Is Europe losing faith in European Union?
Brussels: Happy Europe Day! If you don't know May 9 is Europe Day, then you find yourself in good company with a majority of Europeans. Even in the most buoyant time, this holiday -- marking the Schumann Declaration, presented by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in 1950, that launched the European Coal and Steel Community -- doesn't come with the transcontinental fireworks of America's July 4. It does, however, provide occasion to reflect on the growing perils to Europe, and the enormous risks they pose to both the United States and the global future. For all the talk of Europe's fiscal deficits, or the "democracy deficit" that leaves European Union institutions lacking accountability and legitimacy, the most dangerous deficit is one of Europeans. Last week, no less an authority than Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Council president, said in a speech that the European dream was under threat from a "resurgence of populism and nationalism" across the 27 countries and 500 million people of the European Union. Barroso said: "At a time when so many Europeans are faced with unemployment, uncertainty and growing inequality, a sort of 'European fatigue' has set in, coupled with a lack of understanding. Who does what? Who decides what? Who controls whom and what? And where are we heading? And, let us be clear, the indifference of many pro-Europeans is also a risk." The percentage of European nationals who distrust the European Union is growing with alarming speed, according to the Eurobarometer, a public opinion service of the European Commission. In November 2012, some 72 per cent of Spaniards said they "tended not to trust the EU," compared to just 23 per cent five years earlier. In Italy, the figure has spiked to 56 per cent from 41 per cent. Concern should be greatest in Germany, where public opinion toward Europe could be most decisive to the continent's future. Europeanism was long a welcome identity for a country that after World War II was more than happy to embrace an alternative. That attitude has eroded with increased distance from the country's Nazi past and growing doubts about Europe's future -- as well as the economic cost to Germans of the euro zone crisis. Though Germans by a 75 per cent majority still prefer remaining in the euro, some 56 per cent have no trust in the EU, and fewer than a third have a positive image of the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel dare not ignore the emotion behind the emergence of Germany's first anti-euro party, the Alternative for Germany. Though its support in September elections is likely to be small, its ideas are influencing the public debate. Increasingly difficult A German policymaker told me recently that Merkel is an even more passionate European than is commonly understood, and that she would never abandon the euro. "But it is increasingly difficult," this official said, "to keep the German electorate with her." In a European Council on Foreign Relations paper, experts Jose Ignacio Torreblanca and Mark Leonard wrote: "What is striking is that everyone in the EU has lost faith in the project, both creditors and debtors. In southern European countries, the EU looks like the IMF [International Monetary Fund] did in Latin America: a golden straitjacket that is strangling the space for national politics and emptying their national democracies of content. In northern European countries, the EU is increasingly seen to have failed as a controller for the policies of the southern rim. The creditors have a sense of victimhood that mirrors that of the debtors."
Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2013
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