‘Whither the EU?’ is, according to BBC News (2016b), the likely theme for Slovakian president Robert Fico’s proposed informal summit of European Union leaders, to be held in Bratislava in September. (Slovakia assumed the presidency on 1 July.)
As the Slovak-Hungarian Most-Hid (Bridge) party, the junior partner in Fico’s coalition government, has said in a statement: “Britain’s decision completely changes the Slovak presidency, it becomes the number one issue… It is extremely important that Slovakia rises to the challenge of this presidency, for never before has a presiding country faced such a tough task”.
Whether or not the UK goes through with a complete ‘hard’ Brexit in quite the way Nigel Farage and Michael Gove called for – and, according to The Guardian’s Jennifer Rankin, US secretary of state John Kerry certainly believes that can be avoided – the EU has huge challenges it must face or it risks falling apart, with dissension between its leaders and more and more far right parties demanding their own version of Brexit.
Le Front National’s Marine Le Pen has been a thorn in François Hollande’s side for several years, her demands for a ‘Frexit’ referendum becoming more vociferous in tandem with the fast-growing popularity of Le Front. Neo-Nazi Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer has said he favours holding a similar referendum in Austria if the EU failed to stop centralisation and carry out reforms “within a year”. To add to this, Frauke Petry, leader of Germany’s far right Alternative für Deutschland, is now demanding ‘Gexit’. According to the Daily Express’ Rebeca Perring, Petry reacted with delight at Britain’s decision to sever ties with Brussels. She is reported as saying: “This is the chance for a new Europe, one which maintains partnerships and respects national sovereignties. The Great Britain decision to leave the EU is a signal to the Brussels politburo and its bureaucratic attachments. If the EU does not finally leave its wrong path and the quasi-socialist experiment of deeper political integration, more European nations will reclaim their sovereignty the way British are.”
As for the mainstream leaders in Europe, according to The Observer’s Kate Connolly, they fall into 3 broad camps:-
- The Integrationists
Epitomised by German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmieir and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, they would like to see the EU become a political union based around the euro. The Spanish government is reported to be keen on further integration, as is Hollande.
- The Sceptics
Pretty much all the leadership of the so-called ‘Visegrád 4’ (V4) – Solvakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland – want a decentralisation of the EU with more powers being repatriated to national governments.
- The Pragmatists
Leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte are cautious about change and have something of a ‘wait and see’ attitude towards what kind of changes might be needed.
The wait-and-see Pragmatists, in particular, are the targets of a scathing analysis by Hubertus Hoffman on Globalo. He writes: “Growing too fast in the 1990s, ignorant of criticism and changes, old structures still missing to ‘pivot’ to the new dynamics of the modern world. The EU is plagued by dominant old style management, represented by Jean-Claude Juncker, a pale old politician from Luxembourg who heads the EU Commission with low charisma, too much arrogance and very few fresh ideas…. This realm is dominated by unimaginative administrative policy focusing on crisis management, mere analyses, and administration of problem areas. Form and style are highly regarded, often above substance and result.”
I couldn’t agree more with Hoffman, having bemoaned Europe’s poor leadership in Austerity and the Euro – an Appalling Lack of Quality Leadership back in 2012. Hoffman, in describing an institution where form is more important than function, effectively places the EU in a state of Bureaucracy on Ichak Adizes’ (1987) Organisational LifeCycle. Dominated by the BLUE vMEME running Procedure and Little Detail meta-programmes, it is long past its creative Prime and will eventually die unless there are visionaries who can see how to pull it back to Prime.
Among the EU’s failures, Hoffman notes:-
- “Why did nobody give warning and set a clear stop signal that Greece or Spain will jump over the cliff with too much cheap borrowing if the ratings go down because of too much debt and too little economic growth?”
- “Why did the EU not send millions of euro to the Syrian refugee camps, needed for water and food by the UN, before more than a million had to flee to Europe last year?”
- “Why was there no good master plan and no strong actions by the EU to build-up a stable Libya after Gaddafi was kicked-out in 2011- now with ISIS only 350 kilometres south of Europe?”
