Spring is traditionally seen as the season of rebirth, renewal and regrowth.  Yet in Brussels, despite the unseasonably warm weather, this could be the Spring of discontent.

In recent months Portugal has been the third country to effectively request a bailout from the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – this after the former government’s “austerity” proposals had come up against a brick wall in the form of the Portuguese Parliament.  With outside intervention now inevitable, the new government’s hands will be tied in any case.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the continent, the Finns have announced their apparent opposition to continually bailing out their
Southern partners.  The impressive showing of the True Finns party means that it will now likely sit as the main opposition in the Parliament and raises serious questions about the political will in the Member States when it comes to propping up failing economies.

Moreover, talks of Greece “restructuring” its debt are hardly reassuring to Eurozone ears. And if Spain were to join the debtors, it would really put the Eurozone in a downward spiral.

That’s for the euro – but there are wider concerns within the EU which are causing the 27 nation bloc to strain at the edges.

The EU’s budget is being called into question by the net contributors, including the UK and France, who are arguing for “austerity” to be transferred from the national to the EU level and reject any significant increase.

In the opposite corner is a larger group of countries, many of whom are net recipients of EU funds for their regions which lag behind the EU average – and the European Commission.

The battle for the budget has been a perennial highlight of Brussels, but with the current economic and financial context and voters disenchanted, the stakes are higher.

Meanwhile at the EU’s southern fringes there continues to be concern about a supposed flood of immigrants from North Africa following the region’s “Arab Spring”.  Once again, the EU’s solidarity is being called into question, with Franc unilaterally closing its border with Italy to prevent what it sees as a possible influx of French-speaking migrants making their way northwards.

Further north, Denmark also decided to reinstall border controls, ostensibly to reduce crime, but in practice to appease the Danish People’s Party, an anti-immigrant party which the government relies on for support.

Previously EU crises had either been bound up in Treaty reform (e.g. the failed Constitution referenda) or in the EU’s lack of competitiveness on the world stage.

Today, the EU seems to be tearing itself up from the inside.  Paradoxically, the deeper you integrate, the more likely fissures will open up (e.g. Schengen and the Eurozone). The test for the EU will be whether it can withstand the tensions raging from within, rather than without.

– Rob

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