Over the past three years, Europe has seen a shift of power towards the Council of Ministers and the European Council at the expense of the European Commission.
Also the European Parliament has, thanks to its enhanced role in the Lisbon treaty, gained weight vis-à-vis the Commission. And yet when the Lisbon Treaty was discussed – and even more so the European Constitution – everyone was convinced that it would bring more Europe, more 'politique communautaire' and far less intergovernmental co-operation.
OK, the Constitution was voted down in France and slaughtered in the Dutch referendum, but still, the Lisbon treaty, 'that came in stealthily through the bedroom window' so to speak, still had many elements pleasing to the eye of European integrationists and even federalists. Beautiful horizons were pictured where a Europe, ‘unified in its diversity’ would take up its rightful place in the new world order of the 21st century as the largest economic bloc and the biggest democratic monolith of over 500 million people.
And this was all there just in place, when the world financial crisis erupted with the demise of Lehmann Brothers. And then things started to unravel. But not only because of the financial crisis, although it did manage to scare people so much that they acted as people have always done throughout human history when they are scared: lock themselves in, keep the neighbours out and try to blame someone that looks different from you for all the ills of the world.
These almost natural self-defence reactions were already in place when the crisis struck. Globalisation put people, especially those that do not globalise, in a position similar to that of a hedgehog when danger looms: roll yourself up in a ball and try to shut the outside world out.
The rise of populist nationalist parties in countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark changed the political landscape significantly. And as good nationalists these parties and their electorate are very suspicious, if not outright hostile towards the EU.
They are still minority parties in their countries, but in Denmark and in Holland they were, or still are, pivotal pillars for the survival of minority coalition governments. And thus their influence to steer these countries away from integrationist policies is decisive.
OK, Denmark and Holland are relatively small countries and are not dominant in the functioning of the EU. For this we have rs the infamous ‘Merkozy’ couple: France and Germany striking deals that the other member states then have to rubber stamp in meetings organised by the Merkozy secretariat, aka the cabinet of President Herman van Rompuy of the European Council.
Cracks appeared in this happy Franco-German marriage when they overstretched a bit with a deal in the coastal town of Deauville. This is where they decided that private investors had to take part in the losses in the Greek debt restructuring drama.
A deal that rather quickly turned out to be opening the floodgates for never-ending doomsday stories that Greece would default, the Eurozone would collapse and whatnot. It took several months and a couple of emergency European summits to put the genie back in the bottle. This seems to have worked at the latest summit earlier this month.
And now presidential elections in France are upon us. And outgoing President Sarkozy stands feeble in the polls, being outflanked by the nationalist Front National. And what does he do? He throws himself in a nationalist seizure, happily threatening to take France out of Schengen, promising to cut the number of immigrants coming to France by half and in general denouncing anything that might be seen as limiting the sovereignty of France.
And if large member states such as France start to give up on the European idea, joining ranks with the ever Eurosceptic Brits, and Germany gaining self-confidence saying it is not committed to solidarity ad infinitum, then the EU can quote Private Frazer from Dad's Army and conclude – we’re all doomed!
And so we head back to each for himself and none for all. Unless of course Sarkozy sees the light or the other guy wins, you know the one that no-one, at least no governing politicians from the centre-right, wants to meet. At least he is named after provinces of another member state: Holland(e).
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