It was expected for the European Union’s performances – second-highest GDP in the world today, having conceded first place because of Brexit; massive influence at global level etc. – to kindle hostility. The integrationist process that started as early as 1957 – this month marks 60 years, so spanning two generations – was at first seen from outside Europe with some suspicion. At its beginnings, when the founding treaty was signed in Rome, the United Kingdom for instance did not take part, although the Suez Crisis of the previous year had convincingly demonstrated that in the bipolar world Europe’s response must be unity and London had responded positively at first. However, as Europe became increasingly free and united, particularly in the post-Cold War era, the organisation growing from 9 to 12 states in 1995, and now reaching 27 member states (following United Kingdom’s exit), the EU was not late in prompting hostility within the system. In fact, competition for power is the main law of the Westphalian system we are living in today.
Whether it took the form of a monetary competition – euro vs. dollar – or one that concerns the objectives sought (is the military security of EU members a solidarity domain? etc.), or whether, from another perspective, other systemic giants tried to draw the planet’s European giant on their own side, this hostility could only gain significant visibility sooner or later and could only have a systemic impact. After all, the global balance of power cannot overlook a giant like the EU, basically through the transatlantic link a pillar of the global order 2.0, having appeared and developed after its formatting. Hence, in a system based on systemic competition, the EU was destined to be a role model, an object of admiration, but also a source of fear and a target for hostility.
A first expression of the EU’s growing importance in the systemic balance of power was obvious, more recently, immediately following Russia’s occupation of the Crimea (March 2014). Among the analyses of Russian experts who were dealing with solving the crisis, stood out one which proposed tearing the EU away from the U.S. (as a prelude to the dissolution of NATO) and the creation of a common political-economic space extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok, replacing the Euroatlantic one in existence since 1990 (Treaty of Paris) and formalised through NATO and OSCE, which extends from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
The EU did not pay any attention to these songs of Sirens, although certain industrial circles in the EU seemed attracted by the huge resources of the Russian Siberia and by the outlook of jointly mining them. The rejection of this formula would explain today what was said within the U.S. Congress several days ago and was briefly recounted in a tweet. Referring to the FBI Director’s deposition in the American legislative body, the tweet pointed out that: “Asked if ‘the Russians would like to see more Brexits,’ Dir FBI Comey answers simply ‘yes’”, which says enough about Moscow’s attitude toward the EU, but not also about the reasons for it (which can however be a topic of analysis).
Also recently, basically several days ago, in the wake of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the U.S. (March 17-18), certain comments noted that President Donald Trump, known as a staunch supporter of Brexit, expressed his support for NATO but did not mention the EU on this occasion. Moreover, he alluded to a free trade treaty between Germany and the U.S., although the German Chancellor had emphasised the close link between her country’s economic performances and the European unity formalised in the European Union. Could this be a sign of U.S. hostility toward the European organisation? A tweet which emphasised that the German public’s confidence in the U.S. fell from over 60 percent in November 2016 to 22 percent in February 2017, being in a tie with Russia, also inserted the following comment: “another way to put it, USA = Russia since election of the new US president.” Of course, we do not share the pessimism of the comment’s author, but other analyses show that for Germany the situation is starting to reawaken the memory of a geopolitical nightmare so far deemed completely gone given the EU’s existence.
According to Gideon Rachman, from The Financial Times, this “old German nightmare” is “the fear of being a large isolated power at the center of Europe. The situation must feel even more grotesque because – unlike in the 20th century, Germany’s current loneliness has very little to do with the country’s own malign behavior. On the contrary, it is the world around Germany that is changing fast, as populism and nationalism surge across Europe and in the US.” An article which The Guardian published right on the day of the first Trump-Merkel meeting (March 17) had a significant title: “Angela Merkel knows she must defuse Donald Trump’s threat to Europe.” And in it, we can read that “the EU simply doesn’t fit with his America-first, zero-sum game of the world. And he’s fully intoxicated by the ideology of his point man Steve Bannon. Trump only sees a supranational, domineering, repressive entity.”
Merkel’s visit to Washington however took place in circumstances different from those registered just shortly before. The question whether the “Trump effect” has prompted a rise in radicalism and populism in Europe, a rise that would endanger – as was believed – the existence of the EU is still left unanswered. In fact, even Brexit was exaggerated from this standpoint, opinion poll data telling an entirely different story than that of Brexit being a heavy blow applied to the stability/existence of the organisation led from Brussels. On the contrary, public opinion support for the EU registered two-digit growth in important states such as Germany, France and Belgium after the British referendum. A Foreign Affairs analysis published several days ago talks about the reality of a reverse side of the domino of exits from the EU, which many feared after Brexit, the analysis concluding that “paradoxically, worries about an impending EU collapse that never materialized may in turn further the very opposite outcome.” That the analysis mentioned is based on real facts is shown by the latest events, including the Dutch elections which took place halfway through this month, in which pro-European parties defeated both the radical-populist and the Eurosceptic ones. Similarly, recent opinion polls in France show that the pro-European current is growing, opinion polls already putting Macron in a tie with the recent top favourite of the first round – Marine LePen, the candidate of the nationalist right, of the National Front.
This Europhile trend is obviously on the rise in Europe, and what happened after Merkel’s visit to Washington is revealing. According to the latest polls, 66 percent of the French people express their attachment to the EU, and 67 of them to the common currency, and the Europhobe current registered a massive slump to 22 percent. A citizen’s initiative, particularly successful in the last week, basically ingraining the mentioned Europhile trend, appeared at the end of last year, after the shock of Brexit and of Trump’s election. It has no political goal; on the contrary, it is open to a wide diversity, the European idea being achievable through various ways, the option being made through elections. The basic principle of “Pulse of Europe,” the name of this citizen’s initiative, is to express support for the EU every Sunday, through events held in the main European cities.
Last Sunday, after Merkel’s visit to Washington, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in numerous German and European cities, in favour of the EU, under the organisation’s star-spangled flag. The #pulseofEurope hashtag allows any city of a member state to sign up for this ample current in which EU citizens demonstrate in favour of the organisation’s continuity and consolidation. “Let us become louder and more visible! We all must now send out positive energy against current tendencies. The European pulse must be felt everywhere!” reads the call of this continuously growing European movement. Hence, expanding Europhilia, shrinking Europhobia, these are the main European public opinion trends today.