- “What about the dubious policy of cash-as-cash can by the European Central Bank, which supports governments and companies with endless billions in cheap cash even though the Maastricht-Treaty ordered the opposite, and has allowed the savings of hundreds of millions of Europeans to melt like away snow in the sun?”
When the EU’s recent failures are laid out so clearly, it’s no wonder Robert Fico told the European Council, on Slovakia assuming the presidency, that anyone who believes “we can just offer the European public more of the same is making a big mistake.”
Yet, as I outlined in The Real Reason for staying in the EU, the EU has served its primary purpose of keeping peace within its borders – even if it has sometimes exacerbated conflicts beyond them. In that respect, the EU is to be cherished and prized. It cannot be allowed to die. Its member states need it to continue – as does the UK, whether in or out. (One of the last things the UK needs is militarised conflict amongst its closest neighbours.)
Yet for the EU to continue, it needs a complete restructuring that meets, in major part at least, the sometimes very different concerns of its member states and enables it to maintain itself in Adizes’ state of Prime.
Challenges from nationalism, immigration and the migrant crisis
As can be seen from the graphic below, far right and nationalist parties are doing better electorally than at any time since World War II, with some (Denmark, Finland, Hungary and Austria especially) reaching or approaching thresholds of governmental influence.
This growth in far right nationalism is due to a PURPLE/BLUE vMEME harmonic being exploited by RED-driven demagogues like Le Pen and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, primarily through the issue of migration.
As discussed in Is Racism Natural…? and The Trouble with Tribalism…, it is easy for the PURPLE vMEME at a cultural level to be feel threatened by the ‘invasion’ of another tribe. When the ‘invaders’ look or sound different, that boosts the sense of distinctness that leads to labelling the ‘others’ in terms of stereotypes, as per Social Identity Theory. When the ‘invaders’ are perceived to be ‘stealing’ resources (from jobs to benefits to appointments at doctor’s surgeries), then conflict is more likely, as per Realistic Conflict Theory. This is especially so if the resources are seen to be scarce, as they are in many European countries after 5 years or so of austerity. It can then become your duty to save your community – even your country – by getting rid of the ‘invaders’. Thus, a sheen of BLUE righteousness is given to PURPLE’S discriminations against the ‘others’.
Immigration was certainly a key factor, exploited by Farage and Boris Johnson, in the UK’s EU referendum – as outlined in So the Turkeys did vote for Christmas?!? With regard to the post-referendum surge of racial abuse incidents in the UK, commentators like The Independent’s Jon Stone (2016a) have pointed out that the abuse is not just directed at EU nationals but also at non-white/ethnic minority British citizens who are now ‘othered’ as not being part of the ‘real’ British tribe – ie: indigenous white.
It remains to be seen how much British nationals will be abused in other EU countries as the Brexit negotiations get under way…but I’ve already heard (anecdotally) of one Brit, married to an Italian and living in Rome, being told to “go home” by local residents.
Certainly xenophobia is on the rise across the EU, fuelled in part by fear of Islamist terrorism and in part by the migrant crisis.
Way back in 2010 Alan Tonkin’s classic Global feature The EU: an Organisation divided by Values outlined clearly the values divides amongst EU members. He saw the Eastern European countries as being dominated culturally by the BLUE vMEME with authoritarian governments while the governments of Western European countries like France and Germany ran off a BLUE/ORANGE vMEME harmonic. However, the recent actions of certain leaders have widened the values divides to the point where some members of the EU barely understand each other any more. Thus, Merkel’s GREEN led her to welcome hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Germany last year and to demand that other member states take their share too. Orbán, a RED/BLUE autocrat of the old Soviet kind and a known admirer of Vladimir Putin (Rick Lyman & Alison Smales, 2014), has ordered a referendum for this October, to give him the mandate to resist the EU imposing a refugee quota on Hungary.
This values divide was reflected in the meetings held in the wake of the Brexit result. The foreign ministers of the founding 6 (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) met to reaffirm their commitment to “ever closer union”. According to Connolly, the leaders of the V4 were furious at their countries not being invited to this meeting and so, very publicly, held their own meeting, with the foreign ministers of France and Germany invited only as observers. Their predictable call for repatriation of powers from Brussels, Connolly sums up in the words of Jan Zaleksi of the Polish Law & Order Party: “We didn’t sign up to being governed by Brussels. NATO is there to defend us and the EU is there for trade and to allow us to travel. …we did not go into the EU to be under the thumb of Brussels.”
