The mutation of the political virus shaping the EU’s future
Panorama is the official magazine of the International Relations Council of Turkey.
The magazine asked a group of experts why EU solidarity collapsed and how Europe and the bloc’s political and economic future would be shaped after the novel coronavirus pandemic.
This was my answer:
European Union was initially founded so that Germany and France, alongside other countries, did not fight for steel and coal. Had COVID-19 not fallen like a bombshell on our planet, we would have been talking about how Italy and France confronted each other behind the scenes under the sound of bombs falling in Libya. And for what? For a commodity like oil, which some now suggest might be nearing its date of expiration. Who would have guessed European countries might end up being at each other throats for medical masks.
EU solidarity had suffered from serious setbacks before the outbreak of COVID-19. We witnessed it during the refugee crisis starting in 2015, and if we go back further, during the financial crisis of the 2000s.
There are two main reasons that explain why EU solidarity has taken a serious blow. The European Union functioned well thanks to the accumulation of positive experiences and previously tried practices, which rested upon lowest common denominators. It could not go beyond that and indeed, you could hardly expect more when more than five countries come together, let alone a dozen.
As a result, enlargement is at the heart of the second blow that has hit EU solidarity. Premature enlargement added an east-west divide to the extant north-south split.
And then there’s the lack of leadership. Or the lack of visionary leaders. A decade ago, you would have known by heart the names of the prime ministers of countries like Spain or Italy and even the names of the foreign ministers of Denmark or the Netherlands. Who today knows the German or French foreign ministers by name?
Can Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen, the presidents of the European Council and European Commission respectively live up to the legacy of Jacques Delors? No – the current commission is really not the all-powerful commission of the 1990s.
But we cannot put all the blame on the politicians. Under the influence of the virus which has grown as a side effect of globalization, voters have carried these politicians to power. Aren’t they to blame as well?
The European Union’s future in the post-COVID-19 era will be determined by the mutation of the populist political virus that incubated in the 2000s and devastated the political landscape due to its rapid contagion. Will it mutate? If so, how will it mutate? Will societies develop an immunity or will we see a second dangerous wave?
What happens after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who has decided to leave at the end of her term in 2021, is unknown. French President Emmanuel Macron often sets out pretending to be part of the solution but ends up being part of the problem.
What is clear is that the myth that the European Union emerges stronger from every crisis has been debunked. But we can’t jump to the conclusion that the bloc will dissolve. Unfortunately, some Turks rejoice at that possibility without grasping the negative consequences of such an eventuality for Turkey.
The union will continue to totter for some time and then will try to redesign itself, this time based on the accumulation of practices from negative experiences. But this will depend on the voting behavior of European societies as well. At any rate, if the upcoming avalanche created by the economic disaster and refugee pressure built up during the pandemic doesn’t break up the European Union, nothing ever will.