The fate of the European Union may have gotten a much-needed shot in the arm with the election of independent centrist Emmanuel Macron over far-right populist Marine Le Pen on May 7, but the inescapable departure of Great Britain from the exclusive club is still casting a dark shadow on its future.
No matter how Brussels may try to deflect attention from Brexit with spiels of unity and solidarity, the fact of the matter is that the 28-member federation is destined to be downgraded to a 27-member bloc by the year 2019.
The main problem with the EU is the Maastricht Treaty, which came around in 1993 and essentially transformed the commercial bloc into a political entity, governed out of Brussels and bogged down by the bureaucracy of 28 diverse voices.
Its current member states include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and (for the time being) the United Kingdom.
The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed by six countries in 1958.
In the intervening years, the EU has grown in size by the accession of new member states in power by the addition of policy areas to its remit.
The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union under its current name in 1993.
With a combined population of over 500 million inhabitants or 7.3 percent of the world’s population, the EU generates a nominal GDP of more than $16 billion annually, representing an estimated 22 percent of global nominal GDP and 17 percent in terms of purchasing power parity.
And basically — with the possible exception of Athens and its eternal economic Greek tragedy of debt repayment — pretty much all its members are satisfied with the economic benefits of EU affiliation.
But as EU members toast the 67th anniversary of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that would eventually evolve into the complex political and economic federation of states that is now the Europea Union this month, there are serious signs that the multinational amalgam is about to erode.
The inexorable flood of political refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, coupled with financial instability of and the prospect of yet another bailout for Greece, along with the pending exit of the United Kingdom, have shaken the foundations of the once-mighty European Union to the core.
The political tug-of-war between the morality of defending embattled Ukraine from territorial encroachment by Russia and the need to maintain good relations with Moscow in order to ensure a steady stream of gas and oil have also rocked the supporting pillars of the EU..
The very fiber that binds the EU member states together is unravelling.
Bureaucratic red tape and political power squabbles are marring Brussels’ image as a model of Eurocratic cooperation and unity, and the eurozone — which was supposed to be the quintessential example of a fully integrated continent — has proven to be an inimitable exercise in fiscal disaster.
The truth of the matter is that Europe is not a politically united entity.
The social, ethnic, cultural and national divisions between the member countries are too vast to gloss over with optimistic platitudes of the universal bounties of regional peace and prosperity or half-hearted excuses that the European project is “a work in progress” and that its current woes are just the growing pains of an experiment in evolution.
The EU, which started out as a 10-memnber commercial bloc, simply grew too fast to be able to accommodate the myriad of cultural and national identities within a single political forum that still favors some members over others.
Assimilation takes time, and finding a common political direction between 28 diversely unique peoples is no easy matter.
Integrating trade is one thing; unifying politics is quite another.
Long-brooding historical wounds and resentments do not heal overnight just because a nation is fed the pabulum that membership will bring economic prosperity.
The European project is floundering, and its members need to take a serious step backwards to reexamine what unity real entails, both negatively and positively, and then decide if they are willing to relinquish certain cultural traditions and national powers in favor of a united community with a clear and universal commitment to joint benefit and shared values.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]