60 years on: the EU`s new "roadmap" (Part 1)

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Baku, 27 Jule 2017 –

Summary: The article looks at the European Union`s 60-year history in the context of the organization`s geopolitical transformations. It says that the EU failed to completely apply a planned integration model. The bloc faces a crisis and a lot of other serious problems relating to internal political environment. Some experts are concerned about the future of the idea of a united Europe, pointing out superpowers` struggle. Great European powers have locked horns in a fierce struggle for global leadership. Against this backdrop, the EU`s integration process faces serious barriers. The new Rome Declaration is of vital importance in terms of addressing the problems because there is a crying need for Brussels to find the ways out. Experts say the Rome Declaration can be regarded as a serious step from this point of view. In the declaration, the European leaders pledged to work towards achieving four objectives. The article features an analysis of these objectives and draws concrete conclusions.

The problems faced by the European Union in the past few years encouraged the emergence of several scenarios for the bloc`s future. Experts give different forecasts, with many of them being pessimistic. Leaders of the 27 states who gathered in Rome to celebrate the European Union`s 60th anniversary signed the Rome Declaration. The document features a number of interesting points relating to the future of the organization. A deeper look at the declaration reveals that the EU is, in fact, on the verge of new transformations. But the main point here is that there is considerable uncertainty about the essence of these changes. The reason is that the European Union is now facing serious problems.

After the first declaration: Europe`s "sickness''

When the treaties establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were signed in Rome 60 years ago, there was not a clear understanding of the fate of Europe. On 25 March 2017, the European Union celebrated its 60th anniversary against a background of serious crises. The European leaders gathered at the same venue – Rome. But the real situation has changed a lot over the past 60 years. Some media described the bloc as the new sickman of Europe which is at the crossroads and whose future is very much in doubt. However, the European Union is still considered a great power in global politics.

A lifelong dream of European humanists (Dante, Kant, etc.), the idea of a united Europe started to materialize after the two global wars – the World War One and the World War Two. But efforts to ensure political integration were unsuccessful. On 18 April 1951, Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the Treaty of Paris, founding the European Coal and Steel Community. This started the process of formal integration which ultimately led to the European Union (see: Юрий Борко. Шестидесятилетняя Европа на перепутье. Уроки и перспективы интеграции в Старом Свете / "Независимая газета", 27 March 2017).

Then in 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed to set up the European Economic Community which brought the Europeans closer to the goal of a united Europe. The European Economic Community featured three integration stages, being finally subsumed under the European Union in 1993.

The European Economic Community`s being absorbed into the European Union was driven by structural and functional changes within the organization. First of all, it was the expansion of economic integration. The Community's initial aim was to bring about economic integration, including a common market and customs union. At the later stages an economic and fiscal union was established.

Spanning more than 50 years, the European integration embraced the entire economic and financial system. But this process did not go smoothly as it was accompanied by serious confrontations and disarray. Political analysts say that "never throughout its history the European Union has celebrated its anniversary being so much divided and divergent" (see: Федор Лукьянов. Праздник с сединою на висках / "Россия в глобальной политике", 23 March 2017).

Apart from economic factor, political, structural, functional, ideological, geopolitical and security factors seriously affected the integration process within the European Union. Experts also emphasize the philosophy of the organization`s enlargement.

Approximately in the mid-1990s the EU saw the number of its members grow to 15. In 2004-2007, 10 more countries joined the organization. Experts forecast that the bloc will continue to enlarge. With the United Kingdom leaving the organization, it now has 27 members. Quite a large composition. And certainly the enlargement brings both positive and negative factors. Therefore, the European Union is now facing a deep crisis.

The fiasco of the idea: difficulties of uniting

The strategy of a united Europe has a revolutionary importance in the true sense of the word. Experts believe that in this context, Europe, which is hit by isolationism and bloody conflicts, became an area of peace and cooperation. The majority of Western European countries conducted radical reforms, including the formation of managed market economy, establishment of a new form of social cooperation, and the strengthening of the provision of rule of law and human rights. Although these components were not an integral part of integration, they boosted mutual confidence, encouraged integration and strengthened internal stability (see: previous source).

But an increase in the number of members of the organization brought about certain structural and functional changes. The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe marked the culmination. The treaty, in fact, provided for the founding of a federation. The European Union had to become a united state. But this would lead up to a completely different situation. Interestingly, France and the Netherlands unexpectedly rejected the proposed constitution in 2005. "This came as a shock, but was considered as a minor (accidental occurrence – author) event'' (see: Юрий Борко. Шестидесятилетняя Европа на перепутье. Уроки и перспективы интеграции в Старом Свете / "Независимая газета", 27 March 2017).

But what happened in the ensuing years showed that the collapse of the treaty may encourage a new stage of integration in the European Union. This stage is characterized mainly by negative points, and it is uncertain how and when it will end. The organization now experiences a series of crises. The European Union has been seriously shaken by the institutional crisis of 2005-2009, financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009, economic recession of 2013-2013, and finally migration crisis and relations with Russia in recent years.

Although these crises are different, they have some common features. All of them are linked to radical changes in the European Union as well as in global politics and economy, structural shortcomings within the organization, problems in Eurozone, and growing arrogance of the elite. What should be emphasized in this context is the changes in global politics, global confrontations, Brussels` double standard policy and growing radical nationalism.

