A Strange Week for the EU: Ups and Downs for the Union

By Staff Political Cartoonist Justin Walker

And the winner is… the European Union! Or is it? Friday, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for its contribution over six decades “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Certainly, this is great news for the EU which has undergone many political difficulties over the last few months.

But already, new problems are rising: who will represent the EU in Stockholm to come and gather the prize? President of the European Commission Manuel Barroso? His legitimacy has been questioned since he was elected without competition. President of the European Union Herman Van Rompuy? He is barely known in the EU and has almost no real power. The 27 Heads of State that form the EU? That would not be a great symbol of unity. This is only but a small problem in the EU agenda, but it reveals the ambiguous situation of the regional organization.

On October 9th, Angela Merkel was visiting Greece and received a less-than-enthusiastic welcome from the locals. She has been the subject of protest for defending the austerity measures that were forced upon the Greek government, driving the country in the worst financial, economic and social crisis it has known since World War II. In the streets of Athens, people demonstrated against the policy of Germany burning Nazi flags along the Chancellor’s route.

Surely, these actions are too extreme to be acceptable but they nevertheless reveal the level of disarray that the Greek population has been experiencing for months. In this regard, we can look with skepticism at Brussels and wonder whether the austerity was really the solution for an over-indebted Greece. Ironically in the last election, the Nazi-like party “Golden Dawn” managed to win 18 out of the 300 seats in the Greek Parliament.

The success of the “Golden Dawn” party is clearly not a good sign for the democracy in Europe. But where are the problems? The crisis evidently plays a role: debt and unemployment does not plead in favor of democracy. But what is most protested is how the European Union managed the crisis. Missing the common tools to pool the debt management at a regional level, each country had to undergo an austerity plan while facing speculation from the markets. Evidently, in such conditions, smaller, weaker countries like Greece, Italy or Spain, were put in seriously daunting circumstances and are now facing a risk of default.

This national selfishness has been the main problem within the European Union since the beginning of the crisis. While the Union was built in order to protect the countries from their individual risks, the nation-states have been unable to relinquish and pool their economic power. This was not problematic in the early stages of the crisis when all countries were under threat and had to find a common solution. But when the differences began to appear among the member countries, divisions appeared as well and the bigger States – France and Germany leading – decided to play on their own.

The underlying nationalism is still reflected in the financial limits of the EU today. Since the EU cannot raise taxes in the member-States, it depends on their good will for its own resources. In times of crisis, this situation leads to the bankruptcy of renowned European programs such as Erasmus which grants scholarships to Europeans studying in another EU country, allowing cultural exchange and better understanding among the peoples within the Union.

Now, we have to make a choice. The European Union has apparently achieved its goal of creating peace through inter-dependence on the continent. Yet now we have reached a level of inter-dependence in which our relations will become a threat if they are not accordingly framed. The new Fiscal Stability Treaty takes steps in this direction by limiting the authorized deficit. But for Europe to be secured, countries will need to give up on some of their national advantages for a common good.

In the near future, the countries of the European Union will have the choice to deepen their collaboration and surrender some of their individual powers to a superior entity. But then, this entity will need to be more democratic, significantly more so than what it is now. The Nobel Prize recognized the efforts of the EU in terms of peace; the next challenge will be judged through political integration. And it is a long road to follow.

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