In his inauguration as President of the European Parliament, David María Sassoli recalled that “the EU is not an accident in history”.
And he added: “… and we are the children and grandchildren of those who found the antidote to the nationalist degeneration that poisoned our past.”
A little more than six months later, Sassoli could continue to maintain, perhaps, both statements. But, after the fiasco of the European Council last March, I think that his speech would adopt a much more aggressive tone. Above all, to criticize the nationalist positions that have resurfaced in the EU as a result of COVID-19 and the clear division that exists, in addition to its ineffectiveness.
Disaffection towards the EU grows
In recent years, the detachment of citizens from many EU countries towards the Union (including Spain) has grown. Or, towards ‘Brussels’, if we want to simplify it. The data is clear: confidence and accession to the EU have fallen, on average, below 50% and in the last decade the question “What is the EU good for when we have problems?” it arises more and more frequently.
The reasons for this shift are essentially attributed to the positions adopted by the Commission and the European Council during the financial crisis, the increase in inequalities that has occurred in various countries, the inability to combine positions on migration and, without exhausting the list, to the recent debates on the new European budget 2021-27. In the countries of the South, support for the EU has clearly fallen, and where it has not, is, above all, in the nations that benefit the most from the free trade offered by the Community, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Germany itself. . They only defend their interests.
Thomas Händel, chairman of the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs committee, recently noted that “we need to disprove the belief that an economic and monetary union can function and survive without a political union.” However, when the presidents of the governments meet, discrepancies arise that delay any joint agreement, as happened in the case of immigrants, or now with the Covid-19.
Northern Europe and some central countries (Austria) deny their solidarity. Some even allow themselves to insult the countries of the south, as the Dutch president did and has done again. And others focus their objective on reducing the Community Budget, which barely exceeds 1% of total European GDP!, By cutting aid to agriculture and cohesion policies.
Concrete achievements and solidarity, bases for European construction
It is not reassuring to see that Euroscepticism grows led by populist politicians and fueled by the discontent of the middle classes and the poorest. How many ‘Brexit’ can drive these attitudes if there is no change?
Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of the European Communities, underlined in one of his speeches: ‘Europe will not be done at once, nor in a joint work. It will be done thanks to concrete achievements that generate, in the first place, de facto solidarity ».
More than 60 years later, that ‘solidarity’ is in the EU storage room. It cracked seriously during the last crisis. The role played by the EU and austerity policies have been the best breeding ground for nationalisms to reemerge strongly.
Now, with COVID-19, the situation can be further aggravated, not only from the health point of view and the ‘save yourself who can’ in obtaining medical supplies, but due to the immediate increase in unemployment and economic prospects that can overcome clearly to the previous crisis.
Given this, the lack of support for the countries most affected by the epidemic, the refusal to consider the Eurobonds proposal, has given a twist to the pre-existing disaffection and, worse still, may boost the search for national solutions to the demand for solidarity that Schuman, Monnet, Adenauer and De Gasperi proclaimed.
An insufficient step, although in the right direction
The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has finally promoted a measure that marks a possible change, if others accompany it. This is the approval of a € 100 billion fund to strengthen community unemployment insurance in countries where unemployment is growing the most. The number is small (we are 27 countries!), But perhaps it can be increased. Although there is still a need for the EU countries (all of them!) To grant a guarantee of more than 25% so that the Commission can raise financing for this fund on an international scale.
Furthermore, this week the Eurogroup will debate and may approve new measures. These include specifying the credit line provided through the ESM (the rescue fund created in 2012) and the participation of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in a credit support plan of around 40,000 or 50,000 million euros to finance high risk operations. All this pending the European Council endorses it.
If this happens, we would begin to see that, in Brussels, but above all by the most reluctant countries, they begin to react with more energy and that the principle of solidarity will help reduce disaffection towards the Community (“Why do we want The EU?”). In any case, I think that, unfortunately, the risk of the EU breaking down is quite real. In fact, there is already more than just symptoms.
This article has been published in The Conversation.