Talking about the European Union’s cooperation one often cites the motto: ‘United in Diversity’. This motto was included in the text of the European Constitution (Article I-8).
‘United in Diversity’ refers to the differences between the Member States regarding history, culture and languages. In doing so, the motto illustrates the richness of our European identity. The whole idea, however, is that these differences should not stand in the way of a united approach once implementing the treaties’ objectives.
Is such a united behaviour still assured? One can only doubt.
Today many divides exist in the EU. Roughly speaking between the North and the South (e.g. regarding economic growth and employment) and between the West and the East (e.g. regarding the manner of dealing with migration). In more concrete terms, we can identify strong differences between the Member States with regard to the handling of practically all topics of Tusk’s Leaders’ Agenda: the reform of the Eurozone, social Europe, asylum and migration, internal and external security, the multiannual financial framework as well as enlargement (compare, for the last topic, the outcome of the Sofia EU-Western Balkans Summit of 17 May). Essentially it is only about climate change (the Paris Agreement) that, at least at the political level, a common approach can be identified.
Apart from that we should not lose out of sight that the Union is faced with many internal problems: the remains of the economic crisis, growing Euroscepticism and populism, respect for our fundamental values and the rule of law, and –last but not least- Brexit. In fact, Brexit illustrates the opposite of unity.
Moreover, many external problems have to be countered: the unrest at all –indeed, ALL- our external borders (Russia-Ukraine, Turkey, Middle East and Northern Africa) and our relationship with the United States (the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, US import duties on steel products, the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Trump negotiations with North Korea).
How to handle -and solve- all these issues?
In fact, it is –or was- the ambition of the European Council’s President Donald Tusk to reach an overall agreement on all important policy matters before mid-2019, when the new elections for the European Parliament are scheduled (23-26 May). By that time also the discussions about the new ‘institutional’ nominations will start: the designation of respectively the President of a new Commission, the High Representative and the other Commission members, the President of the European Council and the President of the ECB.
So far it seems impossible to achieve that objective. With all the consequences thereof: an undermining of the internal structures and stability of the Union and –at best- a weak performance of the EU as global actor.
Fortunately, there is still one dimension which should be mentioned in this context. Our politicians may draw inspiration from the public debates on EU affairs which regularly take place these days in Europe. Thanks to the initiatives of the Commission (Citizens’ Dialogues), President Macron (Democratic Conventions) and others. In the Netherlands, for example, on the occasion of the 70 years commemoration of the Congress of the Hague of 1948, a range of public discussions and dialogues are organised about Europe’s Future Agenda. In the same vein, TEPSA will organise, in close cooperation with our Austrian and Romanian members, so-called ‘town-hall meetings’ in order to involve in particular young people in the debate on the future of the EU.
Once listening to their citizens, our politicians will notice that their voters often claim more action and more unity when problems requiring common solutions have to be dealt with. Politicians are supposed to give guidance, so it is now up to them to take their responsibility.
It is not as yet too late. However, the deadlines are short.
Jaap de Zwaan,