‘Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.’ (Jean Monnet 1988)
Nearly thirty years have passed since Jean Monnet wrote those very words in his Mémoires, yet they still accurately represent the European Union (EU). Indeed, whilst the EU is slowly and painfully moving on from its worst crisis to date, namely the financial crash of 2007-8, it is now in the middle of a new, if not more dangerous political crisis. Recent political events in several European countries (Greece, Poland or France) have been enough to show the mayhem a deep political crisis could cause in Europe. Having been elected to lead a country, which for the first time since the Great Recession had renewed with economic growth, Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party managed to turn Greece back into deep recession and undo the little which had been achieved under the last few governments. During the following bailout negotiation with other European leader, Mr. Tsipras ended up making more unnecessary enemies at the worst possible time. Overall, whilst a deal was still found and it is seems that the dreaded Grexit was avoided, tensions and uncertainties surrounding Greece’s future in the EU are far form resolved.
Unfortunately, Greece is far from being the EU’s only worry. Indeed, at the recent 2013 European elections, results highlighted a terrifying trend throughout the old continent. Populist and/or anti-European parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the UK or the Front National (FN) in France topped the polls in their country. Furthermore, Spain saw the rise of Podemos, a very left-wing party which arrive fourth with 7% of the votes; Italy saw its extreme right-wing MoVimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) finish second with 21% of the national share of the votes; the Netherlands saw its extreme right-wing Partij Voor de Vrijheid (PVV) collect 13% of total votes and finish third; Hungary’s extreme right Jobbik finished second with 14% of the votes; and although the politically stable Germany only saw its Alternative Für Deutschland (AfD) finish sixth, the party nonetheless collected as much as 7% of the votes. To be successful, the EU needs public opinion support. These results therefore clearly show that for the first time, the rise of populism should be seen as a credible and serious threat to the European ideal of integration.
The European Union and its ideal of unification have arrived at a crossroad. The 2016 UK referendum on European membership; electoral victory for the ultra-nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland; the popularity of the Front National (FN) in France; and Viktor Oban’s illiberal rule in Hungary, signals the arrival of a period of political uncertainty. One can only hope that Jean Monnet can be proven right once again, with the EU emerging from this crisis stronger and more coherent. However, if things go wrong, the whole project could grind to a halt.