The year 2018 is nearly over, soon everyone will be bustling around the house, getting everything ready for Christmas. Okay, not everyone. It is just how I recall this time of the year as I was growing up in Central Europe, where Christian tradition is a lot more pronounced, especially over Christmas. Attention! Do not be fooled by this seemingly unrelated introduction. I have mentioned Central Europe and its traditions deliberately as it may play a decisive role in the future of the European Union as we know it.
This decade has been somewhat rough for The European Union, which seems to be in a very deep crisis. Euro, immigration, economic decline, the sovereignty of member states- these are only a few issues the EU has been dealing with lately. People’s disapproval for recent policies reflects the rising popularity of eurosceptic parties in member states like Romania, Austria, Hungary, Poland or Italy. (Szczerbiak, Taggart 2018). Obviously, the most evident example of rising Euroscepticism is Brexit. It has been a bone of contention for most political commentators, who see it either as a one-off case because the UK has been bestowed with a unique geopolitical location, or it may initiate a further erosion of the EU. Judging from recent tensions between Brussels and Poland or Hungary, the crisis can advance quicker than we think.
The reason behind the conflict between Brussels and countries of central Europe is quite simple: differences in moral values and traditions( Witte, Birnbaum, 2016). The common error made by the European political establishment is that they look at the countries of the former Eastern block through the ‘western lenses’. In other words, the values and mechanisms that apply to fully fledged democracies of the West are being imposed onto fundamentally different societies of the former Eastern block ( Jan Kubik, 2017). Let’s have a look at the situation in Poland or Hungary. Those two countries have been oddly reluctant to accept the supremacy of the EU law over domestic legislation. Surprisingly, this rebellious attitude has resulted in increasing support of the society. Historically speaking national sovereignty is perceived differently in Poland and any restrictions on this matter will fuel fierce protest from the Polish People. What is more, Poland still remains one of the top pro-EU countries (The Guardian, 2016). I am not saying that Poland should have privileges, but certain claims made by the EU officials that Poland owes something to Europe (Poland first stood up against Nazi-Germany, lost sovereignty and millions of citizens) are simply not the best examples of statecraft and will cause nothing but rage (Khan, 2018). It is difficult to foresee if those issues will be resolved as the situation is dynamic. Nevertheless, is there a real alternative within Europe?
The countries of former Eastern block, despite minor differences, have always had a similar mindset, interests, and values. In the 1990s Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary formed an alliance aimed at fostering cooperation and stability in Central Europe called Visegrad Group. The project was not intended to compete with the EU on any level, rather support it (http://www.visegradgroup.eu/about). Secondly, the Three Seas Initiative which was established in 2016 in order to facilitate trade with the U.S, improve infrastructure and education in countries of the Baltic, Adriatic and Black sea ( Reuters, 2017). It is worth noting, that in case of profound differences between the ‘old member states’ of the EU and countries of central Europe, the Visegrad Group combined with Three Seas Initiative can make up a solid foundation for the alternative organization in the East of Europe. This might look like a deeply pessimistic picture as a further unraveling of the EU would entail massive changes within the continent. Nonetheless, since the U.S is feeling threatened by the perspective of establishing the EU army, it would be reasonable to assume their support for this project (Hershenhorn, 2018).
Kubik ,J (2017) Brexit can wait. Europe’s pressing worry is its fracturing eastern democracies The Guardian, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/12/europe-fragile-democracies-real-danger-of-populist-politics
The Guardian (2016) Is Britain the most Eurosceptic country? available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2016/jun/23/is-britain-most-eurosceptic-country
Mehreen Khan JANUARY 22, 2018 Brussels faces clash with Poland over budget link to rule of law, Financial Times available at: https://www.ft.com/content/223b1e26-fead-11e7-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5
(2017) Three Seas Initiative summit in Warsaw, Reuters available at: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-poland-usa-trump-factbox/factbox-three-seas-initiative-summit-in-
Merkel joins Macron in calling for EU army to complement NATO (2018), Politico available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/angela-merkel-emmanuel-macron-eu-army-to-complement-nato/warsaw-idUKKBN19P0U1
Visegrad Group available at: http://www.visegradgroup.eu/about
Szczerbiak, A. Taggardt,P. (2018) Putting Brexit into perspective: the effect of the Eurozone and migration crises and Brexit on Euroscepticism in European states Journal of European Public Policy, Volume 25, Issue 8, The Politics and Economics of Brexit, pages 1194-1214 available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13501763.2018.1467955