive and have become 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 will soon be over.

Andras Baneth is an EU expert and managing director of the Public Affairs Council's European office. He is also a member of EUobserver board. He is writing in his private capacity.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Focus

Malta aims to 'restore faith' in EU

The Mediterranean island will take the six-month EU presidency on 1 January, with migration and security as main priorities.

Europe's empty fortress

It is too easy only to criticise the rightists and their fixation with barbed wire, Trump for his wall on the border with Mexico, Orban for his xenophobia.

Catalonia shows dangers of jail terms for non-violence

Time and again, across the world, efforts to "decapitate" non-violent movements, and refusals to engage in political dialogue with them, have led to situations like we are seeing today in Catalonia.

Polish election: analysing why PiS won

Support for democracy was particularly low in Poland with only 19 percent consistently supporting democracy - only Hungary and Bulgaria scored lower.

News in Brief

  1. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder
  2. Erdogan accuses EU of 'standing by terrorists' in Syria
  3. Migrants riot in Maltese camp
  4. Spanish PM refuses dialogue with Catalonia president
  5. Putin: Russia will help Africa without 'conditions'
  6. Almost 200 arrests in Catalonia independence protests
  7. Report: Russian hackers used Iranian cover to attack UK
  8. Next EU economy chief calls for looser budget policies

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  2. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  3. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  4. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  5. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  6. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate
  7. Crunch Brexit vote in UK This WEEK
  8. EU envoy sheds light on weird US diplomacy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us