If, as anticipated, Orbán wins his referendum in October, then that puts Hungary (and presumably the rest of the V4) on a collision course with the European Council and the European Commission. Against the explicit objections of the V4, the Council imposed a quota system for member states to take in refugees – reflected in the graphic below.
Although Hungary’s allocation is relatively small, for Orbán it is a ‘threat’. Writing an opinion piece in Germany’s Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, as reported by Vasudevan Sridharan (2015), the Hungarian prime minister said: “Those arriving have been raised in another religion and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. That is an important question because Europe and European culture have Christian roots. Or is it not already and in itself alarming that Europe’s Christian culture is barely in a position to uphold Europe’s own Christian values? … There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”
Merkel’s response to Orbán was to go on an ARD TV current affairs show and exclaim it was her “damned duty” to help refugees (Tony Paterson, 2015).
But there’s something going on with Orbán and the Eastern Europeans that’s much more significant than resisting a European Council diktat. It’s a retrenching of tribalism – reflected in a radio broadcast in March. As reported by the Budapest Beacon’s Benjamin Novak, Orbán said: “There’s only one thing we can do here in Hungary: we will not welcome anyone into the country in an uncontrolled manner. Not terrorists. Not criminals. Not economic migrants. Not political refugees. No one will be allowed in the country in an uncontrolled manner. We will not allow for the kind of conditions that we see elsewhere to happen in Hungary. We will not have our fences broken through. We will not have rioting immigrants. We will not have refugee camps that are on fire. And we will not have all kinds of gangs preying on Hungarian women, our wives and daughters. This is impossible. This will never happen….”
Connolly reports a recent interview in Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung with Orbán’s justice minister László Trócsányi which makes the point even more clearly: “We were happy to share the power. But, just as one’s territorial boundaries are not up for debate, neither is the makeup of the population. It is definitely not something anyone else can decide on.”
On the face of it RED’s exploitation of PURPLE/BLUE nationalism looks like ending one of the EU’s 4 founding principles or ‘freedoms’, at least as far as Hungary is concerned: freedom of movement. Again, this puts Orbán directly at odds with Merkel. Less than a week after the Brexit result, she was widely reported – eg: Gavin Gordon in The Scotsman – as saying, in response to Brexiteers’ claims that the UK would still be able trade with the single market while restricting immigration, that freedom of movement was non-negotiable.
Merkel’s BLUE/GREEN rigidity on freedom of movement yet could prove the biggest risk to the future of the EU in the short-term. She’s effectively lost the UK over the issue of immigration. If Orbán wins his populist mandate and refuses to accept the migrant quota, Hungary will almost certainly be joined by the others in the V4, bringing relations between the EU and the V4 to crisis point. The migration issue is also feeding the growth of the far right and their exit referendum demands in the Western European countries.
Merkel has to move on this issue. As Robert Fico has said, anyone who believes “we can just offer the European public more of the same is making a big mistake.”
A new European structure?
What were effective strategies in getting the European Coal & Steel Community off the ground in 1952 and then the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958 may not be the most appropriate in the second decade of the 21st Century. Then there were 6 nations in the west of a war-devastated continent, 5 of them former colonial powers. Now, at least for the moment, there are 28, spanning Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of Russia and Turkey and from the Mediterranean to the Artic Circle. And the world around them is very different – in part at least because of the success of the ‘European project’. (Economic migrants go where the living is good!)
So the meaning of ‘freedom of movement’ has to change with the times too. In 1952, it meant workers in the coal, iron and steel industries could go to live and work in those industries in other member states. In 1958 that was broadened to mean anyone could move to any other part of the EEC to work. It was the Maastricht Treaty (1992) which allowed people who were ‘non-economically active’ to go to live anywhere they liked in any EU state. Given PURPLE’s concerns about migration right across the EU, it’s that Maastricht provision which needs to be ‘walked back from’. It’s no use politicians thinking with more complex vMEMES criticising people for thinking with less complex vMEMES. As Abraham Maslow (1956) established, progress can’t be made up the Hierarchy/Spiral while lower needs – in this case PURPLE’s need for safety-in-belonging – are not met. In the current climate, member states need to be able to have some degree of control over the number and type of ‘invaders’ they let in.
