by Sade N. Jemmott, LL.B , LEC, TEP, Consulting Legal Researcher, FRANHENDY ATTORNEYS
A few days ago Reuters reported that the EU is in crisis under the headline “Divided European Leaders Struggle with Post-Brexit Vision”. Not only as a result of the UK’s historic referendum in June but also because they continue to struggle with divisive issues like economic policy and the approach to refugees. The clear implication of the article was that Europe’s integration experiment was headed for disaster. In the authors’ estimation, efforts to “hide deep divisions” had failed remarkably. Using provocative language to like “…restore public confidence in Europe’s ailing common project” while speaking to Italian and Hungarian leaders “shatter[ing] the façade of unity” it painted a picture of doom and gloom for European regionalism.
Does it add up though?
Is it reasonable to assume that decades of regional cooperation could be undone by what many now consider to be an ill-advised, local referendum in 1 of 28 States? Differences of opinion within the Union are not new. Like any long-term relationship they are inevitable and admittedly the UK-EU separation is anything but a simple matter. With two years to negotiate exit terms with the UK, perhaps it cannot be business as usual. Thar said however,the EU, for all intents and purposes, has and will press on with business with or without the UK. Hence, the six month plan recently devised in Bratislava, Slovakia to do just that.
The differences with respect to economic policy and refugees that existed prior to Brexit remain. It would have been naïve of anyone to expect otherwise. Of course, however, it has become increasingly politically expedient for some European leaders to pander to domestic fractions in light of upcoming local elections. That too was to be expected, having been particularly exposed to anti-integration calls by David Cameroon’s political gamble with the UK’s ongoing participation.
As the EU works on fleshing out its roadmap in the next several months, only time will tell whether consensus can be reached on burning issues or at least a workable compromise. The EU has done it many times before so it seems doubtful that that capacity would have suddenly dissipated. Regardless of what is said publicly, it may be safe to assume that enough leaders of EU member states see themselves as stronger together and for this reason, the EU’s 60th Anniversary will find them pressing on with less controversial objectives like regional security and investment. As for more complex matters like the refugees’ crisis, identifiable but slow moves towards flexible solidarity may have to suffice. Meaning that, EU member states would help in the ways most appropriate for their circumstances as determined by their national priorities. In this way, every state need not receive refugees in order to contribute.
In sum, the EU continues to face challenges and may even be at a crossroads but it is nonetheless foolhardy to begin writing its obituary. As signalled primarily by France and Germany, the Union still has some fight left in it and many still believe in its original vision and purpose. Having endured more significant conflicts amongst its members, one should not be as quick as Reuters or European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to consider the present state of affairs an “existential crisis”.