These factors continue to be major obstacles for the European Union, forcing experts to make cautious forecasts about the organization`s future. An article published in The New York Times in March highlights major problems faced by the European Union (see: Steven J. Erlanger. E.U. Is Turning 60 and Searching for Something to Celebrate / "", 24 March 2017). The article says that "somewhere along the line, the European Union lost its way'' (see: previous source).

"Many place the pivotal moment at the crossroads it encountered when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet empire collapsed. Shortly after, the conversations were all about how to "broaden'' by adding new members, as Washington and London wanted, and also "deepen'' cooperation through new institutions. The bloc stumbled into trying both, imperiling growth and unity, even as it antagonized Russia,'' the article says.

"What was at the heart of European values and principles was this simple idea of solidarity, that we would help those countries with difficulties and stick together through challenging times,'' the article quotes Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador and senior European Union official, as saying. "It seems to have gotten lost when we enlarged to the new states of Central and Eastern Europe, and we saw it in our treatment of Greece, too. There is a sense of harshness and division, a lack of solidarity. And if that simple idea is not there anymore, then we’re in big trouble. If we don’t have that, what’s the use of going forward?'' he says (see: previous source).

The lost of the idea of solidarity seems to be the biggest flaw in the European Union because solidarity is the main mechanism for realization of all forms of integration. Not a single real step can be taken without this mechanism. The article also says that assumptions about the inevitability of a single market, as well as a common currency, the euro, were similarly flawed. "Commitments to open borders have been outpaced by security challenges in an age of terrorism. The promises of prosperity for all have been undone as globalization sank cherished local industries while buoying bankers on oceans of wealth that flowed across borders. So people cling ever more tightly to sovereignty,'' the article says (see: previous source).

Major barrier: superpowers` struggle or internal problems?

Stefano Stefanini, Italy`s former NATO ambassador, says: "The European project is troubled by uncertainty, with the disruption of Brexit underestimated, Russia poking at democratic unity and "this huge question mark'' from Washington.'' He says the European Union does not know what to expect from Donald Trump, who disparages it.  "The West is fighting among itself while competitors like China, Russia and Turkey are rising,'' Stefanini says (see: previous source).

Against a backdrop of these factors the Rome Declaration features some unique points. In it, the member states describe the construction of the European Union as "a bold, far-sighted endeavour'' (see: Римская декларация. 27 March 2017. They say: "We have built a unique Union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare. European unity started as the dream of a few, it became the hope of the many. Then Europe became one again. Today, we are united and stronger: hundreds of millions of people across Europe benefit from living in an enlarged Union that has overcome the old divides.'' (see: previous source).

But this short introduction is followed by enumeration of problems faced by the European Union. "The European Union is facing unprecedented challenges, both global and domestic: regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities.'' (see: previous source.

But the question is whether a political union which faces such a great deal of problems can be "the hope of the many''.

European experts say that the integration process within the European Union is negatively affected mainly by the fact that member states have different development rates. There are several states with highest development rate such as Germany and France, for example. There are also others, including Belgium, Spain and Italy, that have middle-development rate. And finally there are Eastern European countries that have slow-development rate. Greece can also be added here.

In this context, experts single out the United Kingdom`s leaving the EU. Brexit has sparked wide debates because the United Kingdom was one of the most powerful members of the organization. Its withdrawal is considered as a serious loss. At the same time, some EU officials see the United States as the real driver behind Brexit. Donald Trump is against a too strong European Union and its global leadership. So sixty years after the treaty that led to its founding, the European Union is facing a fundamental threat to integration and solidarity (see: Жизнь после Brexit: лидеры 27 стран определили будущее Евросоюза / ''РИА Новости'', 25 March 2017).

In Rome, heads of the 27 member states expressed their fear that the EU could be doomed if other member states followed Brexit in leaving the bloc. Although this was not reflected in the Rome Declaration, several European leaders said they did not want member states to be treated differently. Poland, for example, said "the unity of the European Union, defense of a tight NATO cooperation, strengthening the role of national governments and the rules of the common market which cannot divide but unite are the four priorities which have to be included in the declaration''.

Interestingly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also highlighted the problems, and pointed out the importance of finding ways of solving them. She said Europeans must unite and move together, adding that there are good grounds for this (see: previous source).

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made a very thought-provoking statement, blaming the ideological factor for the main problems in Europe. "Neoliberalism has almost devoured Europe,'' he said, adding that "it’s the neoliberal management of the economic crisis that augmented the existing inequalities and asymmetries within our countries and between them'' (see: previous source). Obviously, the crisis is deeply rooted in Europe and is mainly connected with the ideological fiasco.

Angela Merkel pointed at more concrete reasons. Firstly, the German Chancellor called for more protection of the European Union borders. Secondly, she stressed the necessity of strengthening solidarity. And thirdly, she noted the need to elaborate effective mechanisms to ensure a stronger single currency able to withstand crises (see: previous source).

This leads to a logical conclusion: the European Union is facing very serious problems and Brussels now needs to focus on finding ways of addressing them. From this point of view, the new Rome Declaration can be considered a crucial step forward as the member states pledged to work towards four primary objectives.

Kamal Adigozalov

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