The idea that EU is falling apart is repeated surprisingly often – surprisingly because there are no signs of this.
There are however, clear signs that the EU countries are embarking on even closer cooperation than ever before.
That´s basically because the world looks like such a dangerous place nowadays.
Great Britain has decided to leave the EU and this is said to constitute a crisis for the EU.
The falling apart (of the EU) would not be far off.
Media doesn´t have to look for very long to find politicians or commentators that will state this to be a truth.
A quick look at the facts does not offer much substantiation for this interpretation of how things stand.
In purely practical terms we are talking about the Union going from 28 members to 27.
That is manageable.
This being about the UK makes an exit somewhat easier since the UK has obtained so many opt-outs from EU policies over the decades that the divorce should be all the easier for it. Great Britain has kept its` border controls, is not part of the European migration policy, only participates partly in the police cooperation, is not a euro member and does not recognise the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Economically, a brexit will no doubt hurt, since the EU will lose 12% of its economy (especially during an economic down turn).
But it is still doable.
The EU side can see a number of businesses sneaking over some activities to the continent which will lessen the pain.
And most likely the City will see part of its ‘many billions worth of turnover move across too, an added bonus.
Well, politically then. All the other EU countries tired of the bullying EU, panting to leave along the Brits?
The fact is that no other country is even contemplating such a thing. You´d think at least non-members Switzerland and Norway would be scrambling to get on the brexit train to… well, we don´t know where it´s headed and that may explain why no one is following the British lead.
Truth be told, the only people eager for an EU exit are the usual suspects, the xenophobic populists you find in most EU countries nowadays.
Please note that even they are not actively pushing for an exit.
The economic uncertainty and political chaos surrounding Brexit is simply too frightening.
So, everybody loves the EU then?
Hardly, EU critics are a dime a dozen.
That still won´t make the EU fall apart.
There are very strong reasons for the EU countries to stay together.
We don´t get to hear much about this, partly because of how the media works.
Media will reports news, very rarely a trend or a development.
A development that has been taking place in Europe for decades, is that the EU countries step by step, have been harmonising laws and regulations in order to create one single market out of their 28… soon to be 27 markets.
Thanks to this, Europe is a winner in the globalisation that has been gaining pace over the last decades.
Europe could easily have lost out if its ‘nations instead, one by one, had tried to fight off this development through barriers to trade.
Instead, it chose a different direction and as a result, it now sits comfortably on the worlds´ biggest and richest consumer market.
That has made Europe an economic heavy weight in global terms.
The process of creating of the single market has been presented to us through media, as a series of events. You will recognise the scenario:
The EU commission presents a proposal of law, the member countries start negotiations.
They always start out in disagreement. The louder the disagreement, the bigger the headlines.
More often than not, the negotiations will be dubbed ”an EU crisis”.
(Ordinary citizens might well form the impression that the EU is permanently in a crisis.)
Generally the media will not however, report that all these crisis – or negotiations – end in an agreement. That is not considered news.
”Journalists will report trains NOT running”, as a colleague of mine likes to point out, ”not that trains ARE running.”
Nevertheless, this market which has with time developed into a huge economic resource for Europe, is one of the strongest reasons for EU countries not to follow Great Britain into exile.
No one believes that you can achieve on the outside the advantages that you have on the outside. Not even the loudest EU critics such as Hungary´s PM Victor Orban or the strong man of Poland, Mr Kaczynski.
There is a second and very important reason to stay in the EU
Most people following news media will have spotted this one:
There is a global power shift going on.
It´s become overwhelmingly clear that the US has taken a step back from its role as world police.
The US seem to no longer have the will – that goes for the public opinion as well as its politicians – or the economic strength to act the superpower anymore.
It is no less clear that China is sailing up, eager to fill some of the void.
China invests heavily in Africa, in Latin America, in Greece and in Turkey, buying land, industries, and energy resources.
Wherever there is a lack of capital, you will find the Chinese.
Now China is asking to be counted as a political power too but the West has not been keen to offering the Chinese any influence in the global institutions.
So China is grabbing it, having learnt by the West how it’s done.
Last year China set up an international investment bank armed with 100 bn US dollars, the Asian Investment Bank. It´s generally seen as a rival to the US dominated World Bank.
The fact that the US warned its ‘ allies from joining the AIIB, makes it seem even more so.
Well, no less than 57 countries join anyway. All of the EU countries.
And the very first was the United Kingdom, possibly forgetting for a moment its´ very special relationship with the US.
(The `thank you‘ came as a several billion worth of Chinese investment in British nuclear power.)
Hardly surprising that the first two projects financed by the AIIB will be to construct part of the Silk Road, Chinas enormous plan to recreate the landroad between China and the West (dominating Eurasia as a side effect?).
Asean is a group of 10 small Asian countries who got together mainly to get off under the Chinese dominance.
They all – as it happens – have for decades had close ties with the US.
