European dream may be among dead in political earthquake
Earthquakes struck all over Europe this past weekend, as the votes for the European Parliament came in.
Parties on both the left and the right wanting to loosen ties to the European Union had notable victories in the UK, France, Spain and several other nations.
The results have gravely wounded the European project, which is to move the 28 EU member nations to an “ever-closer union.” The project may, indeed, have been killed. Here’s why:
1. Britain may leave the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on the issue if the Conservatives win the next election. The UK may see a vote for an exit if he fails to assure the electorate that he can deliver a reform plan for the EU that returns substantial powers to national capitals.
It isn’t a hopeless quest. Repatriating political power to the nation-states may be more appealing than an “ever closer union” in nations where anti-EU forces are growing. But if Cameron can’t convince the European government to reform and Europe remains weak, with sluggish growth, an exit from Europe would be the likely answer.
2. The members of the European Parliament elected by euro-skeptic parties range from the mild members of the Alternativ für Deutschland party, who think the euro currency is bad for Germany, to the fascists of the Hungarian Jobbik and the Greek Golden Dawn. But they are united in that they go the EU’s capital in Brussels to do something radical.
In many countries, a seat in Brussels is a kind of sinecure for a politician who wishes to retire or has failed to get into his or her national parliament. There are many hard workers: but there are as many absentees. Debates are tedious affairs, slowed by translation into 24 official languages, the words absorbed by rows of often empty seats.
This will no longer be the case. The wrecking crews have come, and those who believe in the EU for its real potential will have to fight them. If they cannot summon enough courage and the antis’ message continues to ring around Europe, the union is in trouble.
3. The adoption of the euro in 2000 was premature. Even Paul Krugman, friendly to Europe’s social democratic welfare states, believes so. It has been stabilized, but not yet saved. The anti-austerity forces might, by attacking Germany, wreck the agreements that have kept the worst-hit states – Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland – from default and an exit from the euro.
Germany is the linchpin of the European Union. It has done enough to guarantee a fragile stability, but reluctantly and with internal turmoil that so far Chancellor Angela Merkel has been able to quell. If Germany — “a colonial power,” as left-wing Greeks, Spaniards and many more appear to think — loses the will to sustain these economies, another crisis may result, and it would perhaps this time be fatal to the euro and the European Union.
The true scale of the change wrought by the election results will become evident in the days ahead. It will be a test for traditional EU politicians whose mantra has ever been “more Europe” and whose job descriptions have not included doing the hard, dirty politics that are now required.
TOP PHOTO: French National Front party deputies Gilbert Collard (R) and Marion Marechal-Le Pen attend the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, May 27, 2014. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau