The European Union could implode
Janis Emmanouilidis is Director of Studies at the European Policy Center (EPC) in Brussels. There he heads the program for European politics and European institutions. He also advises various European governments, institutions and NGOs on questions of European integration.
SZ:When you walk through the Brussels institutions, officials and politicians look pretty dejected. Is that how you perceive it?
Jannis Emmanouilidis: The level of frustration is high. Not just because of the refugee crisis. The EU has been going through difficult times for five or six years: the euro crisis, Ukraine, the impending Brexit. We have not overcome any of these, but have managed to create even more crises. You can also feel the depression among those in charge of politics. And then there are so many negative developments at national level that are also related to the EU: in France, Hungary, Poland. This gives a feeling of powerlessness.
Is the EU overwhelmed? Or is their structure wrong?
It's a mix. Of course, the EU was not prepared for these crises. She is a large ship that is difficult to steer, an apparatus that always lags behind. At the same time, the problems are extremely complex. The EU has always loaded a lot: everything that you couldn't do at home. That was too much.
In some cases, the EU states are now teaming up closely: on the euro policy and the plans for joint border protection. The status quo is apparently no longer an option.
Muddling through has always been the fundamental approach of the EU in recent years - not strategic thinking, the big hit. Muddling through is probably the best we can expect right now. The system is under high pressure - after all, the Schengen area is in danger. And you try to defend what you have achieved. There is progress, but it is always a compromise: the euro stability mechanism, a kind of banking union, maybe soon the new form of border security. Should we get the situation under control, there will be no energy left to go much beyond that.
So should we say goodbye to any ideal in the EU?
Be realistic, not ask too much. I have sympathy for the idea of now pooling everything in grand gesture and giving Europe a substantial budget in order to be able to master the problems. But my realism knows: That is currently not possible. The fear is that we will need treaty reform in order to meet the wishes of the British and that we will not get it through. On the other hand: take a step back, concentrate on the essentials, a kind of internal market de luxeNobody wants that except the British. You don't know where you're going if you row back. Or if you aim for the supposedly simple solutions: Euro zone without Greece, build fences.
Is it really enough to always navigate your way through?
In any case, the Union is dividing more and more, as the refugee crisis shows. I don't know whether this can be held together in the long term.
But a way back should be possible: if you came to the end that you were overdone with a project like the euro, or if the arguments got out of hand.
I believe that you always go as far as you have to to save what you have. Years ago they knew about the construction flaws of the euro, but did nothing. But now to say: 'It doesn't work, then let's just leave it with the euro', that could have unforeseeable consequences and damage other areas, also because the question of guilt quickly arises. Presumably even the internal market could not be sustained.
It is conceivable that clubs will be formed in the EU depending on interests and values. There are already some: North and South with the euro, the friends of Mini-Schengen, the Eastern Europeans. They could work together differently.
Many actors are aware that one should not open Pandora's box because otherwise it will no longer be able to close. The idea of a core Europe - if, for example, the euro countries went considerably further than the rest - also ignores the fact that there are great differences both between the euro countries and between the others. So this model doesn't work either.
In this time of crisis, does the feeling arise that one is forming a community of fate, for better or for worse?
That is the other side of the coin: we now know how much we depend on one another. But that does not mean that the right thing is being done: creating a real banking union, a deepened economic union. You have to get the population involved and win referendums, which would be very difficult at the moment. Hopefully the glue that binds us together will prevent implosion.
Could the anger Europeans have with one another at the moment just be the surface beneath which they grow together anyway?
In any case, if the Europeans really stayed together, they would question the EU less in the future. Ten or 15 years ago it was said that one only had to convince the citizens of the added value of the EU in order to win them over. That's still true. What is new is that the elites - political, economic, intellectual - are also questioning the European project, and they are seriously.
Obviously you need the negative again and again in order to recognize the positive. In earlier times, such tensions dissolved in wars.
History is full of developments that no one thought possible. On the other hand: The Titanic scenario, a total demise of what we call the EU - I can't even imagine that. But you shouldn't rule it out, just to be aware of the price that would ask.
Are the Europeans now at least talking to one another, not just the heads of government, but also the citizens?
The European public has increased, and European issues are much more present in the debate. However, almost always only in a national context. There is still hardly any transnational discussion between the states.
It's not easy either.
It has to develop, it has to be learned and also pushed. In the euro crisis there was more talk than talk with one another.
Many are afraid of losing their national housing, their identity, in Europe.
Does it have to mean that? Do you have to dissolve one in the other? I am from bavaria; Bayern have never disbanded anywhere, and neither will they. Texans always feel like Texans in the US. In federal states you can combine the two. Of course there are linguistic, cultural and historical barriers. But in the younger generation, many have no problem thinking, discussing and celebrating beyond the boundaries. Even if that is of course not the majority.
So you are cautiously optimistic, this is almost the more difficult attitude right now.
Surrendering to frustration is not good for you or for the whole thing. One has also learned something: At the turn of the millennium, criticism of the EU was not even allowed. Fortunately, that has changed. Constructive criticism helps. Only not populists.
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