by Judah Grunstein
from WPR Website
walk toward the Serbian border with Hungary near Batajnica,
Serbia, Oct. 4, 2016
(AP photo by Darko
When it comes to the European Union, its leaders don't even bother to treat us to music.
Confronted with multiple crises on fronts both external and domestic, they seem content to drift nonchalantly toward the abyss. The question is not so much whether the EU as we know it will survive; it is already irrevocably altered by Brexit.
The question is whether the ideals that
the union has historically championed will continue to have any
relevance in today's political landscape in Europe and the world.
The bite of economic contraction in the affected countries, and austerity-driven stagnation across the continent, stripped the EU of its protective mantle.
Economic and political union no longer strengthened European economies and cushioned its people from the shocks of the global system, but rather exposed them to its vicissitudes.
Worse still, the very demands of the
EU's central policy driver, Germany, delivered the sharpest blows,
in the form of harsh austerity that in several countries condemned
large parts of a generation to socio-economic marginalization.
The sense of economic and social
vulnerability that the financial crisis had awakened was now
incarnated in the wave of migrants literally overrunning Europe's
shores and frontiers. That the refugee crisis coincided - and in
some cases overlapped - with the worst terrorist attacks Europe has
seen in decades only exacerbated the effect.
This was in part due to the hubris of its founders, who assumed that economic integration would irreversibly lead to the centripetal pull of closer political integration. Future generations would have no choice but to build out the union's incomplete and haphazard institutional structure, which was clearly insufficient to deal with foreseeable economic contingencies that many critics had been warning about for years.
These contingencies ultimately
materialized, albeit in exponential proportions, in the aftermath of
the financial crisis.
After a succession of make-or-break summits, each one purportedly the last chance to head off certain calamity, the EU managed to cobble together an ad hoc backstop for its most fragile member states, as well as a mechanism for forestalling future banking crises.
Neither is considered robust enough to
withstand the full force of global markets, however, and it was only
the European Central Bank's decision to sidestep its by-laws and
guarantee state solvency that eventually walked the EU back from the
The migrant crisis has been an even greater fiasco.
The influx of refugees displaced by war in Syria was not unforeseeable, as millions had already fled to neighboring countries.
When they did finally turn to Europe, the union's ability to manage their arrival on its shores was quickly overwhelmed. This was far from a foregone conclusion, though. The relative numbers of refugees and migrants remain small compared to Europe's population.
And while member states' ability to
shelter them and process their asylum claims is clearly
insufficient, there is nothing about the crisis that is beyond the
EU's collective capabilities.
For the EU, which before the debt crisis
prided itself on the attractiveness of its model and its soft power
leverage as a norms exporter, the fall is particularly damning.
For years France has pressured its European partners to contribute more in the way of security assistance to the Sahel and sub-Saharan African countries most at risk, with little more than token training missions to show for it.
As for Syria and the broader Middle
East, while the EU and its three permanent members of the U.N.
Security Council played a vital role in negotiating the nuclear
agreement with Iran, they have otherwise been almost nonexistent in
efforts to stabilize the region after the upheaval of the Arab
None responds to the urgency of the
challenges the union faces, and none will be felt directly by the
European voters who most need reassuring - and convincing of the
union's continued relevance to their daily lives.
The most tragic part of the entire story is how avoidable it all was.
With competent and bold leadership, the EU could have headed off the worst of both crises buffeting it today, and addressed the fallout from what did end up hitting it.
The biggest danger still comes from within:
This would be a mistake, since all of the challenges Europe currently faces have their origins in a tightly connected and interwoven world, and can be effectively met only through the power and leverage that comes from union.
If the EU did not exist, in fact, it would have to be invented.
That remains its best hope for