Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
It’s probably safe to say that Jose Manuel Barroso doesn’t envy Jean-Claude Juncker in his first 9 months as President of the EU Commission. Not only has the Greek economic crisis taken another turn for the worse, but Britain is now actively threatening an exit from the EU, right-wing populist forces are on the march across the continent, a refugee and militant Islamist crisis is emanating from Syria and Iraq, and Europe is trying to find a common position on how to approach an increasingly assertive Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
The long running saga over Greece continues, and whilst creditors and the Greek government continue to lock horns, the Greek economy remains in free-fall. But recently, the Greeks failed to make a €1.6 billion payment on their debt, making their future in the Eurozone very much uncertain, however marathon talks between Eurozone members managed to prevent a “Grexit” and keep Greece in the Eurozone. Problems still rumble on however and there is no end to this Greek saga in sight
Meanwhile, the awkward partner of the EU being the UK held an election and produced the surprising result of a Conservative-majority government, who promised to hold an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership. Given the history of how Britain joined the EU in the first place, there is little love for the EU, or it at least doesn’t give the EU as much affection as most other countries do. In any case, there is the very real possibility that the EU will see one of its member-states leave and many others in the EU recognise this. However, an exit from the EU is still a minority opinion and there is a very quiet pro-EU majority who haven’t yet made their voices properly heard, but it is still all to play for given how close the result in the Scottish independence referendum was.
On top of this, there is the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe, caused primarily by concerns over immigration and the state of the economy. UKIP is becoming increasingly popular in the UK whilst the Front National is on the march in France. Combined with other right-wing populist parties in the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Denmark and others, many of the EU’s core principles are being challenged, such as the free movement of peoples across the continent.
Yet the rise of immigration across the continent and subsequent success of the far-right in Europe in many ways boils down to a failed strategy of dealing with IS in Syria and Iraq, which is causing problems not only in the territories it controls but also its neighbours. Yet due to the hangover of the controversial invasion of Iraq in 2003, there is little appetite for Western countries to get militarily involved and end the crisis right now.
And to compound this, Vladimir Putin is putting forward a vision for Russia which stands very much against many of the ideals and values of the West, and is now in open competition with the West when it comes to influence, control and security. Caught in the crossfire are the countries sandwich between the two, first Georgia and now Ukraine, and as long as these problems continue, the worse things will get in those countries themselves and the two sides competing over them.
Basically, the EU is in a lot of trouble. It’s facing very unenviable and numerous problems, yet in many cases they seem so resolvable. The EU needs to get its act together to put forward lasting solutions that will actually work rather than dilly-dally and eventually come to bad decisions. The next few years are critical though, because Britain and Greece are on the edge and, if they go, who knows what the remaining members may decide to do. The Eurosceptics may get their wish and the European project will just be another closed chapter in Europe’s long history, and that cannot be a good thing for Europe.