Sunday

25th Feb 2018

Opinion

Birthday wishes to the European Union

The 60th anniversary of the European Union this month comes at an explosive historical period in European and global politics.

2016 was an annus horribilis, a horrible year, for the European Union.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Sapped of confidence and vigour by the Great Recession, growing turbulence in its neighbourhood, and further terrorist attacks - the European Union was confronted by the decision of one of its largest member states, the United Kingdom, to withdraw its membership.

Not to mention the election of an openly anti-EU president in the United States of America.

These events lend urgency to the discussion taking place in Florence, 4-6 May, at the European University Institute’s annual State of the Union Conference, with the title: Building a People’s Europe.

Transformation

The challenge for the EU is to transform the vicious cycle of its recent history into a virtuous cycle, whereby it finds the political capacity and will to ensure that the legacy of the last 60 years is not destroyed.

Right-wing populism, which combines being anti-EU and anti-migrant, is not a new phenomenon in European politics; but the strain of governing in tough times has made it more attractive to the disaffected, who feel left behind and who are uncomfortable with the pronounced cultural shifts they have experienced.

Across Europe, party systems are fragmenting, voting behaviour is volatile and the left in many countries is doing badly.

For some, Brexit and Trump are harbingers of what is to come across Europe, namely the triumph of disintegration. However, I am convinced that both these seismic political events will, in fact, provide Europe with the incentive to protect the union’s legacy and address its many challenges.

Europeans have been reminded that it is far easier to destroy institutions than to build them. And post-Brexit uncertainty in the UK is a reminder of how dangerous it is for any state and society to pull up its external anchors.

Politically, 2017 is a vital year with multiple national elections across Europe. The outcome of these elections will be vital for the future of the EU.

Already in December 2016 in the Austrian presidential election and again in the March 2017 Dutch elections, it was evident that pro-EU political forces can win and that talk of exiting the EU and being too overtly anti-EU does not have strong traction on the European continent.

In fact, the Brexit and Trump effect is more likely, rather than less likely, to bolster appreciation of the EU in most member states.

If Marine Le Pen does not win in France, as she most probably will not, then the EU has a window of opportunity to protect its undoubted legacy and to build a future for EU-27.

The European Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe is a reflection of what that future might be. Given the prevailing uncertainty, the commission rightly opted for several different scenarios.

White paper scenarios

Scenarios are a well-known device to think about future possibilities in a volatile and uncertain environment. The five scenarios ranged from (1) Carrying On, (2) Nothing but the Single Market, (3) Those Who Want More Do More, (4) Doing Less More Efficiently and (5) Doing Much More Together.

Scenario 5 is the federalist scenario and is unavailable at this juncture, given the cleavages across the member states. Scenario 1 is insufficient as the status quo in the EU is not sustainable and scenario 2, a retreat to the single market would imply too much disintegration.

This leaves scenario 3, a multi-speed EU and scenario 4, some re-nationalisation of competences, as the most likely evolution. These two scenarios are not in any way incompatible.

Scenario 3, the multi-speed EU option, is the one that has received the most political and media attention. Whenever the EU runs into the buffers, models of multi-speeds are dusted off and put on the table.

Multi-speed comes in two main varieties. One variety is the variable geometry and à la carte variety which implies considerable fragmentation and is neither sustainable nor desirable. The second version is a more virtuous one of concentric circles with an open core.

Two areas stand out for further integration of the willing. First, the Eurozone is not yet stable and must both complete the banking union and develop some fiscal capacity. The second is security, borders and management of migration.

The 2017 elections are critical in establishing which of these scenarios, in whatever combination, gains political traction. After the French and German elections, it is possible to envisage the re-emergence of a Franco-German motor of integration at the heart of the EU that has overcome the current divergence.

The Brexit negotiations will put pressure on the EU-27 to stick together, as the alternative is to fall apart. It could well be that following a time of disruption and misfortune, the EU will have an annus mirabilis, a wonderful year, as befits its 60th birthday.

Brigid Laffan is director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Director of the Global Governance Programme at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

EU: The next 60 years

The 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome is an opportunity to celebrate past achievements and to think about the current challenges the EU is facing.

EU struggles with multi-speed idea

EU leaders meeting in Brussels insisted on staying united after Brexit but are still divided over fears of creating new 'elite clubs' within the bloc.

Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme

Growth predictions are positive, exports increasing, unemployment dropping and credit-ratings up, says the head of Greece's Syriza delegation to the European Parliament. Now the government in Athens is looking to design its own reform programme.

Analysis

We are not (yet) one people

Talks on the next EU budget will start on Friday. Brussels wants to do much more than before – and needs a lot more money. But arguing about funds won't be enough.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?