Guest editorial: Will England’s move to nationalism erode EU’s decades-old unity?
Last Friday, at the European Summit meeting in Brussels, British Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron refused to unconditionally guarantee a Eurozone “Stability Union” designed to mitigate the ongoing economic crisis in Europe, saying that British opposition was the right decision for England and has helped protect her economic interests.
Needless to say, Cameron’s decision did not sit well in the rest of the European Union. France, after a five-year flirtation with England, the goal of which was to move closer to them, has given up and turned back to her old ally, Germany. There is doubt in Germany that England will stay in the EU. German commentators have said that the EU can, if necessary, do without Britain, but that Britain will find it difficult to do without the EU.
The really big unknown here is whether or not France and Germany will be able to keep the EU alive in the face of British withdrawal, if it comes to that. There is growing hostility to the EU across parts of Europe that cannot be discounted. Opposition to the treaty is beginning to stir in Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Romania, Finland, Latvia, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Will they stay on the internationalist course, or retreat to the uncertainties of nationalism?
Furthermore, it is unlikely that the populations of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain are going to be happy with the economic austerity measures that seem likely to be coming in return for financial support and bail out from the more economically prudent and affluent European countries. None of their governments has any desire to see the kind of austerity necessary for their economic survival. Nor do they wish to see their people actually forced to pay for the extraordinary benefits rained down on them over the decades by pandering governments, spending money they did not have and could not hope to have under the economic policies they put in place.
Of course, England is an island populated by people who don’t think of themselves as Europeans and this can be read clearly in the Cameron decision. But, quite apart from the immediate economic and financial ramifications of the British decision, it is likely that it will not end there.
The European Union, formally founded in 1993, began as the European Coal and Steel Community. It was a post-World War II creation, put together along with NATO and other pan-European organizations in the hope of creating a more stable region for its own good and, inter alia, as a balance to the territorial aspirations of the Soviet Union.
Beyond that, the best thing about it was that it gave Europeans who had previously had little around which to unite and who had fought endless battles and wars with one another, an incentive to overcome their nationalist inclinations in favor of a more internationalist view of the world. That, in itself, was sufficient justification for a part of the world that had devastated itself for centuries.
Unity, cooperation and internationalism have not come easily to Europe. There have always been elements there that have thought of sovereignty as far more important than international cooperation. They have been kept at bay by the successes of the EU, which have created an attractive entity for all of Europe.
Now, suddenly, the EU, which heretofore did not have the reputation of an enforcer, is being asked effectively to take over economic planning and implementation over its member countries, taking with it a large chunk of each state’s sovereignty. It is no longer simply a good organization to which to belong, it is going to have a major economic impact on and control over its members.
For Britain, the big question is whether or not they will prosper outside the EU, or will this decision to pander to British nationalism end in an economic disaster or disadvantage for the British? Only time will tell, but in and increasingly integrated world, it is difficult to be hopeful.
And all of this came simply because of the economic excesses of its members, particularly Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (uncharitably referred to as PIGS by their neighbors). Acknowledging that these events are of a major magnitude, the critical, long-range question is whether these new expressions of nationalism will take root in this new, less nationalistic, more internationalist Europe.
Will future generations look back on this British decision as the beginning of a new and far less productive era of nationalist competition between the European countries?
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