There has been no shortage of prematurely written obituaries for the EU. Many will continue to predict that the EU has a limited life, especially if Britain’s social and economic prospects post-Brexit improve significantly in the coming years. But despite its structural weaknesses, the EU has impressive staying power as the self-interest of its member states ensures that the Union will survive.
This reasoning, however, does not mean that the EU will achieve its ambitious objectives and make the lives of Europeans better. The constant squabbling within the EU’s political institutions strengthens the argument of those who believe that the top brass of the Brussels elite is prioritising their careers and personal power over the lives of European citizens.
Up to some months ago, one of the biggest challenges facing the European institutions was how countries like Hungary and Poland were violating the EU’s rule of law. Last year, the European Parliament had decided that central funding to these countries should be withheld if they, among other breaches, did not stop violating the independence of the judiciary and discriminating against LGBT communities.
The Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, recently wrote to the president of the European Parliament to inform him that the Commission was declining to act on a resolution that had been passed by a large majority of the EU’s legislative and only publicly elected body.
Many frustrated observers of EU affairs note that the spat between the Commission and the European Parliament has now taken the form of an interpretation of arguments built of semantics. This spat confirms the dysfunctional relationship that exists among EU institutions.
But the EU now faces an even more formidable challenge. The US has made it clear that it no longer wants to act as a global police force to address the threats of terrorism and no amount of pressure from the EU would make America change its mind. Is the EU prepared to fill this vacuum?
If the EU is to be rendered fit for a 21st century world, it needs structural reforms; otherwise, it risks becoming more irrelevant in geopolitical spheres
Despite the noble-sounding statements of commitment to solidarity with the people of Afghanistan who resent living under the totalitarian Taliban regime, EU leaders have made it clear that the Union’s doors will remain closed to those who want to flee repression. There is no chance that the EU will develop a meaningful policy on how to deal with the impending Afghani refugee crisis. Every member state will make its national calculations and veto any draft resolution that infringes its national priorities.
President von der Leyen knows on which side her bread is buttered. She knows that she will need the support of all 27 member states’ political leaders if the Commission was to take any meaningful action that proves that the EU is prepared to fill the vacuum the US has created in the management of global geopolitical issues.
The immediate reaction of the EU to the threat of an immigration deluge from Afghanistan was to vote millions of euros of aid to those ‘regional partners’ willing to host refugees. This tactic is not new. Turkey received billions of EU funds to act as a warehouse of refugees fleeing from Syria and other failing states. It now weaponises refugees when it wants to wage political battles with the Union.
The refugee phenomenon has invigorated the Eurosceptic populists. EU leaders now prefer to deal with autocrats in countries like Libya and Afghanistan by using European taxpayers’ money to encourage them to control migration flows from their end.
If the EU is to be rendered fit for a 21st century world, it needs structural reforms; otherwise, it risks becoming more irrelevant in geopolitical spheres.
This is even more relevant now that the US prefers to withdraw from the global scene and put America first in all its policies. Nothing much seems to have changed in this respect since President Biden took over the US leadership role.
The EU needs, for instance, to introduce relative majorities for decisions that are crucially important for its future. It no longer makes sense to paralyse reform processes because a small state threatens to use its veto.
The European Parliament also needs to elect future commissioners on their ability to deliver the necessary reforms and not on their political pedigree and sponsorships. This applies to the Commission president, who needs strong leadership qualities to drive the Union forward.
Put simply, the EU has the choice of continuing to be a house cohabitated by continuously squabbling partners or a global force that indeed champions European democratic values.
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