Each passing day for Europe feels like a bad dream, and the people need to wake up before it is too late. If they don’t, the European Union will go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991. Neither our leaders nor ordinary citizens seem to understand that we are experiencing a revolutionary moment, that the range of possibilities is very broad, and that the eventual outcome is thus highly uncertain.
The next breaking point could be the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019. Unfortunately, anti-European forces will enjoy a competitive advantage in the balloting. There are several reasons for this, including the outdated party system that prevails in most European countries, the practical impossibility of treaty change, and the lack of legal tools for disciplining member states that violate the principles on which the European Union was founded. The antiquated party system hampers those who want to preserve the values on which the EU was founded, but helps those who want to replace those values with something radically different.
The public is also becoming aware of the dire consequences of Brexit. The fact that May’s deal was rejected on 14 February has set in motion a groundswell of support for a referendum or for revoking Britain’s Article 50 notification. In the meantime, Italy finds itself in a similar predicament. The EU made a fatal mistake in 2017 by strictly enforcing the Dublin Agreement, which unfairly burdens countries like Italy where migrants first enter the EU. This drove Italy’s predominantly pro-European and pro-immigration electorate into the arms of the anti-European League party and Five Star Movement in 2018. The previously dominant Democratic Party is in disarray. As a result, the significant portion of the electorate that remains pro-European has no party to vote for.
When it comes to trans-European alliances, the situation is even worse. National parties at least have some roots in the past, but the trans-European alliances are entirely dictated by party leaders’ self-interest. The European People’s Party (EPP) is the worst offender. The EPP is almost entirely devoid of principles, as demonstrated by its willingness to permit the continued membership of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in order to preserve its majority and control the allocation of top jobs in the EU. Anti-European forces may look good in comparison: at least they have some principles, even if they are odious.
It is difficult to see how the pro-European parties can emerge victorious from the election in May unless they put Europe’s interests ahead of their own. One can still make a case for preserving the EU in order radically to reinvent it. But that would require a change of heart in the EU. The current leadership is reminiscent of when the Soviet Union collapsed, which could lead Europe’s bad dream into becoming the nightmare of the twenty-first century.
‘Europe, Please Wake Up’ – Commentary by George Soros – Project Syndicate.