Posts Tagged

European Union

Appealing to his Eurosceptic domestic constituents, Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent proposal for a UK-wide referendum on Britain’s membership to the European Union has been declaimed by EU supporters as an easy, if irresponsible, exit strategy. While the UK has a history of ambivalence towards European integration, Cameron’s official speech has placed the EU at a strategic inflection point in its development. Using his speech to ask ‘tough’ questions about the future of the European project, Cameron rejected the argument that a Europe in crisis ought to eschew such introspection. Instead, he declared that this is the moment to “examine thoroughly what the EU as a whole should do and should stop doing”, with nothing “off the table”. Although Cameron’s announcement raises anew the long-standing ‘widening versus deepening’ debate for some, the context of Cameron’s pronouncement ought to bring new scope to these questions.

Having, until now, benefited from the tacit support of the existing political elite, Britain’s pro-European lobby has had less incentive to create a formal political movement. However, if the anti-European jungle drums continue to beat louder, it seems only a matter of time before the pro-Europeans organise, perhaps in advance of the June 2014 European elections.

A long time before she relocated to Brussels, Europa was a Phoenician princess. Zeus was particularly fond of her and abducted the princess in the guise of a bull. She bore him a son, Minos, who also had his fair share of trouble with bulls. It was he who constructed the legendary labyrinth to keep the Minotaur at bay. Moreover, it was Minos too, who demanded that Athens periodically sacrifice its best boys and girls to that insatiable creature; half-man, half-bull. Until Theseus finally killed it. Today, again, Europe has become enthralled by ‘the bull’ and it seems the consequences are equally unfavorable.

After fresh re-election, Barack Obama skipped Europe. And no one is surprised. Instead, he made his first foreign trip to Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia and Thailand, thus clearly indicating the priorities of US foreign policy in the next four years.

The colour revolutions in Georgia (“Rose” 2003) and Ukraine (“Orange”, 2004) seemed to promise that countries on the North and East of the Black Sea would shake off their “post-Soviet” label and take a firm and unwavering road towards Europe and the US. Perhaps the states of Central Asia would choose a similar route. Russia would have to take a back seat. A resurgent Russia under Putin has destroyed much of this myth, not least because of Russia’s involvement in the de facto states which have arisen from conflicts: South Ossetia and Abkhazia (Georgia), Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenia/Azerbaijan) and Transnistria (Moldova). Russian influence after 200 years of empire runs deep, but local factors also have a bearing; the EU and US have not applied sufficient drive or resources to the region, or to the conflicts, to balance or check Russia.

Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, recently discussed an important trend that looms over the European project. Commenting on the recent scandalous  statements by the Germany populist politician Thilo Sarrazin and the disavowal  of his position  by leading German politicians, Leonard voiced his concern that if ‘the establishment cartel turns [populists like Sarrazin] into outcasts rather than arguing with their views’, they will be able to tap into an ever-growing ‘reservoir of pent-up political frustration’. Leonard goes on by stressing that it is particularly worrying that ‘Germany’s leaders are now trying to treat foreign politicians who question German orthodoxy the same way they treat their own populists’. German responses to the question of a Greek referendum …

In his stimulating recent post ‘France and the New Balance of power’, Oxford’s Geoffrey Gertz argues that the near-certain election of Francois Hollande will change the balance between ‘North’ and ‘South’ in Europe. Having for so long reckoned herself part of the German, Dutch, Scandinavian and Eastern European ‘North’, he suggests, France will now join Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and possibly Bulgaria and Hungary in the ‘South’. He may well be right: Hollande’s recent demands that the stability pact be renegotiated, that Germany would have to push for growth as well as balanced budgets and the whole tenor of his campaign is evidence enough. I wonder, though, whether a Hollande victory might not also have profound consequences for relations between …

Countries in the periphery of the Eurozone face one of the toughest dilemmas in recent history. Each of them with their particularities, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain all share the challenge of dealing with the consequences of sustained large current account deficits, the accumulation of public and private debt and a protracted banking crisis. On top of these troubles, they lack an independent monetary policy, possess minimal fiscal maneuverability due to already unsustainable levels of public debt, and have to work under a marked sense of urgency due to painful and untenable unemployment rates. Their dilemma is over whether to implement further structural reform in the frame of the Eurozone, knowing that these measures could take longer to take effect …