A colossus with feet of clay

It’s not far from truth stating that the European Union has hardly ever stood against multiple threats which originated both from external and internal sources. American philosopher Will Durant once wrote that “a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within”. Although this quotation mainly refers to civilization, it’s similarly applicable to the most ‘sui generis’ international organization of all, namely the EU and its self-contained regime, exerting significant influence on Europe’s cultural and political heritage. Opposing any difficulty lurking from the outside requires some very solid basis but, unfortunately, this foundation has been crushing dramatically in recent years. The internal crisis includes a number of factors, such as the financial crisis in the eurozone, the specter of ‘Grexit’, the increase of public support for Eurosceptic parties, Britain’s willingness to renegotiate its relationship with Brussels, allegations of excessive bureaucratization and a lack of sense of equality among member states.

Experts analyzing the political plight of the EU generally place ‘Grexit’ and ‘Brexit’ at the same footing as the biggest threat to a future survival, at least in its current shape. This is because Greece and Britain are testing EU’s appeasement policy in their own way, which can have grave consequences from a long-term outlook.

Big Crunch Presidential Debate (14069654181)
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker By euranet_plus (Big Crunch Presidential Debate) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Contrary to what the etymological similarity between the terms ‘Brexit’ and ‘Grexit’ might lead to imply, London and Athens have little or nothing in common. It’s not the first time that Britons ask themselves the big question: “would life outside the clutches of Brussels be better?”. In 1975, more than 67% of British voters said “yes” to the European Economic Community in a membership referendum. On 7 May, they decided to answer this question one more time. What does the results coming out the general election mean? Certainly David Cameron has strengthened leadership in his own party as well as the international arena. Tories’ win shows that a substantial part of the British society is satisfied with a policy which is mostly focused on the economic aspects. However, it might be hard to say how significant influence had Prime Minister’s promise to carry out the in/out referendum on the EU membership by the end of 2017.

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Prime Minister David Cameron (left) with Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) by Northern Ireland Office [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Treating the vote results as a ‘declaration of intent’ to leave the EU would be, without a doubt, a great exaggeration. It should be noted that they don’t prejudge the possible outcome of the referendum on the ‘Brexit’, as many experts, however, seem to forget. The election campaign (‘Let’s Stay On The Road To A Stronger Economy’) focused, in fact, on issues related to taxes and social policy (in this respect, The Guardian has drawn attention to Conservatives’ “air campaign”, which helped them win the media battle). This can be considered the real key to success for Cameron and his fellow party members.

Latest opinion polls show the popular support for British permanence in the EU structures has risen in recent years, visibly exceeding the opposite view. Although Brexit looks rather unlikely at this point, the renegotiation of the essence of London’s relationship with the EU is somewhat certain. The core issues pulled-out by 10 Downing Street are strongly connected with immigration and freedom of movement (which means tightening access to in-work and out-of-work benefits for EU migrants) but don’t have their end there, spreading to other prominent aspects including:

– An opt-out from the historic EU ambition to forge an “ever closer union” of the peoples of Europe.

– Creating safeguards to ensure that changes in the single market cannot be imposed on non-eurozone members by the eurozone.

– Handing  greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation.

(The Guardian)

Given the growing consensus regarding staying in the EU (and a similar attitude demonstrated by several Conservative politicians), it seems to me clear that the referendum is a kind of testing ground for more or less significant reforms within the European Union.

Alexis Tsipras in Moscow 5
Alexis Tsipras in Moscow by Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The same goal, albeit in a relatively different way, is noticeable in the Greek situation. In case fears of “Grexit” become reality, very few believe that the birthplace of Western civilization will leave the European Union, considered that the output should ‘only’ concern the eurozone. Continuous pulling the wool over troika representatives’ eyes when it comes to necessary reforms, as well as Alexis Tsipras’s constant attempts to negotiate the best possible conditions with little efforts make Grexit more and more probable, in spite of denials arising by the newly formed government and EU politicians. Famous French economist Thomas Piketty averred that if Athens were to leave the currency union, that “would probably be the beginning of the end of the eurozone”. All in all, it may be a veritable prediction, but there’s a grain of truth in increasingly emerging reviews that British output from the EU would be an even bigger blow for Brussels, while a Greek exit from the eurozone could prove paradoxically beneficial to Athens and Brussels itself.

However, the aforementioned opinions still omit the essential issue of “where the main problem lays”. The looming Brexit referendum and prospects of Grexit are just an outcome and a cover surface of something which lies much deeper. This is, in my opinion, the lack of changes in the European Union, inflexible institutional system, excessive bureaucratization and a distrust of the citizens of the member states. Politically speaking, the latter have already showed to believe that their voices are little more than a buzz in the corridors of power in Brussels. The popular lack of faith in positive changes and disaffection toward the EU are reflected in recent British and, above all, Polish elections, where the vast amount of votes was gained by Eurosceptic parties. Brussels has now become a colossus on clay, or perhaps on paper legs, unable to react to changes taking place in Europe.

Adenauer De Gasperi Schuman
Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman
What’s more, the issues listed above may contribute to evoke the Pandora’s box effect, so that other member countries may essay to re-write their own accession treaties, contributing to making the result of these combined actions absolutely unpredictable. At this point, a rapid clampdown within the EU itself is the only scenario possibly able to fully prevent decomposition process, which, unfortunately, has already begun.