It Must Adapt, Not Disintegrate
Should Europe really reverse course and disintegrate? Let’s not open that Pandora’s box, for it contains all kinds of evils that will be spread around Europe and its environs.
The European Union was founded on the rubble of war. It took hundreds of years for Europeans to understand that a common destiny is best served by common institutions. While the European Union’s past was about peace, its future is about power. Given Europe’s shrinking share of this planet’s population and industrial output, its influence and its affluence can only be preserved when Europe acts in unison. It was a Brit, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has described this nexus as eloquently as anybody. And it is another Brit, one of Blair’s successors as prime minister, David Cameron, who seems willing to bow to those who are bent on forgetting about it.
The price to pay for disintegration is higher than any conceivable gain. Disintegration is a lazy response to a nuanced current problem. It puts both peace and power at risk. Influence and affluence will both become a chimera. Little Englanders, little Deutschlanders and little Polanders will vie for attention and compete for global market share. Their conflicts, and, yes, maybe wars, a global tragedy in the old days, will return to Europe as a regional farce.
Make no mistake about it: There is a problem with unified Europe, and Cameron rightly acknowledged it in pledging to put U.K. membership in the European Union to a referendum. In fact, Cameron has deconstructed the founding myth of the European Union according to which its direction is “ever closer union.” It is not. At least not anymore. And not for all. Certainly not for Britain.
The old continent’s future will not become a “United States of Europe,” much as many Americans (from George Washington onward) would like it to in the interest of simplicity and comparability. Nor will it become a 19th century style collection of nation states, despite the hope of some nationalists and isolationists. Rather, a multitiered European construct seems to be emerging.
At the core lies the euro zone that solves its problems through increasing integration and reform. Around this nucleus a ring of countries with different levels of integration with the euro core is developing. What binds these countries to the core is access to the single market. It appears that Poland will eventually join the euro zone, while Britain might become the Pluto to the euro zone’s sun. To avoid disintegration, the European Union is headed toward a more flexible and adaptable system.
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, where he leads the Eur EuroFuture Project, which explores the economic, the governance and the geostrategic dimensions of the Eurocrisis from a transatlantic perspective.
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Last week’s Council conclusions hint, however, that this will not necessarily be a precedent. Heads of government may in the future reassert their own prerogative to choose the Commission president instead of ceding to the European Parliament.