Why European Union? The Limits of The European Union

Why European Union? The Limits of The European Union


The European Union is
a set of rules and institutions that essentially deal
with economic issues. Notwithstanding the undeniable
material side of European integration, the EU has also a set of values which
form its constitutional bedrock: democracy, solidarity and the
free movement of persons. Quite unfortunately, all of
the most important values associated to European integration are,
today, questioned to the point that it is legitimate to ask ourselves
whether the European Union will remain as
‘an ever closer union’. Since the launching
of the single currency, there has been an increasing claim
about a democratic deficit in the EU. The international economic
and financial crisis and the national and
supranational responses to it since 2008 have further weakened
European democracy at both the national and
supranational levels. The resulting demands for greater
democracy have remained at the national level and,
to a large extent, in direct confrontation
with the existing powers of the supranational
organisation of Europe. Populist parties,
such as the Front National in France and the UK Independence Party
in Britain on the right, and Syriza in Greece
and Podemos in Spain on the left, have won increasing support
by promising national recovery based on re-gaining national sovereignty, by
either a straightforward withdrawal from the European Union
or a drastic change in the institutional relationship
of their countries’ with it. Meanwhile regional separatist
parties in Scotland and Catalonia have won greater
credibility in their campaign for independence
from the UK and Spain whilst insisting that they would
remain within the European Union. Indeed the question of how best
to secure democratic governance in a globalised world
now occupies centre stage. Solidarity and collective responsibility
are two sides of the same coin, as they reinforce
or weaken each other. Solidarity among the members
of the EU has always been proportional to the
existing degree of mutual trust and confidence
among its member States. Financial support will be easier
to obtain and more generous if conceived as a temporary
assistance for responsible governments at times of temporary difficulties. The recipient government is trusted
with adopting the necessary measures to redress whatever problem
is causing the difficulties. Any transfer of national resources
which is considered as feeding the conversion of the European
Union into a transfer union, would most probably be questioned
by the donors’ populations. During the 2010-14
crisis in the Euro-zone, the mental divide between the
different national European societies has been reinforced by local
politicians and mass media. Most of the bail-out programmes that
have taken place within the Euro-zone have required high doses
of political persuasion. We have been able to see that the
most difficult feature to be redressed in order to regain a country’s
market and social reputation is a deteriorated
political elite. Greece has needed, so far,
three bail-outs in five years, and the country’s market and
social solvency has not improved, rather the contrary. The free movement of persons
is a fundamental right guaranteed by the European
Union to its citizens. It entitles every EU citizen,
with some exceptions, to travel, work, study
and live in any EU country without special formalities. Schengen co-operation enhances
this freedom by enabling citizens to cross internal borders without
being subjected to border controls. The border-free Schengen
area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens,
as well as many non-EU nationals from Iceland, Norway and Switzerland tourists or other persons legally
present on the EU territory. Most unfortunately,
the most recent crises linked to both terrorist attacks
on the European territory and uncontrolled immigration
flows into the EU borders have contributed to question the
validity of the free movement of persons which had heretofore
been taken as irreversible. The multiple terrorist
attacks in France in 2015 and the recurrent
immigration crises since the wave of failed
Arab Revolutions have placed the principle of free movement within
the Schengen area into question. The debate freedom
versus security is no doubt threatening the fundamentals
of European integration.

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