That might be a disappointing step backwards for the Integrationists…but this is the current existential reality which hopefully Merkel, Hollande, etc, will face up to. In different circumstances in the future, it may once again be possible for the ‘non-economically active’ to travel and reside where they please.
A reinterpretation of the ‘freedom of movement’ concept appropriate for the current times allows further questioning of the foundations on which the EU is built. There has been more than a shade of GREEN egalitarianism in the way the EU has developed- understandable in one sense because the starting point in 1952 was 6 equally war-ravaged nations trying to rise from the ashes of Europe through a collective effort. But, as Alan Tonkin’s article demonstrates so eloquently, the 6 have not all developed equally and the additional members have certainly not been equal to the likes of Germany, the UK and even France. Some, like Poland, have developed impressively. Others, like Romania, remain mired in poverty and economic under-development while yet others, like Greece, have financed short-term affluent living with non-existent revenues.
Interestingly the inconsistency in economic development is seen by Hubertus Hoffman as another failure of the EU when he writes: “Why did nobody press for real and radical reforms in the south of Europe- a fit-for-competition programme?”
So, given the major differences in values between West and East and the differences in economic performance primarily between North and South, the EU cannot be sustained as a club of ‘equals’. (Especially, if the UK, the club’s second biggest economy, does leave.) So there needs to be a major restructuring of the EU which reflects these differences but can provide coordination and a forum for cooperation.
A restructured EU might possibly something like this:-
In this concept, the ‘Eurozone Union’ is for those members who want to push integration forward so that, in time, they effectively become one state. There should also be a representative body for those members who use the euro but do not want to integrate. The ‘Eurozone Council’ has the remit of coordinating economic and fiscal policy between the 2 euro groups to the degree necessary that both groups can achieve their objectives without one group being disadvantaged. The ‘Non-Eurozone’ is a representative body for those members that do not use the euro. The ‘Governing Council’ would have the overall responsibility of balancing the differing values and interests and, in light of that responsibility, global concerns outside the EU that need to be addressed. In that sense the Governing Council would have both strategic and management functions. The ‘Affiliates’, as now, are countries like Norway and Switzerland which have access to the single market but no influence on decision-making at any level in the EU.
Of course, there would be far, far more to such a restructuring than I have outlined; and there almost certainly needs to be 2nd Tier thinking involved to craft such a flexible system of checks and balances and then make it work.
The EU can be saved!
There is still a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the EU from within its member states.
For example, despite all their misgivings about too much centralisation, Connolly (p26) states “…for Poles, the vast majority of whom declare themselves to be pro-EU….”
The Independent’s Caroline Mortimer notes a survey by Emnid for the N24 news channel found 75% of Germans are still in favour of membership while the Evening Standard’s Tom Marshall reports Scandinavian polls showing support for the EU in Denmark up from 59.8% to 69%, from 56% to 68% in Finland and from 49% to 52% in Sweden.
Peter Levring, for Bloomberg, reports similar increases in support for the EU amongst the Scandinavians. Marlene Wind, a professor in Political Science at the University of Copenhagen, told Levring the Brexit result had been a “wake-up call across Europe… Nobody wants to put themselves in the kind of mess the British have created for themselves.”
As for the UK, there have been ‘We are the 48%’ protest marches, legal challenges initiated to slow Theresa May’s new government’s triggering the Article 50 withdrawal process and a petition for a second referendum which has collected well over 4 million signatures.
So the EU has much support among its constituent peoples. However, its vision, its structure and its governance are no longer adequate either for what it has become, the needs of its peoples or simply the times. The Brexit vote does indeed need to be a “wake-up call”. Fundamental, radical reform needs to happen…and it needs to happen pretty quickly.
Where are the visionaries for our new Europe?