President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz made an alarmist statement recently. The official believes that the EU is in danger, and it faces an alternative: Europe of nationalism, borders and walls. As a German, although born in Western Germany, he knows what an extreme nationalism is, as well as the borders, not only across the continent but also in his own country (the Berlin Wall). So, what factors affect the future of the EU?
The first is the philosophy of further development. Choosing the integration model for so many diverse countries is a tricky challenge. Meanwhile, the ideas regarding such model were transformed significantly: from "more functional than constitutional model" (Willy Brandt) to a two-speed Europe with a focus on deepening integration of the Eurozone’s core, in order to keep Britain in the Union (Enrico Letta).
But the fundamental question is drawing a right balance between pragmatism and idealism.
This is an extremely important issue for Ukraine as it affects the presence or absence of prospects of EU membership, and also the relations in the EU-Ukraine-Russia triangle.
Institutional capacity of the EU raises concern, because in the process of settlement of the "Russian crisis" (annexation of Crimea and armed aggression in Donbas), it was the German Chancellor and the French President who took over the leadership, not the European bureaucrats...
The second is centrifugal force. First, these are the countries (combined in one group with a not-politically-correct abbreviation PIGS – Portugal, Ireland / Italy, Greece and Spain), which do not meet the standards and requirements of the Union (financial discipline and governance), therefore, they can be "thrown out" of the EU. More precisely, from the eurozone, but it will have same effect. Greece, with its external debt of 178% of GDP, was one such likely candidate, and, had the agreement with the EU on a EUR 86 billion financial assistance not been signed, the EU could begin to fall apart like a house of cards.
Secondly, it is a probability of the UK’s exit from the EU, which depends on the outcome of the referendum due to be held by the end of 2017. Today, 58% of residents of the UK believe that such a move would not hurt the Kingdom’s economy, while 35% do believe that it will be even better for them.
Thirdly, these are the countries, where either the left, or the ultra-right political forces are gaining popularity. The left stand against imperialism and the ruling circles that govern the Union, while the ultra-right seek more independence and sovereignty. Both categories are great friends of Vladimir Putin, because they help him to "get up from its knees" and strengthen his influence in Europe using the proven principle of “divide et impera” (divide and conquer). The recent success of the National Front of Marine Le Pen, who took a third of the votes in a round of the regional elections in France, and before that had been involved in the scandal with Russian funding, is another proof of that.
Third - the general state of the economy.
As the European economy began to show first signs of recovery after the financial crisis of 2008, the worldwide economic situation deteriorated once again, the debt crisis escalated, and the refugee crisis has affected the economy as well.
Consequently, the EU's GDP is growing rather slowly - 1.8% this and 1.9% next year. Thus, the US economy is growing with greater speed - current 2.5% and 2.4% next year, and the global economy at 2.9% and 3.3%.
The total debt of the Eurozone reached 92.1% of GDP. Besides, the debt of six member states exceeds 100% of GDP. The “southern couple,” Greece and Italy, leads the anti-rating with debts worth 178% and 132% of GDP respectively.
It should be noted that 16.6% (or 122.6 million people) of the EU population close to poverty line.
Given the integration of migrants in the society, some positive effect on the economy can be expected. Otherwise, there will only be increased spending from the state budget.
Fourth - stress factors:
Terrorism. The EU has suffered 45 terrorist attacks since 2001, most of them related to Islamic fundamentalism. The largest number of victims was recorded in the attacks in Spain, France and Britain.
Refugees. The Syrian crisis has caused an unprecedented flow of refugees -- 5,000 arriving daily, or 1.5 million to come before the year end, despite an agreement reached with Turkey on keeping nearly 2 million of Syrians in exchange for a EUR 3 billion aid. Another 3-million wave of migrants is expected in the EU next year. Germany and Sweden take on the biggest challenge (50% and 13% respectively), while other member states are not particularly eager to let strangers in, which causes fierce debate within the EU.
Schengen. Terrorism and refugees have jeopardized the free movement regime between the European countries (except Britain, which is not a party to the Schengen Agreement). Restrictions on border crossing may adversely affect the functioning of the entire Union, because it is the very essence of the European Community, along with the freedom of movement of goods, services and capital, and is the essence of the European Community.
Multiculturalism. In 2010, German Chancellor stated that the policy of multiculturalism in Germany had failed. Immigrants fail to integrate into German society. More than 16 million immigrants arrived only to live off of welfare. In addition to the wave of immigrants from less economically developed EU member states and eastern European neighboring states, the flow has increased of people with completely different civilizational values, which in turn forms the basis for social, ethnic, linguistic or religious conflicts.
Thus, there are plenty of challenges and threats to the existence of the EU. However, despite slow decision making of EU institutions due to the need for constant coordination based on the lowest common denominator, nobody has ever challenged a capability for innovation of European civilization. It has both intellectual and material resources to develop and prosper.
Is there any passionarity left in Europe to tackle the challenges? Or maybe it is Ukraine with its European dream that can breathe new life and new meaning into this geopolitical project?
Only time will give an accurate answer to these questions…
Oleksandr Khara is an expert at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs foundation