Europe may be on brink of disintegration

If a clear signal was needed that the European Union is falling apart at an alarming rate, Hungary’s construction of razor-wire fences along the border with its fellow EU member Croatia is it.

Now, as governments erect barriers and reinstate border controls, the refugee crisis is disrupting flows of people and gumming up trade. And, as the EU unravels, the risk of Britain voting to leave is rising.

It is often argued that the EU progresses through crises, because they focus minds on the overwhelming need for further integration. But such breakthroughs require at least four ingredients: a correct shared understanding of the problem, agreement on an effective way forward, willingness to pool more sovereignty, and political leaders able to drive change forward. All four are now lacking.

EU leaders are weak, divided and seemingly incapable of setting out a credible vision of the future benefits that European integration could provide, without which they cannot rally popular support and convince recalcitrant governments to bear their fair share of current costs. In the absence of an effective, common response, Europe’s crises fester, feed on each other and foment unilateralism.

The eurozone and refugee crises have common features that make them tricky to resolve. Both involve disputes about sharing costs, complicated by a clash of values, at the center of which lies a newly dominant Germany.

The clash of values also impedes compromise. Germans insist that debtors have a moral obligation to pay what they owe and atone for their sinful profligacy. A Slovak prime minister who rejects refugees on the grounds that “Slovakia is built for Slovaks, not for minorities” is hard to buy off. Even though the EU’s plan to resettle refugees would remove unwanted newcomers from Hungary, Viktor Orban, the country’s authoritarian and nationalist leader, objects to it in principle, accusing Germany of “moral imperialism” in trying to foist its generous attitude toward refugees on its neighbors.

Until recently, German policymakers sought to atone for the country’s Nazi past by seeking a more European Germany and bankrolling the EU, thus helping to smooth over many disputes. But, with Germany’s position as creditor-in-chief having thrust it into the driver’s seat, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration now seeks to create a more Germanic Europe.

Germany refuses to accept that its beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies — reflected in its massive current-account surpluses — are both a cause of the eurozone crisis and a major impediment to resolving it. Instead, it bullies others to get its way, wrongly identifying its narrow interests as a creditor with those of the system as a whole.

Full article: Europe may be on brink of disintegration (Japan Times)

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