Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

From 2018 to 2019, a tormented, crucial year. Three shocks, three challenges

(B2) The year 2019 opens after a year 2018 which is not as dark as one might think. Certainly Europe is far from being perfect or the wonderful world, it still represents an island of stability in an increasingly brutal world.

(credit: MOD Spain - Milex 2018)

The coming year is the year of all dangers for Europe: Brexit, the unknown European elections, the renewal of European institutions. The two countries that will succeed each other at the head of the Union - Romania then Finland - will have a lot to do...

A crucial year

First shock: the 'historic' departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

It is an upheaval that goes well beyond a problem of customs agreements. It will weaken the role that London has always played of being the bridge between the American world and the European world, it will weaken the European Union, which is losing a major member country and creating a competitor in the defense of a certain democratic model and values. Above all, it lays bare Europe in the face of its internal contradictions. We will no longer be able to appoint a very convenient scapegoat tomorrow, which the United Kingdom played wonderfully. Everyone will be faced with their contradictions: those who are reluctant to put their hands in their pockets and those who are reluctant to give up sovereignty...

Second shock: the European elections: To be or not to be

Brexit puts the finger on several issues that will be at the heart of the European elections. Should we be inside or outside — a "to be or not to be"situated modern - or rather do we need more integration or more sovereignty? It is around this fundamental question that the European elections could focus.

Because of (or thanks to) a Eurosceptic thrust, which is not confined to the extremes, the upcoming European campaign will be focused, beyond the traditional national vote of endorsement by the power in place, on European issues: should Europe be tomorrow? What position to adopt vis-à-vis migration, globalization, sharing of the economy? Finally some good questions...

There is no longer a consensus on European integration, or at least this consensus can no longer be managed away from the peoples. Europeans who complain about the rise of populism should, on the contrary, rejoice. We debate, we ask questions, we must have explanations and answers.

Third shock: institutional renewal

The third challenge of the year is the renewal of European institutions. It's a fairly complex mechanism that gets under way. The defenders of a Political Commission risk finding themselves caught in their own trap. When it comes to being bipartisan, with a balance of power between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, liberal leanings, it was relatively easy, because there was a community of views beyond political affiliations. With government and parliament positions much more clear-cut, the idea of ​​a more neutral, more executive Commission could resurface.

The three challenges facing Europe

If Europe is weak, it is primarily through the governments that make it up. The European Union today suffers from a weakness — that of the states that make it up. The institutions themselves are holding up pretty well. But they should learn to take 'peoples' into account. As for the relationship with Washington, the distant godfather, it is now becoming problematic. Which is also a challenge for the European Union.

The weakness of states

We can see that the governments of the main European countries have bitten the dust. Italy has seen the arrival of a new coalition in power made up of the atypical '5 stars' and the nationalist right of the Northern League. The popular party had to leave power in Spain, giving way to a minority socialist government. In Germany, Chancellor Merkel, plagued by several electoral defeats in the Länder, had to give up the presidency of the CSU. In France, President Macron's optimistic flight has collapsed under the weight of reality and an unsuspected arrogance. In the UK, Theresa May's government is stuck on Brexit. In other countries, the governments in power are also in fragile positions. Instability does not only concern large countries. In Belgium, the coalition made up of Flemish nationalists and liberals fell apart over the issue of immigration, giving way to an interim government condemned to current affairs, the time of the May elections. Sweden remains without a stable government since the September 2018 elections.

The challenge of divorce with Washington

The major element of this year remains the divorce between Europeans and Americans. Whether on the status of Jerusalem, the Iranian nuclear agreement or the role of the Atlantic Alliance vis-à-vis Russia, there is now a good thick sheet of paper between Washington and Brussels. We are no longer in a commercial dispute, due to competing companies or differences in customs duties. There is now a strategic dispute, both on the march of the world but also on European unity. This has been challenged in a not insignificant way by US President Donald Trump. If the notion of strategic autonomy is not defined in the same way in all European capitals, the shared feeling is that the American ally is no longer 100% reliable as in the past.

A certain plastic resistance of the European system

Despite all the backlashes, the European system has remained in place and solid. On Brexit, the '27' remained united, despite all attempts by London to divide them. And finally, it was British British unity that shattered against the benevolent solidity of the Europeans. In the same way, the system of sanctions on Russia remained intact, and renewed regularly, even if several capitals expressed doubts.

The Euro has probably not achieved its desired objectives, especially in international matters, but the single currency is no longer as internally criticized as in the early 2010s and remains a leading international currency. Which is not negligible.

This plastic resistance of the European system is undoubtedly due to the fact that it is not a device, hard, rigid, established, but that it adapts, like the plasticine of children, and ultimately resists all attempts to cut . The European institutions based on a five-year legislature and a grand coalition have maintained a certain stability in an about-turn by several European governments.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).