The European Union seems to be going through its worst years over the last decade.
The EU integration process, which began as the most promising peace project the world had ever seen, has of late been in comatose. The security producing dynamics of the integration process seem to have come to a standstill.
The majorities across the continent have been seriously questioning the post-modern, multicultural, global, federalist, secular and liberal characteristics of the deepening process of EU’s integration whereas the external factors, most notably the revisionist Russia and the emerging anarchic environment in the wider Middle East, have already posed existential challenges to the post-war era’s European security order.
Anti-integrationist, anti-immigrant, anti-federalist and anti-globalist populist movements, both from the right and left, have gained prominence in domestic politics across the continent. Let alone further enlarge to new members, the British withdrawal from the membership, the so-called Brexit, has already eaten away at EU’s power of attraction the world over.
It is becoming more difficult with each passing day the outsiders view of the EU as the most legitimate role model to follow in domestic and foreign policies. The way of doing things inside the EU no longer attracts penchant followers around the globe.
As of today, the continuation of neither the deepening nor the widening processes of EU’s integration can be taken for granted. The foundations of the European peace project have come under serious challenges by the confluence of internal and external factors. It is now the case that both the hard and soft power capabilities of the European Union are at risk.
At a time when the U.S. under Donald Trump’s presidency has been deeply questioning the relevance of the transatlantic security relations, and when the most pro-Atlanticist EU member state has been in the process of departing the EU once and for all, the number one challenge facing the union, particularly the two engines of the integration process, namely Germany and France, is to come up with innovative solutions that would ensure the continuation of the integration process, uninterruptedly, and guarantee Europe’s security against external threats of various kind.
The EU’s future now depends on the election of pro-European and pro-integrationist leaders to governing positions in their countries, particularly in France and Germany, and their success in bridging the democracy deficit at the European level while providing long-term security to their people on a daily basis.
The good news is that there are some positive developments to note of late. The marginal increases in the defense budgets of the EU members following the stern warnings of the Americans that the European allies should no longer take the security commitment provided by the United States for granted; the verbal commitment of the high-level American decision makers, particularly nested in Pentagon and National Security Council, to NATO’s persistence in the face of Russian revisionism and rising great power tension across the globe; the defeat of populist figures in the latest elections held in Austria and the Netherlands; and the strong possibility of centrist political figures being elected to governing positions in French presidential and German parliamentary elections seem to augur well for the future.
The elites at the European and national levels appear to be aware of the challenges confronting the EU integration process. The latest white paper issued by the European Commission should be considered as a serious attempt at salvaging the future of the EU integration process in a sustainable manner.
Despite such promising developments as mentioned above, it is the humble opinion of this writer that some structural factors will likely stymie the pro-integrationist efforts in the short to medium terms.
Firstly, it is difficult to speak about the existence of common threat and security perceptions in the EU of 27 members. This is quite evident in the positions that different EU members adopted vis-a-vis Russia in recent years.
While Russia is the number one existential threat in the eyes of EU’s Baltic and eastern European members, it would not be wrong to argue that the end of the sanctions put on Russia in the wake of its belligerence in Crimea and eastern Ukraine would make many Europeans living in the western and southern shores of the continent feel relaxed and happy.
The Russian leadership seems to be quite aware of such schism inside the union and spends huge sums of money to help manufacture pro-Russian constituencies all around Europe through various strategies, of which cyber disinformation campaigns stand out.
Likewise, the threats emanating from the growing anarchy in the wider Middle East are not felt to the same degree across member states. The EU members where sizable Muslim communities live have had to deal with the negative consequences of ongoing immigration in their midst as well as having to come up with long-term solutions to the failure of multiculturalism.
The difficulty of adopting a common European position on the problem of immigration has been made quite evident by the strong reactions to Germany’s “welcoming culture” approach of western and eastern European members.
Secondly, given the British withdrawal from the membership and eroding American commitment to transatlantic security community, it remains a big unknown whether Germany would take up a hegemonic position in European politics and were this to occur how other EU members, notably France, would respond to this.
It is the case that German leaders and people alike still see the continuation of EU integration process in Germany’s national interests. However, what is new is that tying of Germany to European institutions will likely be redefined more on German than European terms in the years to come. Given France’s structural economic and political weaknesses in sharing the podium of leadership with Germany, let alone France acting as a global power, Germany will be in a much better position to Germanize Europe in future.
The conditions that have long ensured the Europeanization of Germany are steadily eroding. At stake here is the rise of German Europe, rather than the persistence of European Germany, which will likely arouse geopolitical fears, not only in Europe but also across the globe. The moment European nations begin to feel the fever of traditional geopolitical security anxieties in their relations with each other, and non-European powers begin to worry about the specter of the European continent coming under the hegemonic rule of one particular country, then it would not be wrong to say that the EU integration process as defined as a peace project has come to an end.
Whether or not the EU integration process unfolds in a multi-speed fashion and whether the principled differentiated membership is enshrined in official European documents, the future of the EU hinges on the peaceful cohabitation of France and Germany. In the presence of Brexit and weakening American security commitment, the continuation of the EU seems to be closely related to France and Germany’s ability to provide a joint leadership through which France takes the lead in security and defense integration while Germany shining as the major source of EU’s civilian-economic and normative power identity.
*Opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy.