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European Union @ 60

The European Union recently clocked sixty. From an international club with just 6 member countries in 1957 to a union with 28 member countries, the…

The European Union recently clocked sixty. From an international club with just 6 member countries in 1957 to a union with 28 member countries, the European Union has achieved more success than it founding fathers thought it would. But then it is also facing its toughest time ever. From Brexit and migration to its euro crises and changes in government across member countries, analysts are trying to propel solutions towards “The future of the European Union.”

The European Union suffered a deadly blow last year when Britain voted to leave the union in a referendum.  According to the European commission’s president Jean Claude Juncker, Britain’s decision to quit the EU represents a failure and a tragedy for the world’s largest political and economic bloc. According to him “the fundamental internal disagreements among the EU’s remaining 27 member states over how to handle migration, deal with multiculturalism and put the single currency on a sustainable track had left the bloc struggling”. 

One of its biggest concerns is its unpopularity among national governments and their voters. Key elections which could determine its future are set to hold across the continent.  The results of the elections in Greece, Netherlands, Italy, France and Germany would determine whether the countries will remain in the union. Populist parties opposed to the European project and open to the idea of referendums on their memberships of the Union are likely to do well.  According to The Economist, one of the reasons for the likely success of populists against incumbents is that Europe’s economic mood is so glum. Although growth has returned and the euro zone has stabilised, growth rates are still low and, notably in the Mediterranean, unemployment (especially among the youth) is punishingly high. Greece remains a basket-case on the edge of default, and the markets are nervous about Italy and France. Public debts across the union remain large, and progress on liberalising structural reforms has largely stalled. 

Migration also remains a huge issue, with the crises in the Middle East and North Africa taking its toll on the union. Even though the number of migrants sneaking into the continent has gone down due to a  “dodgy” Greek-Turkish agreement , the distribution among EU countries of those refugees who have got through has created serious tensions, with Germany particularly angered by the refusal of central European countries to take more than a few. Work to strengthen the union’s external borders has been fitful at best. 

Russian president Vladimir putin is also seen as a threat to the union especially in Eastern Europe. Turkish president Recep tayyip Erdogan has also apparently turned his back on the union that has refused his country’s membership in the past. To make matters worse, America’s new president, Donald Trump, has shown himself hostile not just to multilateral free trade and Muslim immigrants but intermittently to the EU, praising Britain’s decision to leave and urging others to follow.

According to analysts, for a multi-tier Europe to survive there should be rules that each tier entails. Those in the outer group might not accept fully free movement of people, for instance, but that is no reason to block their access to the EU’s single market. Nor should there be a stigma of second-class status for those outside the core: after all, they include Denmark and Sweden, two of Europe’s most successful countries. Ways should be found for countries with military or diplomatic clout (eg, post-Brexit Britain) to join in foreign and defence policies of the union.  After all, the continent consists of 48 countries not just the EU 28 member countries.

Balkisu Muhammad, Lapai, Niger State.


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