Has the European Union lost its lustre in the aftermath of recent crises?

The beginning of the European Union (EU) was an unbelievable utopia that the circumstances of those times could not have predicted. Over time, one of the most significant unions in history emerged as the great European integration. The merger continued in all the spheres of the European Polity: from economics to politics to society and currency. However, the sustainability of this dream cohesion has been questioned by the unequal economic realities of various European states. It includes the case of Greece and the polarising political and social ambitions between different states regarding the immigrant issue. Most importantly, Britain’s infamous exit from this liberal utopia has undisputedly weakened the rhetoric of its proponents who exemplified the perfection of the EU in their discourses. Therefore, the cooperation and integration model has lost its way. It has undoubtedly fallen into the abyss for the years to come.

The cracks in the integration edifice began to appear when the leading economic powerhouses such as France and Germany had to keep in line with the turbulent economies of states such as Greece, a state with a history of financial mess. EU’s prosperity depended upon the notion of equal progress. Yet, the economic crisis of Greece precluded that objective as the leading economies of Europe were compelled to provide a bail-out package to such weak states instead of specifically focusing on their economic progress, which in turn would have helped the EU as a whole. The intermittent crises inside the fragile states fractured the idea that an equal and equity-based European development project would work in the long run. It became burdensome for the major economic powers to continue to support the weak states, and the hardliners blatantly called for the weak states to pull them out of the troubles themselves. Therefore, there went the ideal scenario of perfection of a cooperative model.

In addition, Europe was filled with immigrants from all across the war-torn states in Africa and the Middle East. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the champion of the free world, welcomed the refugees in masses. This strategy was somewhat appreciated at first, but over time, the far-right groups’ backfire shredded this rhetoric. An immense backlash was instigated all across Europe. It further escalated the rise of the anti-immigrant far-right populists in the region, such as Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Even the iron lady Angela Merkel’s popularity has eroded in favour of various xenophobic groups such as the emergence of far-right Alternative for Germany.

The realist tendencies in Europe are ever more growing. They will gain further momentum with the deliberation over the exit of Britain and the circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak.

The era of myopic nationalism has yet again been triggered, and European integration’s core foundation itself is being questioned. The far-right populism among the masses has certainly put a big challenge for the advocates of the cooperation theorists of the 90s. They predicted a globalist victory after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, for instance, the work of Francis Fukuyama: “The End of History and the Last Man”. The promise of a free, global, and integrated world personified by the emergence of an idealistic EU had been an achievement in itself. Still, unfortunately, the integration model has lost ground, and achieving the lost momentum is idealistic for even the most optimistic theorists.

Britain’s unperceived exit from the EU became the final nail in the coffin for the integration theorists. The far-right-dominated version of the national interest took precedence over the globalised version of European unity. Thus, Britain choosing its course over a supra-national regional juggernaut is a history-changing event as many other states will be tempted to follow suit. The far-right populists are ever-more encouraged. The encouragement is a direct challenge to the integration theorists’ proponents and advocates.

Besides, the outbreak of Covid-19 has been an eye-opener for many European countries. Italy, one of the first European countries hit by the deadliest virus, where a quarter of the population was not satisfied by the EU response to its citizens. The catastrophic circumstances in the EU threatened the euro and the single market. Half of the residents of France were unhappy with the poor performance of the EU over combating coronavirus. The French said that it has become clear who is with us and who left us alone in the darkest days of history. Many Europeans expressed their opinions and (58% in France) declared the EU irrelevant in the crisis. Manfred Weber, the head of the centre-right European People’s alliance in the European Parliament, expressed his concern in harsh words saying that Europe “failed totally“.

Conclusively, it is reasonable to say that the model of integration has plunged into oblivion. The realist tendencies in Europe are ever more growing. They will gain further momentum with the deliberation over the exit of Britain and the circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak. This deliberation will lead to a state-to-state myopic national consciousness like in conventional times. The European states realized that they had been left to their discretion. Even though they have been a part of the supra-national body, this narrative will bring the hardliners into power all across the EU. These hardliners will have substantial support from the masses that would act as pressure groups against integrative and globalised policies even if the states remain a part of the EU for the next decades. Thus, it is somewhat rational to say that unequal economic conditions of states have tarnished the utopian model of globalisation, integration, and coordination.

Muhammad Adil

Muhammad Adil has done BS in International Relations from BUITEMS University. His areas of interest are European politics and society, Middle Eastern politics, and environmental politics.

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