March 3, 2009

United In Disarray

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Storm clouds are gathered over Brussels: the economic and political crisis that grips the countries of the European Union is highlighting the weaknesses of the EU. Among those weaknesses, the inability of the organization to create common political policy is especially apparent. Though European leaders are hailing a “consensus” that they reached at their emergency summit, the economies of Europe, especially those of Central and Eastern Europe, are falling closer and closer to collapse.

Instead of acting as one Europe, national divisions remain strong. The strong economies of Europe look to circle the wagons, and begrudge any attempt to bring in their weaker neighbors. France is working to protect its car industry and workers in spite of the criticism that it is receiving from other EU members while Germany refuses special aid to Central and Eastern European members. While not necessarily pleasing for German voters, aid to these economics is especially important because though they are integrated into the European market and bound by the bloc’s restrictions, they do not use the Euro and have to contend with high exchange rates. Although all economies in Europe face deep challenges, those outside the Eurozone have this special difficulty. Hungary’s Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, said it best with “We should not allow that a new Iron Curtain should be set up and divide Europe.”

What is the future for Europe? Political unification was stalled with the failure of the European Constitutional Treaty, while the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty halted the attempt to repackage the Constitution in a less monolithic form. Though Europeans talk of unity and consensus, it seems that beyond words there is little. Today there is not one nation of Europeans, instead there are only French, Germans, Italians, and others, with each concerned for himself rather than for the good of the whole. It took the economic crisis to make the world understand these divisions for what they are, a threat to the very existence of a politically unified Europe.