The question of Europe is one of definitions. Given the current challenges facing Europe from inside and out, it demands an answer now more than ever.
To the west, Britain has voted to leave the European Union in a referendum throwing both the country and the EU into question. The UK is facing a potential crisis of confidence in the international arena alongside the country losing its AAA credit rating and the pound remaining near a 3-year stoop. The Bank of England hopes that decreasing interest rates will stave off recession, but with companies already opting out of investing in Britain and housing prices expected to fall, the future is unclear. On the social side, the amount of hate crime has spiked since the result, pointing to clear divides in British society that likely played a part in the result. While Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has not yet been triggered, what lies ahead remains a mystery. One thing is certain: a lot of work must be done to build an independent and successful future for Britain.
To the east, Putin’s party roars through parliamentary elections, with presidential elections likely to follow suit. Moscow has been a thorn in the side of the European project since its inception and it shows no signs of slowing down. Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, relations with the EU have soured and the resurgence of realpolitik shadowed the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. Alongside recent findings outlining its connection to the downing of MH17 as well as increased military presence along Europe’s borders, European countries will find it hard to negotiate with the Kremlin. However, in view of Russia’s renewed military presence in Syria, it seems only cooperation and negotiation will end the conflict. The EU must tread carefully in managing a resurgent Russia, whose influence only appears to be growing.
Meanwhile, foreign policy issues lap the shores of the continent. Fears of IS continue to strike fear in the hearts of Europeans: citizens and lawmakers alike. The threat will likely increase border management and pose another threat for Europe. The EU must also face China’s rise in East Asia as well as in the South China Sea. Trade deals like TTIP are planned to counter the rising influence of the superpower, which are meanwhile met by fierce resistance here in the UK. A possible worsening of Palestinian-Israeli relations, destabilisation from US interest rate drops as well as persistent low oil prices will see pressure on Europe’s resolve further in the year to come.
On the continent, Europe faces radical problems from within. Tightening austerity paired with an influx of migrants from across the world and the spread of terrorism has led to the rise of the right. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s party suffered against dramatic gains by the anti-refugee Alternative für Deutschland in regional elections. Marine Le Pen’s party looks to further the trend, considered a certainty for the 2017 French elections. Norbert Hofer, leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, is in the running to become Europe’s first far-right leader since the Second World War, with an election re-do in process. These progress alongside the rise of similar parties across Greece, Hungary, Sweden and Poland, all espousing Eurosceptic views and calls for stronger border control. The rise of populist parties poses a threat to the structures and policies that uphold the EU, with Schengen stepping further into the past.
The challenges that face Europe threaten its very existence as we know it. All of this begs the original question: What is Europe?
In the European Affairs Policy Centre we will revisit this question, at once discussing and contributing to an answer through policy and public debate. If you are passionate about European Affairs, and want to be involved in these discussions, email me any time at email@example.com.
President, European Affairs Policy Centre