EU new priorities after the storm

By Irene Signorelli

European Union manged to survive to one of the worst crisis it ever occurred after the Treaty of Rome were signed.

Nowadays, it is living an unhoped strong and fast-paced recovery, regarding not only economic indicators but also its worldwide leadership, Member’s cooperation and popularity among its citizens. Even if for many (but not for all) these difficult days have just become only a nightmare we just have wake up from, the structural problems that generated the nightmare are still there. This moment of recovery and partially regained trust, must be absolutely and fully deployed for amends the past faults, fill up the discrepancies left behind by the building process of European Institutions and finally, concentrate both national and supranational effort in reshaping the sensible areas hit by the crises. Economy, especially financial and macroeconomic frameworks, Foreign policy, Asylum policy included, and internal and external reputation of the Union are the most pressing topic that the Union must face right now.

Since the 2008 economic crisis started to spread from the US to Europe, the Union lived one of its darkest period ever. As the European markets and banks had been contaminated, the financial crisis started to mow down occupation index and investments indicators. Soon after the weakest economies among Member States, faced an unsustainable national debt and required the assistance of the Central Bank to avoid default. While Portugal, Spain, Ireland economies recovered thanks to the European bail out, Italy and Greece are still facing the repercussion of the crisis. Greece national debt drama has kept all public opinion and media attention alive for the past seven years. Was shocking seeing what was supposed to be an “Union” of States acting not so differently from any supranational committee, were every Part (and no more Member) were pursuing their own strategies and where the central Institutions were simply hosting the reunion but not even remotely coordinating the effort of managing the crisis. The lack of coordination between European Members on how to deal with Greek debt embittered countries relations, while austerity fan accused Greeks of laziness and Greek accused austerity fan of smashing down any possibility of recovering from the crisis. The undemocratic management of the crisis as well the astonishing repercussions suffered by civil population, caused a further wave of mistrust and unpopularity toward European institutions.

As Greek situation started to normalize in 2016, the country has been place of another emergency, this time humanitarian one. After the sharpening of Syrian Civil War and the takeover of great size of Middle East by the Islamic State, Europe have had to face the biggest mass migration after the WW II. Even if the flux raised already in 2o11, the 2015 saw a change of routes conducting to the Holy Land Europe. As Balkans started to close their borders and built fences, more migrants chose to tempt the more dangerous sea crossing, sailing to Italy, Spain and Greece. Another time, European Union found itself helpless.

A short sighted existing Asylum framework (Dublin Convention), inner political divisions combined with nationalistic and populistic insurgences, led to a heavy deadlock and the concrete impossibility to implement the Quota System (i.e. the division of migrants in quotas assigned to Member States following economic and population differences).

Last but not least, Brexit, or the coronation of Eurosceptic and Populist parties dream. These are only the most emblematic challenges European Union had to face in these past ten years. To these we must not forget to add a new and probably scarier wave of terroristic attacks, Crimea and Ukrainian war and the raised contentiousness of Russia and the step back of the new US administration on every European (and maybe worldwide) issue.

While summing up all the hostile circumstances, European Union passed throughout, included the lack of leadership of its functionaries and Member states chiefs, the both feared and expected scale down or even collapse of the European project could have seemed reasonable. However, quite surprisingly, economy started to move forward, migrant arrivals are slightly slowing pace and populist endured a harsh debacle after French elections. In May 2017, the last Eurobarometer survey showed an increased percentage of EU citizens thinking positively the Union (+4% respect 2016). Moreover, respect the precedent year, more citizens recognize the action of the EU against main issues affecting the continent (terrorism, unemployment, environment, migration etc.) as adequate. However, the majority of the interviewed agree on the fact that the Eu should take more action in such issues.

And European Union must listen to its citizens. As a more favourable wind just started to blow again, EU must use it for finding and implementing durable solutions to the structural problems affecting its construction. The Union must do everything to avoid the past errors, and not just because is advisable, but because is life-saving. The first priorities to be set should concern the main crisis areas, specifically economy, foreign policy and trust.

In 2017 unemployment rate is at its lowest for almost eight years and economic growth was in the first quarter 0.5. Even if analysts are confident about the self-sustainability of the economic growth, European economic and currency are still in danger and both national and supra-national deficiencies should be addressed. At the national level, bank fragility and low investment rate could endanger all Euro Area as well as weak productivity and innovation of some Members deserve the attention and the support of the whole Union. At the supra-national level, the Maastricht framework setting up a common currency has shown its bounds. Having a common current policy without a common macroeconomic policy has proved to be dangerous as it prolongs periods of low growth and inflation.

Furthermore, analysts agree on the need of a tighter banking union, aimed to break the connection between banks and governments. German concern about moral hazard must behaviour is worthy to be taken in account, however, as Greek debt crisis showed, forbidding any possibility of bail out, didn’t work either. The EU should find a compromise that compel national states to take a wider fiscal responsibility on their back while the EU offers them compensations and bail out possibilities in case of need. A complete economic federalist union is still unachievable; however, the Union should take advantage of this moment of regained trust for boost further economic cooperation.

Another area that badly needs to be reshaped is the European Foreign Policy. Several and extremely relevant challenges are gathering around Europe’s border. Terroristic attack, mass migration, Russia etc. It’s time to move forward toward a common defence policy, more inclusive and cooperative. European Union should improve its capacity in defending itself and to intervene both on the continent and abroad. A possible step ahead would be setting a common military spending between member states. Furthermore, even if migrant fluxes have slowed down, the issue is far to be resolved. The past solutions envisaged the externalization of the problem, the agreement with Turkey and Libya’s talks are the outcomes. However, paying countries for preventing migrants to touch European soil, could not be considered a long-lasting solution. Europe need a more forward looking and unanimously agreed Asylum policy, which provisions must respect the principle of Solidarity present on the Founding Treaties.

If the EU take effective actions on these first two areas, then also the third one will be restored. Indeed, the Union needs to raise up its reputation again and gain both internal and external trust. During the different crisis, was clear that the Union lacked political leadership and strength required to effectively face these challenges. Its Institutions lost popularity and attachment among its citizens, while populist and nationalist movement took benefit of its disarray. Nowadays, even if the storm seems to be passed over, the EU must fully restore its name and fix the open wound between its Member States. The open disobedience of Visegrad countries to the implementation of Migration Quotas, the widening division between North and South economies, British refusal to the European Union are damaging not only European external image but also the inner core of the Union. As the Eu has been created on the paradigm of unanimity and cooperation, deep splits among its member States could block any political or institutional process, undermining the implementation of the whole system of values carried on by the Union. The crises made it clear: consensus among Members is still fundamental and forcing solutions openly rejected by some nations, will bring to insurmountable deadlocks.

The Union must return to be a Union, for its own sake.