Emerging Trends to Shape New Europe
Those who strive for «centralization» of the European Union are engaged in a flurry of activities to achieve their goal. On February 16, the European Parliament backed three resolutions on strengthening centralization of the EU, establishing a post of EU finance minister, and creating a united European army, which was proposed by former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt, EU`s chief Brexit negotiator.
This move may be seen as part of a broader process. Essentially, one of the resolutions proposes limiting or even totally abolishing the right of individual member states not to comply with collective decisions. The document revives the idea of United States of Europe – a strong entity independent from the United States. Last September, Germany, France, Italy and Luxembourg signed a document calling for the creation of a «general union of states».
The idea has always been vigorously rejected by the United States and the United Kingdom, but Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as President of the US pave the way for bringing the plans into life.
On February 5, Italian defense Minister Roberta Pinotti urged the creation of a «defence of Schengen» between Germany, France, Spain and Italy.
The adoption of the resolutions may be the first step towards a fundamental change in the EU Treaty, although Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said such a reform is not a priority. But the changes may take place much sooner than expected.
The far-right Dutch anti-immigration Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, has a good chance of winning and launching preparations for Nexit.
The Danish People’s Party ran on an unapologetically anti-immigration, populist platform, pushing Danish politics to the right by rejecting multiculturalism and opposing the transfer of sovereignty to Brussels, is challenged from the right.
Nye Borgerlige, or «The New Right» pursues a libertarian economic agenda and wants even stricter controls on migrants in a country. The party supports the idea of granting asylum only to refugees coming directly from the UN refugee agency’s resettlement scheme and those with «a job in hand.» It supports limiting Danish citizenship to people who «contribute positively» to society. The New Right wants to withdraw from the EU and strengthen ties with countries such as Norway and the UK in order to safeguard free trade while getting rid of the EU.
French Front National presidential runner Marine Le Pen says Britain should not be condemned for its decision to withdraw from the EU. The anti-immigration and anti-globalization leader also said she would take the opportunity to carve out a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK. Le Pen has called for the euro to be scrapped, tighter controls of borders for EU members, and the right to impose trade barriers. She warned that her desire to leave the euro would send shockwaves across member states.
The candidate said: «France is the political heart of Europe, and the moment we leave the euro the whole project collapses». Le Pen is expected to win the first round of presidential elections in April, picking up 26 per cent of the vote.
It’s not only nationalists gaining more seats or winning elections. There are other trends to weaken the Union. The emergence of new alliances within the organization is undermining the unity. France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta make up a united front of Southern European countries. The ideas of setting up an «Alliance of Europe’s South» has already been floated.
The participation of France is particularly intriguing as this nation has traditionally struggled to find a balance between its desire to build a sphere of influence along the Mediterranean and its strategic interests in the north. If the entire European Union agreed that the Schengen area must be abolished, then France and others could decide that it is best to regain control of their borders while Germany might decide to sign new border agreements with the northern countries.
Some EU members mull the possibility of forming a post-Schengen, if not post-EU. The Dutch Cabinet has raised the idea of «mini-Schengen» with EU partners that would include only the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria. The idea envisages setting up passport checks at the borders of several Western European countries in a bid to control an influx of migrants and refugees. The «mini-Schengen area» would involve setting up transit camps for migrants outside those borders.
Brexit and the problem of immigration have given new life to the Visegrad Group, made up of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (the V4). They work together in many fields of common interest within the all-European integration framework. The V4 openly opposed efforts to formulate an EU-wide resolution to the migration crisis.
The divergences on financial and immigration policies are getting deeper within the EU to prompt the emergence of alliances inside the alliance undermining the Union’s coherence and unity. The calls for centralization are an attempt to turn the tide.
There is another policy shift that can unite rather than divide Europe. The creation of European defense union will be a step to European identity and away from the dependence on US-led NATO.
In July, the EU strategy document titled European Union Global Strategy stated that the bloc should look to create greater military autonomy from NATO. The plans foresee the development of new European military and operational structures, including joint headquarters.
«As Europeans we must take greater responsibility for our security. We must be ready and able to deter, respond to and protect ourselves against external threats», reads the paper prepared by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. Only a European force – not an assortment of national armies operating under the auspices of US-led NATO – can really defend European interests.
The recent German Defence Ministry’s White Paper conforms to the trend. It says a pan-European army, and one by implication under German control, is essential to safeguard Europe’s security. Germany has already gone some way along this path in recent years. In 2015, the Dutch 11th Airmobile Brigade was integrated into a new German division of rapid reaction forces, and in March of this year, the Dutch 43rd Mechanized Brigade came under German command joining the German 1st Armoured Division. Agreements have also been made that pave the way for the full integration of both countries’ naval units.
If the idea of forming European military goes through, arrangements could allow Norway, a NATO member outside the EU, to contribute. Sweden and Finland, EU members outside NATO, might prefer an EU alliance to the North Atlantic bloc.
Today, the EU needs a joint border force to tackle the migrant crisis. This is an issue of paramount importance for Europe, unlike the plans to deploy NATO battalions in Eastern Europe and the Baltics to challenge Russia and, thus, undermine European security. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wants the issue to top the agenda. He says it is a priority due to the need to secure Europe’s borders and respond to growing security threats from places such as the Middle East. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has called for setting up a European border guard to protect the Union’s external borders.
In general, NATO has demonstrated its ineffectiveness. The alliance is not involved in the most important conflict regarding the future of Europe – the war in Syria, and demonstrates that it is not ready to respond to new threats and challenges, such as the fight against terrorism. Europe is facing multiple threats in its strategic neighborhood coming from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, through the Middle East, the Caucasus and up to the new frontlines in Eastern Europe. The US has other threats to fend off. Their interests do not match.
As Europeans, Russia and the EU have more common interests in the field of security, while the US has its own foreign policy priorities.
Russia and the EU conducted joint operations in Chad and the Central African Republic and coordinated operations to fight Somalian pirates. Better relations with Russia would be an additional bonus for a EU security alliance independent from US-dominated NATO; tensions and inherent mistrust would be reduced and the pressure to cooperate might be greater.
NATO officials have expressed concerns that the proposals will create rivalry and challenge the alliance’s primacy as the main defence structure. An EU independent capability to carry out its own military operations will greatly weaken NATO and put an end to Europe’s dependence on the United States. The idea of an EU army independent from the overseas partner gives Washington the jitters as it would lose its grip on Europe. The EU would pour its money into its own military while NATO has so far failed to convince its members to spend not less than 2 percent of their GDP on the alliance’s needs. The creation of European armed forces could remove the raison d’être for US forces in Europe, with Donald Trump talking disparagingly about NATO.
There are new trends to change the European political landscape. The pressure is strong to make the EU a more centralized entity, while the organization is being gradually falling apart into alliances within the alliance.
A group of countries led by Germany may indeed create a new centralized organization, while others will seek a kind of integration with national priorities to prevail. The UK, Switzerland, Norway and some other developed states may prefer to keep away from integration schemes. The trend to disintegrate becomes more visible, with rifts getting wider.
The other trend is a gradual shift to European security, which envisages different forms of integration. All told, the US influence is going to be diminished. The alliances within the alliance and a new European defense structure will have to build new relationship with Russia. Moscow’s clout will inevitably increase as no European security is possible with the largest European power kept out, not in.
New winds are blowing to change fundamentally the Old Continent. The EU we know today may soon become a thing of the past.
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About the author
Alex Gorka is a defense and diplomatic analyst