quinta-feira, 28 de janeiro de 2016
Visions of doom unite a continent
Visions of doom unite a continent
Political establishment veers from ‘More Europe’ to ‘Apocalypse Europe.’
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG 1/28/16, 5:36 AM CET
BERLIN — By nature, Europe’s idealists and doubters rarely see eye to eye, clashing over everything from bent cucumbers to bailouts.
When it comes to predicting Europe’s future, however, the antagonists have found common ground.
Their conclusion: The end could be nigh.
“Europe could fall apart,” Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, declared in a recent speech, adding that the EU’s “failure is a realistic scenario.”
The grim prognosis could have come from the mouth of Marine Le Pen.
Reflecting on the potential repercussions of Brexit last month, the nationalist French politician predicted it would “be the beginning of the end of the European Union.”
“I compare Brussels to the Berlin Wall. If Great Britain knocks down part of the wall, it’s finished, it’s over,” Le Pen told The Telegraph.
Schulz and Le Pen may have different political agendas — he wants to save Europe, while she wants to bring it down — but the symmetry of their views on the state of the Continent reflects the deep pessimism across the bloc over the EU’s prospects.
Not too long ago, prophecies of Europe’s doom would have been dismissed as absurd. Further integration seemed a given. When it came to strengthening ties between member nations, debate focused on the when and how, not the if.
In the throes of the debt crisis, “More Europe” became the Continent’s rallying cry. These days, it sounds more like a threat.
For a time, the EU seemed as inevitable as the United States. Today, the 28-member bloc is more likely to prompt comparisons to the Soviet Union or the Habsburg Empire.
Such shifts in the public mood are often triggered by a single event. In this case, it was a confluence of crises, ranging from the euro’s woes to refugees, from the threat of Brexit to the rise of “Orbanism.”
Among the first to warn of Europe’s demise was none other than Angela Merkel.
“If the euro fails, Europe fails,” the German chancellor said during the early days of the euro crisis in 2010.
The phrase quickly became her signature. Germans are strong supporters of Europe and Merkel used the mantra to sell bailouts for Greece and other flagging euro members by underscoring what was at stake. Few really believed Europe was in danger of failing.
Nonetheless, for the leader many regard as the EU’s dominant power broker to raise the specter of Europe’s collapse broke a taboo.
In the years since, predicting Europe’s doom has become increasingly fashionable. In fact, barely a week passes without a prominent European politician invoking the EU’s Armageddon.
Nowadays, crises large and small, from the victory of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland to the re-introduction of national border controls, are described as mortal threats to Europe’s future.
“The European Union could fall apart and it could happen very quickly if isolation, not solidarity becomes the rule,” Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said amid a worsening of the refugee crisis.
The president of the European Parliament warns that “Europe could fall apart.”
His countryman, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said earlier this month that a suspension of open-border rules under the Schengen accord could precipitate the collapse of the euro.
“The euro doesn’t make any sense without Schengen, without freedom of movement for workers, without the freedom of travel, which all Europeans benefit from,” he said.
European Council President Donald Tusk said last week that the EU had “no more than two months” to save Schengen or “face grave consequences.”
Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s irascible finance minister, went a step further, saying that re-erecting borders amounted to “a massive, an enormous danger for Europe.”
What worries some Europhiles is that the cacophony of gloom could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“The more we talk about a complete breakdown, the more likely it is that it will happen,” said Ulrike Guérot, founder of the European Democracy Lab at the European School of Governance in Berlin.
So far, the European public doesn’t appear overly concerned by the prospect. EU leaders such as Juncker, Schulz and Tusk simply don’t carry much sway in most countries. Many Europeans don’t even know who they are.
Some economists and political analysts dismiss prophecies of the EU’s collapse as political hyperbole. After all, Europe existed before Schengen. And while the euro may be less compelling without open borders, disentangling the common currency would be extremely complicated, if not catastrophic.
What’s more, individual member countries, not to mention global investors, have too much riding on the euro to let it collapse.
Still, a classic European muddle, a series of half-measures that keep the union intact at all cost without addressing the root causes for its problems, could be worse than a total collapse in the long term.
“The worst case scenario is a system that can’t die,” Guérot said. “It’s like the frog that doesn’t jump out of boiling water.”