European unity might still be doomed

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European unity might still be doomed

And even after her catastrophic election campaign, it also assumed that British Prime Minister Theresa May was going to secure a large majority in the UK election last week, giving her vision for a hard Brexit a boost. But that was then.

Everything has changed and nothing stays the same, to paraphrase the well-known French saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Suddenly, there is a spring in the European integrationist’s step. Politicians are openly talking about more EU integration — including a common minister of finance. Popular support for the European Union is rising. The words of the preamble of the Treaty of Rome of “an ever closer Union” no longer seem anachronistic.

So is the European train back on the federalist tracks? Not quite. While Emmanuel Macron’s success in France — and similar developments in Germany and the Netherlands — suggest a growing support for more EU, things are different in other parts of the alliance.

In fact, the growing support for more European integration appears geographically limited to the original six members of the European Economic Communities (Germany, France, Benelux and more ambiguously Italy).

Elsewhere in Europe, there is a bewildering array of trends on display.

Many have focused on the spectacular case of Brexit. To be sure, the British decision to leave the EU is historic. But there are other things happening in other parts of Europe that are equally remarkable.
One of the most extraordinary — and outright astonishing — of these is the fact that the governments in Hungary and Poland are embracing illiberal policies and flirting with authoritarian and nationalist ideals, which are, at best, at odds with the ideals of human rights and pluralist democracy that form the ethos of the Treaty of Rome in its various iterations.
Indeed, it is truly exceptional that some of the countries that only recently escaped the claws of communism seem willing to embrace Vladimir Putin, a man who stated that the “fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”
Yet, this is what is happening, especially in Hungary, where Prime Minister Victor Orbán has positively eulogized the Kremlin strongman.
Macron, the 39-year-old strongman Europe needs
Other European countries fall somewhere in between. To name but a few, the Irish follow the original six, while the Danes remain skeptical as regards the virtues of further integration. And Greece is a story unto itself, which is far from resolved.

So, with only week to go before the British begin their divorce proceedings, the EU Theresa May is facing across the negotiating table is far from united, let alone going in the same direction.

Much as the election of Macron and the success of La République en marche in the French parliamentary election suggest a new appetite for an “ever closer union,” the EU is as disunited as ever.

The many differing positions alongside the far from clear position of the British government makes outcome of the Brexit negotiations unpredictable — and the future of the European Union — very uncertain indeed.

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