They have joined the AAIB as well.
And concluded a free trade agreement with China.
China meanwhile has found yet another constellation of countries to team up with; the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Together they represent half the worlds´ population and 25 % of its output.
The Brics meet for summits nowadays.
At the last one, in October 2016, they agreed to cooperate on energy, defence and the fight against terrorism.
The very latest stand-off between China and the US as global powers had a military side to it.
The US has been patrolling the South Asian Sea trying to obstruct unwelcome Chinese expansion.
In July, the International Court in Hague reached the conclusion that China has no legal base to its´ claims in the South Asian Sea. Yet, it is the US losing this tussle.
Long-time ally of the US and the winning party of the court battle, the Philippines, is switching sides. President Duterte (you may remember, he called the US President Obama son of a …) is opting for new, warm relations with China including a compromise on the contentious waters (and hopefully large investments).
Those are just a few anecdotes to illustrate the upward mobility of China in the world.
In Europe, however, it is the Russian mobility that worry more.
President Vladimir Putin doesn´t have the advantage of a strong economy, which is one of the reasons why his efforts to create a ”single market” for himself (the Eurasian Economic Union) failed.
Instead President Putin uses to maximum political effect his assets of oil and gas. He blackmails countries over deliveries (Ukraine), he buys loyalty (Serbia and Bulgaria), he softens relations gone bad (Turkey) and infiltrates through the backdoor (Germany).
Russia has been more eager than China (so far) to use military means to gain influence in the world. He has used military force in Georgia, in annexing the Crimea, in destabilising Ukraine and, of course, he is unleashing unspeakable violence over Syria in order to get a say in the Middle East.
As if this wasn´t worrying enough, he has his military planes playing dangerous games with civilian air traffic further and further away from Russian airspace. Such incidents have taken place over Copenhagen, Oslo and as far as the English Channel.
His military planes are on a weekly basis violating Swedish, Finnish and Baltic airspace.
In the Baltic Sea, the Russian navy is used to chase marine researchers off international waters.
Russia´s very latest initiative is to have nuclear-ready missiles placed in Kaliningrad, their range making it possible to drop a missile on Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen or Warsaw.
Taken all together, the goings on of the three global giants; the US, China and Russia, push the Europeans towards one simple conclusion:
European countries need to stick together because the world is an increasingly scary place.
Now, if we look past media reports of the EU falling apart, we may discover that this very idea is taking concrete shape presently.
We could have learnt of this when the EU leaders in September 2016 met up for a first summit without a British Prime Minister present. But journalists were too busy searching for signs of cracks in the European unity.
The EU politicians will not let media down in this respect. An outburst from a disappointed Victor Orban (no, there was no appetite for EU reform as he had hoped) and another from Italian PM Matteo Renzi (no, nobody is in the mood to stump up for your bankrupt banks) made for glorious headlines.
The EU was – yet again – falling apart. Right? The brexiteers had told us so and here it was.
What the media missed, however, was that the EU 27 were in complete agreement on the way forward.
The EU urgently needed to work on:
1. a closer defence cooperation
2. closer cooperation in antiterrorism
3. creating more jobs (That´s more integration in the single market, if you were wondering)
By ”in complete agreement” I mean that even the recalcitrant Eastern European countries agreed.
Heartily, as a matter of fact.
PM Orban, as it happens, wanted to go further than anyone else in this type of European integration and create an EU army outright.
The agreement of the 27 in September was not a spur of the moment-thing.
They have been discussing this very subject – focusing on security and defence – for some time.
In fact, the media missed a first chance to report about this at the EU summit in June of this year.
Although, that summit took place only four days after the brexit referendum and was PM Cameron´s very last summit so no prize for guessing what media focused on instead.
In at least one respect, covering the EU as a correspondent differs very much from covering a foreign country. What one politicians says, no matter how influential, no matter how sexy quote he/she offers, is never in itself an indication of what the EU will do.
The EU very rarely does anything remarkable at all unless a comfortable majority of the 28 (soon 27) EU leaders are on board.
When covering the EU, it therefore pays to read the somewhat dry and sometimes too lengthy summit conclusions.
They will tell you what the whole lot of them actually agree upon.
Summit conclusions of the EU also have the marvellous effect of triggering the whole EU machinery.
EU civil servants will use the conclusions as a basis to produce proposals of measures or laws, they will redirect money and staff towards achieving what the EU heads of states have stated that they want doing.
And what the leaders said at the June summit that they wanted done – and reiterated in September – was to implement the brand new European Global Strategy.
The term ´European Global Strategy´ didn´t make it into mainstream media even when EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his ”State of the Union”-speech in September took a leaf out of it, announcing upcoming proposals for a single headquarters for EU military and civilian operations around the world, a European Defence Fund for research and `permanent structured cooperation`.
