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Trouble is brewing around Europe

October 20, 2017

This EU summit proves: Trouble is brewing in every corner of Europe. But the bloc does not need grand visions; it needs practical solutions to the problems it faces, says DW’s Christoph Hasselbach.

Angela Merkel at the EU Summit
Image: Imago/Belga/D. Gys

It doesn't seem that long ago that in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the most pressing question in Brussels was simply whether the party winning the European elections should appoint the European Commission president. Today, that issue seems absurdly irrelevant. Now, nary a month passes in which some deeply troubling development doesn't come along to threaten the very foundation of the EU.

We have all gotten used to the UK's imminent divorce from Europe. But Brexit alone, and the ramifications thereof, puts the very existence of the EU in doubt. Hungary and Poland have dissociated themselves from the EU's bedrock rule-of-law principles. Spain is in its deepest state crisis in decades as Catalonia pushes for independence. The continued arrival of refugees has split the continent along deep ideological divides that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. And parties that want to curb or do away with the EU for good are gaining new supporters each day.

Christoph Hasselbach
DW's Christoph HasselbachImage: DW/M.Müller

Nothing is certain anymore

Things do not look much better beyond Europe's borders. Whether Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Vladimir Putin, traditional partners have now become unreliable partners, even enemies in some cases. And with that, back to the bloc: One may have expected the murder of an investigative journalist in Russia, but in quaint EU member state Malta? What has become of us?

All of this is happening simultaneously. Nothing that was certain just a few years ago seems that way today. Further European integration as a founding principle? That was then.

The question is how the EU will deal with this new complexity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, until now the bloc's undisputed leader, has emerged weaker after last month's national election. She will not be able to play the role as confidently as she did in the past.

Macron already demystified

French President Emmanuel Macron has offered his services as the savior and restorer of the European ideal. But the European whiz kid is quickly losing his charm, and not just in France. Should his proposed fiscal reforms become law, they will have very adverse consequences for Germany.

But that is not all: Macron has warned the EU that he intends to sign bilateral trade deals with third parties. He justified the idea by claiming that French citizens are suffering the ill effects of globalization and need to be protected. Retreat from a cold world — is that what has become of the European idea?

True, the spirit of the times is currently moving toward nationalism, identity and separation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's proposal to extend the euro and the Schengen Area to encompass all EU states therefore seems unrealistic and counterproductive.

The EU does not need grand visions in times like these; it needs practical solutions to its many problems. Stopping illegal immigration is something that all member states can agree on. So is expanding and upgrading the EU's digital infrastructure. And all states could benefit from more cooperation on defense issues. One cannot expect more than that right now, but we should not accept anything less.