Written by Natalia Eremina; Originally appeared at Eurasia.Expert, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Spring and summer of 2017 was hot in terms of disputes about the fate of the European Union. At the beginning of September the future of the EU became even more unclear. The Franco-German alliance is rocked because of the loss of popularity of E. Macron and A. Merkel. Disputes on the restructuring of the EU continue. Brussels identified five problems from decisions on which depends the future of the EU: “the migration question”, “the Polish question”, “the British question”, “the economic prospects”, and “the European leadership”. However time works against Brussels: trust in its proposals is constantly diminishing in citizens of member states. Eastern European members of the EU fear that Paris and Berlin will solve the core problems of the EU in their own favour. In this situation, a universal remedy remains the pedaling of a security issue for the cohesion of the Union. Berlin and Paris, judging by the decisions in the last few months, are aiming precisely for this. The European defence fund is already established, funding for which will amount to 5.5 billion Euros per year starting in 2020. The money will go mainly for orders for the military-industrial complex. Does this mean the EU is turning towards militarisation?
The problem of leadership has become most acute in the EU, because its decision ultimately depends on the course of reforms and generally the strategy of development. Germany’s Angela Merkel offers to unite under the leadership of Germany and strictly carry out the budget. Countries such as Poland and Hungary are wary of any suggestions from Germany, and Poland generally, in fact, adopted the British idea of “exclusivity” in the EU. Britain in the Brexit context seeks to reach a new agreement with the Eu on its own terms, and in relations to the economic strategy (the Greek crisis cannot be considered as solved) and the checks of the flow of migration in general, there is no consensus.
In these conditions Brussels found one approach to solve the complex problem through the security doctrine, around which the EU has a consensus. In August there were many statements on this matter. What does this approach mean in practice? We can highlight a number of central components:
- Rigid adherence to rules and regulations of the EU, compliance with all EU criteria, which would create conditions for solving security issues and put in front of all the participants the common tasks.
- The rejection of expansion at the expense of countries that under different aspects cannot be called European (for example, Turkey, which was directly given to understand about the complete closure of the question of possible accession to the EU), which will allow to strengthen the unity of the closest countries and to prevent the erosion of the current “European values”.
Thus, arguing that in the short term the EU will not expand, Brussels admits that the idea of EU accession in as an EU instrument to influence its neighbours, which consequently is possible to persuade for something.
- To prevent the strengthening of ideas of state sovereignty (this position is expressed in relation to Poland and Hungary, which Brussels accuses of undermining the legitimacy of the EU as a whole. Brussels now treats these countries as if they create “systemic risks” to the security in the management of the EU).
- The strengthening of the legitimacy of the EU and the unity of citizens, which requires the improvement of the parliamentary dimension and are expected to increase the cohesion within the EU, essential to address the security challenges.
- The strengthening of the Eurozone taking into account the coordination of the national and supranational levels that solve the issues of financial and economic security of the EU.
- The intensification of the EU foreign policy and general safety and security (and in the long term the discussion may even go about their own EU army).
In reality the work in this regard started already in 2016. Thus, in the spring of 2016, the announcement was made about the programme of structural reforms until 2020, whose realisation requires 142.8 million Euros. The goal of the programme is the institutional, administrative and structural reforms of member states. The programme is funded jointly by the EU budget and national states and aims at strengthening the interaction between different levels of government.
The Bratislava Declaration already in 2016 identified the need for common approaches and set a number of tasks related to the formation of the image of the EU as a security space that needs to be implemented by 2025 (among them, the strengthening of the single market and the emphasis on investments in the digital, transport and energy infrastructure).
However, the level of anxiety of European experts for the future grew during the spring and summer of 2017. They felt that by 2060 the population of the EU would only represent 5% of the population. With that the average age of the citizens by 2020 will be 45 years. Moreover, the economic forecasts point to the reduction of up to 20% in the share of EU of the world GDP. Based on these forecasts goals were set for the EU development up to 2025:
1) maintain maximum unity within the EU;
2) centralised management through a single market, especially for the security field;
3) encourage cooperation between EU member countries in specific areas, particularly in the area of security and defence;
4) concentration on certain directions, priority being defence, security, innovation;
5) joint work of all members of the EU in the international arena (among the areas of priority again is security).
Thus, the plan consists of strengthening the EU core through the strengthening of the Eurozone, the single currency and cooperation, which are considered through the prism of security.
These ideas are supported mainly by France and Germany, and the Visegard group consistently oppose them, whose members through the summer, have developed a variety of reasons with their statements and conflicts with Brussels.
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in fact are talking about the beginning of the reform of the EU after the fall 2017 elections in Germany. These are the two most important politicians within the EU who feel more confident after the victories over the Eurosceptic parties in France and the Netherlands. In addition, they still rely on the support of the EU citizens. According to the August opinion polls, citizens in general trust the EU (more than 2/3 call themselves European citizens, 56% are optimistic about the EU).
Nevertheless, the situation remains precarious for many reasons. First, Greece has not cleared all the dangers, because the markets of southern Europe in general are unstable. The economic situation in southern Eurozone is not improving. Second, the problem of migration streams into Europe through the Middle East and Africa is still unresolved. And in the context of the current confrontations with Turkey it is generally quite difficult to solve. Third, it is difficult to speak about leadership in the EU if many leaders of their member states are unpopular, although often uncontested. Thus, only security issues remain as the only instrument to really binds the EU.
In this context, the EU needs to “appoint an enemy” as a more serious enemy, otherwise it will not be able to keep the rhetoric of security on a daily basis. Unfortunately, instead of DAESH Brussels, following the US, strives to designate Russia for this role. This is convenient in many aspects, and the main one, which is that Russia in fact, is just not representing a real military threat to the EU. The infamous invasions of the Baltic States or Eastern Europe are not rational explanations.
This choice is unfortunate in the context of disputes about the anti-sanctions between the EU and the US and the growing terrorist threat, the resolution of which really requires the cooperation of the EU with Russia, which they refuse. However, Brussels’s published plans are further evidence that the EU tries to consolidate at the expense of pedaling a security issue.
Natalia Eremina, D. Polit. N., Associate Professor of European Studies, St. Petersburg State University.