(That last bit? The EU has had a multinational battalion of soldiers standing ready to spring into action. The command over this battalion shifts every six months, it relies on the willingness of participants. So does the participation in EU peacekeeping operations. A permanent structure would definitely entail less dependence on willingness.)
The media version of this was that Mr Juncker had proposed an EU army.
This was ridiculed.
British politicians forgot about brexit for a moment and defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon informed us that he was certainly going to veto this plan.
That would of course be a bit late in the day, since the EU heads of state had in fact asked Mr Juncker in June to start working on such proposals.
(The British government did not try to veto this.)
Media versions put aside for a moment, the EU Global Strategy, come of course as a response to the shift in global powers that appear to be taking place.
Add to that the migration pressures on Europe and climate changes.
Nobody knows where all this will end, what sort of world awaits us further along.
But there is no doubt in the minds of all European leaders – apart from the British – that we will be safer if we stick together.
The Global Strategy was not cobbled together in a few weeks before the June summit.
Already in December 2013, the EU leaders agreed that there was an urgent need to update the 2003 EU Security Strategy.
Things do seem to change quickly these days.
A closer defence cooperation to be part of this, was a given. (But stated clearly, for measure. Also, the Nato Secretary General made a highly unusual appearance at that summit.)
In June of last year, the heads of state took note of an analysis of the global situation from the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. She was tasked to proceed with shaping a strategy based on the analysis.
Her draft has been widely debated and wrangled over by experts, before being adopted by the EU leaders in its final shape in June 2016.
Did you happen to notice a short news item about German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently? She is quoted saying:
”In the 21st century, we won’t be getting as much help as we got in the 20th. We need to greatly increase the Bundeswehr budget to get from 1.2 to 2 percent.”
So basically doubling the German defence budget.
Is this ”the EU” once running roughshod over its member countries, forcing them to adopt an unwelcome militarism under the cover of a Global Strategy?
On the contrary, the whole process leading up to the Global Strategy, has very much been driven from the capitals.
The Netherlands enthusiastically led the work on the strategy as EU president in the spring of 2016.
The EU big four (now that the UK is out), Germany, France, Italy and Spain in April 2016 added their contribution in form of a `non-paper` explaining how a closer defence cooperation should look like, including for example the dismantling of any obstacle to cooperation with Nato and enhancing the competitiveness of the European defence industry.
Eastern Europe’s four awkward EU members, the Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) spelled out their wishes for defence cooperation in concrete detail in their Bratislava-declaration.
”At long last”! was basically the reaction of the French government.
And Germany has already incorporated the new ideas in its national Defence Program from July 2016 that practically word by word ask for what the EU Global Strategy is meant to deliver.
”The world of 2016 is unsettled”, as Angela Merkel explains her reasons in the foreword.
That would likely also be the reason that European countries in 2015 and 2016 broke their 20 year long spell of shrinking defence budgets.
It makes perfect sense for the European countries to look into whether they can win something by cooperating.
Federica Mogherini says that as a whole, the EU countries spend about half as much as the US does on defence.
But yet, it only manages to obtain 15 % of the US military capacity.
Now, the Global Strategy is not only about defence and security. The goal is to make European states about `resilient`(the new buzzword) and then some. Europe will only be safe when it neigbourhood is stable. So the EU means to work on making all the countries resilient whose instability could otherwise threaten the European tranquillity.
That´s the Ukraine of course and Turkey but includes furher away countries such as migration- and/or terrorist-prone Nigeria, Mali and Afghanistan.
Every instrument must be used in order to help building resilience in Europe and beyond; Trade agreements, development aid, conflict prevention, crisis management, peacekeeping and reconstruction (not another Iraq, thank you very much).
Fighting negative effects of climate change, fighting poverty and unemployment, helping democracy building are some of the steps on the way towards resilience (not in the hope of a second Nobel Prize of peace, you understand. This is to address the `root causes of migration`).
All work is to be done as far as possible in cooperation with global institutions such as the UN, NATO and the World Bank (cheaper and less work, the EU is not set on a course to win super power status).
Now, planning is all very well but will the European countries actually carry their intentions through this time? To be quite honest, this wouldn`t be the first time they decide about more security and defence cooperation and do very little about it.
Why, the proud EU battalions for instance, have not been used once! (Almost happened but the UK vetoed it)
The answer is simply that it will be carried out in real life if the instability of the world frightens the Europeans enough.
(Should, for instance, Donald Trump, win the American presidential election).
Whereas if things turn around and become nice and cosy again, the Global Strategy will remain words on a paper.
Still, for now the conclusion must be that no one is about to follow Great Britain out of the EU.
The fact that European politicians are constantly haranguing the EU shouldn´t blind us to the fact that; 1. The EU countries have far too much economic gain of the single market to want to give up their EU membership and; 2. The world today is much too instable and scary for the Europeans not to want to stick together.
EU will most likely not fall apart anytime soon.
And brexit? Just a bump in the road.