2015-11-25 Europe is in the throes of fundamental transformation.
Certainly, this is not the top down transformation experienced in the 1990s.
This is crisis engendered transformation, where what is not done is as important as what is done in the reshaping of Europe.
The Eurozone crisis raises fundamental questions about the way ahead on core financial issues, not just with regard to the single currency.
The continuing economic crisis does not provide significant room for maneuver to deal with the broader Euro management set of challenges.
Then the outpouring of refuges from the Eastern Mediterranean into Europe, placing sever strain on social, economic and political systems already struggling with broader identity issues.
Then the power projection of ISIS into the heart of France has raised fundamental questions about security in the Euro-Med zone and with it questions of the broader European security and defense issues.
An activist Russia, engaged on virtual every European borderland, and forging innovative ways to engage to get its interests met, is a key force reshaping the strategic landscape.
And with a U.S. preoccupied with domestic issues and a cautious President whose approach to become President is being overcome by the events of his Administration, pressure is on for key European states to shape national perspectives to protect interests and at the same time restructure significantly what European institutions are all about, other than collecting a common tax for the benefit of Brussels bureaucrats.
Today the EUObserver published an op ed by Angelos Chryssogelos which highlights the EU’s crisis within the crisis.
Excerpts from the article follow but the full article can be found and read here:
With Europe currently absorbed by the refugee crisis and, after the Paris attacks, its security implications, the Eurozone crisis, once considered an ‘existential threat’ to the EU, suddenly feels remote.
The EU’s capacity to respond effectively to the migration emergency in the coming months, however, is heavily conditioned by the legacy of the Eurozone crisis.
There are three parallels between the Eurozone and the migration crises: the hybrid nature of European governance structures that are little prepared to face up to major external challenges; the preeminence of Germany as a key player; and the important role of a peripheral country – Greece – as a conduit for an external challenge that is becoming an internal crisis.
These issues will determine whether and how the EU will overcome the refugee crisis.
They are also, all the same, the areas in which the EU’s capacities have been most stretched by the Eurozone crisis.
First, much as the Eurozone, Schengen reflects the willingness of EU member-states to cooperate in an area that touches upon the core of national sovereignty (border control), but without fully delegating decision-making and legislative and regulatory initiatives to a supranational agency (like the Commission in ‘first pillar’ policies).
While the involvement of the Commission can be significant, political impetus requires intergovernmental agreement while effective implementation relies on national policies, in border control as much as macroeconomic policy.
This makes both structures slow in responding to external challenges….
The Greek Epicenter
Since 2010, Greece had largely been the epicenter of attention.
While the EU was focusing on the Greek economy, however, the groundwork for the refugee crisis was being laid.
The new radical leftist Syriza government allowed free passage for refugees and migrants through Greek soil, as they moved from Turkey to Europe in the first half of 2015.
Much as in financial matters, Greece was the crack in the edifice that allowed an external crisis to flood the EU.
Just like in Eurozone politics, the long-term viability and attractiveness of the European project will be under stress in the following months as the capacity of the EU to keep its zone of free internal movement and common protection of external borders intact is tested.
Again, Greece may be the crucial test of Europe’s credibility. Ironically, the radical leftist ideology of Tsipras and his government makes them an amenable partner to moderates like Merkel and the Commission in the refugee issue.
Tsipras has been willing to collaborate with the EU on this issue, probably expecting rewards in the question of the Greek debt. This expectation presupposes that the tone in the EU will continue to be given by the moderates.
This, however, is doubtful after the Paris attacks. At the same time, with the EU’s refugee relocation scheme ineffectual and the states of the Western Balkans erecting fences along their borders, the capacity of the EU to offer relief is rapidly lagging behind the still huge daily inflows of refugees to Greek islands.
Greece may soon realise that, instead of contemplating relaxing its economic terms in exchange for Greece’s cooperation in the refugee question, the EU (or at least some European politicians) will begin contemplating an expulsion of Greece from Schengen as the most effective (and cheaper) way to safeguard freedom of movement in Europe.
The governance deficits of the Greek polity and the imperfect integration in the area of border protection may very soon make the discussion about the EU’s territorial integrity and the irreversibility of European integration flare up again.
The above does not mean that the EU will necessarily fail to survive the refugee crisis.
As with the Eurozone, a combination of skillful diplomacy, purposeful leadership (particularly by Germany) and a sense of urgency may yet allow collaborative solutions to emerge.
Yet there is no reason to expect this to be a smooth process.
Instead, much will depend on the political capital that national governments across Europe still have at their disposal in order to push through compromises with their respective publics.
The long shadow of five years of painstaking Eurozone crisis management will make this a tougher challenge than any the EU has ever faced.
Angelos Chryssogelos is a research fellow at the Hellenic Observatory of the LSE and an Academy associate fellow at the Europe Programme of Chatham House.