EU in Crisis
EU Hits the Sour Spot

PM_2016.06.07_brexit-00A fortnight from the Brexit vote, public support for the EU is plummeting—not just in Britain, but across continental Europe as well. A Pew Research Center poll finds that while support for the EU declined over the past year in just about every country surveyed, some saw more dramatic falls than others. Reuters reports:

The fall was most pronounced in France, where only 38 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the EU, down 17 points from last year.

Favorability ratings also fell by 16 points in Spain to 47 percent, by eight points in Germany to 50 percent, and by seven points in Britain to 44 percent.

The EU’s bungling of two major issues—the migration crisis and the never-ending economic drama—is behind this latest round of bad news for Brussels.

With migration, there is still no coherent strategy from the Eurocrats, only the lopsided deal with Turkey and a muted response to this year’s skyrocketing number of Mediterranean crossings from Libya to Italy. Even the Swedes, once so rosy about the whole refugee situation, now register an astounding 88% disapproval rating for the EU’s handling of refugees.

On the economic front, the center-left elite running Europe has failed to resolve what has become a slow-rolling debt saga, and seems to cling to the quixotic expectation that common currency and a unified monetary policy will work well for economies in dramatically different shape. The elite’s favored tactic of using piecemeal bailouts to force grinding austerity on unwilling publics has only strengthened Eurosceptic parties from Greece to Spain.

Lack of faith in the EU should not be blamed on sinful voters who have strayed from the sacred work of European integration. Rather, it is the fault of the EU’s high priests, whose lack of imagination and smug dismissal of their flock’s concerns are most damning of all. Brussels has no compelling vision for what the EU will look like in 50 years, let alone in the next five.

The EU had a vision once. When the European Union was moving from strength to strength in the 1990s and early 2000s, the neoliberal consensus of open borders and economic integration showed every indication of working. It was largely resilient against challenges from the far Left and far Right, which at the time occupied a marginal place in European politics.

But after a Lost Decade of growth for the entire continent, Europe has hit what we call the “sour spot.” Unable to fully satisfy any constituency, with avenues of reform blocked by stalwart opposition from Left and Right, the EU can only offer stronger union or devolution, options that enrage or enthrall Eurosceptics, respectively, and will empower them either way.

In the absence of “that vision thing” from pro-EU centrist parties, political polarization is taking hold; the far Left and far Right are on the march. They may not always have the right ideas, but at least they have bold ideas that capture voters’ imaginations and offer some hope of improvement—again, more than what the EU is offering right now. One bold idea, Brexit, is already inspiring a wave of referenda in other EU member states. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic have already said they will hold referenda on EU membership, and now a majority of the French want a vote of their own.

Even if Brexit fails, the UK has already shown that the threat of leaving the EU is enough to extract concessions. Rather than a tight-knit union or a less-integrated-but-still-harmonious federation, recent events are pointing to third future for Europe: stracciatella, that is, a once-appealing whole violently ripped apart in different and competing directions.

Features Icon
show comments
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service