Anti-establishment and anti-EU winds are blowing across Europe hard and fast, as the bloc is edging ever closer to collapse. The Brexit-started domino effect is continuing the chain reaction across the Union. Crises abound, and all of them boil down to people ultimately prizing their national and regional identities over the supranational project. The upcoming changes may make the West as we know it fade away, with groups of states united by shared interests emerging instead.
Leaders of the lower chambers of parliaments of Germany, Italy, France, and Luxembourg published a letter demanding a «Federal Union» be implemented immediately. It was published by Italian La Stampa on February 27. «Now is the moment to move towards closer political integration — the Federal Union of States with broad powers. We know that the prospect stirs up strong resistance, but the inaction of some cannot be the paralysis of all. Those who believe in European ideals, should be able to give them a new life instead of helplessly observing its slow sunset», the paper reads.
The lawmakers also warn that the European integration project is currently more at risk than ever before, with high unemployment and immigration problems driving populist and nationalist movements.
It’s not just a coincidence that the letter was published in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome signed on 25 March 1957 by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The treaty, which eventually paved the way for the Maastricht Treaty and the European Union in 1991, came into force on 1 January 1958.
In 2015, the four presidents signed the declaration 'Greater European Integration: The Way Forward', which called for moving «forward with European political integration, which could lead to a federal union of states». To date, the 2015 letter has been signed by 15 parliamentary presidents.
The European integration is being increasingly challenged by a number of Eurosceptic parties around the continent, including the Alternative for Germany, the National Front in France, and the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, with the elections to take place this year. Marine Le Pen, a frontrunner in France’s presidential election race, predicts the Union will fall «like the Berlin Wall». She wants to create a new Europe of sovereign nations. «2017 is our year», she says.
According to the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Union must reform, or face the risk of collapse as a result of internal and external challenges. Noam Chomsky, a prominent US scholar, has warned that the wave of anti-establishment sentiment will hit the EU to make it disintegrate. Mark Blyth, a British professor of political economy at Brown University, who correctly guessed three of the biggest political shocks of 2016, predicts the EU will collapse this year.
US President Donald Trump has supported Brexit and left the EU in the cold, calling it a «vehicle for Germany». During the election race, he said the EU would collapse, arguing that «other countries will follow» Britain’s lead by voting to quit the union. According to him, Europe «is not going to be recognizable in 10 years» due to immigration.
Indeed, a union of founding nations makes sense as they have always been close. Culture and comparable living standards bring them together to pursue largely the same interests. Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – the Benelux nations – have long played a key role in European geopolitics. Belgium and Luxembourg formed an economic union as far back as 1921, and talks were underway to create a customs union with the Netherlands in 1944. It’s only natural for the Benelux, France and Germany to continue their integration efforts.
Germany, Sweden, Belgium the Netherlands and Austria may have to form a «mini-Schengen» and collectively close off their borders to the rest of Europe to halt the flow of refugees into their countries.
The EU’s inability to solve the crises, has brought to the fore the Visegrad group (V4), comprising the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. After 25 years of being obscure, the group started a rebellion against Brussels in 2016, when the migration crisis hit. The group has pushed for a change in the EU's refugee policy and has refused to accept asylum seekers under the EU's quota system. It has also called for structural reform of the organization, in particular repatriating some powers from Brussels to national governments. The V4 has enough votes in the European Council to offset Germany. Poland and Hungary have joined together on a number of occasions to oppose `.
Last September, Greece organized a summit of Southern European countries, including the host nation, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta. They are prone to support more protection measures and want Brussels to give individual governments more leeway to spend and borrow as they see fit.
Scandinavia is actually already a bloc within a bloc. These nations are historically close to make them natural bedfellows. The Nordic Council’s activities never hit media headlines, but this union already exists to aid the Northern European international governance. The Council can be equally integrated to have close trade and diplomatic relations with a Federal Union of European States.
The initiative to form a new union conforms to the trend of EU falling apart. The project of European integration does not look viable anymore. The North does not want to subsidize the South. The desire to have a national currency is getting stronger and nobody wants more refugees. With the EU weakened, or dismembered, groups of countries with close ties will emerge to pursue their own interests. The nations are likely to benefit, but the concept of European integration to make the EU a key world power will be forgotten like if it were just another pipe dream.