Four years after the debt crisis swept across the European Union, it seems as though Europe’s statesmen have finally found the right way to usher the alliance into a new era of stability and, hopefully, prosperity. With the bitter memories of yesterday’s financial problems still fresh, however, the continent seems to be hitting another snag on its path to further integration or, essentially, to the long-term remedy of its de facto institutional and political problems.
With the prospect of bankrupted countries ebbing, some of the “big EU brothers” have risen against the current arrangement of the Union and have vowed to question their population regarding the membership of their country into the EU. The United Kingdom, for instance, was one of the first states to complicate the discussions in the EU about the budget of the Union. In addition, David Cameron announced that, should the Conservatives win the upcoming parliamentary elections, they will initiate a referendum asking UK citizens whether the country needs to withdraw from the EU. With the membership of one of its largest and most economically potent states in question, Europe’s “confederation” thus seems to be emerging from an economic crisis only to enter another one – this time regarding its integrity.
Another indication that the European “house” is in a state of disorder came to the surface through the discussion about the full integration of the countries admitted to the EU in 2007. According to current EU directives, once a country enters the Union, its citizens have limited rights to work in other EU countries for the first seven years. Once that period is over, however, all EU countries are obliged to lift the restrictions and treat these citizens as they would treat their own. Some EU countries, though, are trying to find ways around these obligations. Worried about an influx of Bulgarian and Romanian denizens and unable to prolong the work limitations legally, the United Kingdom has initiated a strong media campaign in Eastern Europe, trying to present the UK in a negative way so as to discourage immigrants from the newly-integrated EU states. Similarly, in late 2012 the Netherlands and Finland vetoed the admission of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen zone, though both countries had fulfilled all requirements for accession. Riding on a wave of nationalism and populism, the Dutch government at the time seemed to prioritize domestic electoral success over honest and objective decision-making in the EU.
The recent European Union budget discussion revealed another potential source of future discontent between member states. After longnegotiations, the German and French expectations to increase the budget of the EU and the UK expectations to decrease that budget were eventually successfully reconciled. If these expectations remain unaltered, it will be interesting to see the future EU budget discussions as the gap between the German, French and British ideas expands.
With some countries thinking about EU membership referenda, some prioritizing domestic policy-making over the European one and some trying to reconcile their increasingly divergent ideas about EU budgeting, the future of the European Union seems to be in question. Whether it will last long now depends only on its constituents. However, if the domestic priorities of each state still guide the overall European policy, the EU leaders will have an ever more difficult time reconciling the different desires of each member state.