European disintegration? The European Project in the crisis

By Claire Bravard | 4 February 2013


Prime Minister Cameron’s speech a week ago, explaining how – if he is re-elected – he will organize a referendum during the first half of his mandate on the European issue, was an additional hint that the EU might be on the verge of experiencing something very new: an exit instead of an accession, a shrinking instead of an enlargement of the Union.

It is true that before a possible “Brexit” there were some fears of a “Grexit” two years ago, which is no longer a question today. Partly, because the very proposition of making a referendum on staying in the Euro area was violently dismissed; partly, because a majority of the Greeks, in spite of a five year long crisis, still declare their attachment to the Union.

The story goes differently in the UK. First, a country with a long practice of democracy can simply not accept a referendum to be taken away from its people. This is also part of Cameron’s smart move to embarrass the Labour who still has not been able to make up its mind on its position regarding the EU. Second and more importantly, this very feeling about their ties to the continent is not that evident for the Brits. As Cameron puts himself very well: “We have the character of an island nation – independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty. We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.” Fortunately, Cameron is there to make sure that democracy is respected and he is not the only one to feel so involved. As Delphine shows us in her article on the UKIP, other political forces strive for this referendum.

However, a potential “Brexit” is not the only process that could put at stake the European project. The crisis we have been enduring for more than five years gave a major blow to the benefits this advanced integration among nation states can bring. Piera brings up the topic of the survival of the welfare state – the famous European model – in this context and the politics of austerity supported by Brussels. This global mistrust also has different sources such as the ambient democratic deficit and the growing feeling of defiance from the European people, who have the impression that they cannot hold anybody accountable, as Rose describes in her article. And new parties and political movements have been playing a role both in Grexit and Brexit, as Annamária Tóth tells us with her interview of Sonja Puntscher Riekmann.

Drivers for disintegration are numerous and come from outside and inside the EU. As Marta shows us, the EU is becoming less and less attractive for candidate countries, and a possible enlargement – or the welcoming of Croatia this year – is seen as a threat by many Europeans. In a period of crisis and soaring unemployment, old jealousies and misunderstandings come to surface again: fear of the other, fear of the migrant have become main subjects of conversations with concrete implications for the end of labour restrictions in Bulgaria and Romania, as Mila points out.

But the need to be part of a family increases strong nationalistic claims, where different regions in Europe see their independent movements growing. Elena and Arielle expose us two different cases: respectively, the famous one of Cataluña and the one of Scotland, who might also organize a referendum on their place in Great Britain.

So what options do we have? To continue as a smaller and more determined group? Stay fit altogether? Claire says that the first option can be as dangerous for the EU as the second one with its “wait-and-see” attitude. However, if there is one thing to be sure of, is that European and national politicians horse-trading on a 1% budget sets a gloomy perspective for the future of the EU as Chloé points out.

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