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Centrifugal Europe

Author: Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Fellow
Volume 54, Issue 1, 2012
Survival: Global Politics and Strategy


The project of European integration is experiencing its gravest political crisis to date. Ongoing debate about how to restore the financial stability of the eurozone has exposed deep rifts within the EU, calling into question the solidarity that is the hallmark of political union. At stake is the survival not just of the euro, but the EU itself.

The EU's debt crisis poses a particularly potent threat to the project of European integration because it is both a consequence and a cause of a more serious malady: the renationalisation of European politics. Confronted with the powerful intrusions of both European integration and globalisation, electorates in EU member states have for the better part of a decade staged a mounting revolt against Brussels and its supranational brand of governance. Unwanted immigration, growing inequality, fraying welfare states, stagnant wages, bailout and austerity packages – these developments have produced a wave of popular discontent, which is in turn exacting a heavy toll on the EU as angry voters press for the repatriation of political control and the restoration of national autonomy.

This renationalising trend is at odds with European institutions that are ostensibly growing in competence and authority. As a consequence of the passage of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the EU now has a president, a foreignpolicy tsar and its own diplomatic corps. These advances are essential if the EU is to have the wherewithal to exert influence in a globalised world. Officials in national capitals and Brussels are also making plans for more collective and stringent management of fiscal policy, probably a must if the euro is to survive and the EU is to compete effectively in global markets. But the increasing reach of supranational bodies rests uneasily with a political street that is becoming decidedly hostile to the EU. A perilous gap is widening between Europe's urgent need for collective governance and electorates that are growing ever more reluctant to entrust their destinies to Brussels. Unless this growing gap between governance and governed is resolved, the EU may be headed for fragmentation, if not outright dissolution.

This article appears in full on by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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