The European Union (EU) has faced numerous crisis in the 21st century. Some of challenges can be assumed as an opportunity in the integration process of the EU, others can be a big threat to the its existence in the system. The motto “United in diversity”, which officially began to be used by the EU institutions in 2000, still seems to have been a wise choice that, honoring the classic adagio Pluribus Unum, makes a present commitment with a project for the future. Nevertheless, the EU has long been criticized for its lack of democratic legitimation and also European citizens are prone to become more diverse in the next decades in a multiple areas. There are some doubts on how the pluralism will have an effect on the future of the integrated European Union. The rise of nationalist populism has exacerbated the rise of Euro-skepticism in the Union. In the recent years, pessimism about the Western democracy has again risen. While democratic satisfaction is decreasing, populist challengers from the left and the right wing are increasing. Populists meet with a langer number of constraints that stabilize democratic structure in the state. Especially, rise of populist movements and anti-European sentiments fueling disintegration and growing the protests over many issues such as racism, economic disparity, political crisis, anti-global policies, and national uprising. The list of challengers faced by European democracy is a long one. The reason for the successive crises experienced in the history of EU integration is mainly of an economic nature rather than a political one.
Internal and External Challengers in the European Union
To start with, 2008 financial crisis caused widespread economic problems that led to political discontent over inequality and living standards of the European citizens. The economic crisis of 2008 showed that the economic growth of EU members is no longer completely dependent on the internal market, but is also based on the international market. In particular, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Portugal have become the leading countries experiencing recession in a global sense. During this period, when economic problems were developing at a higher level, the increasing influence of Islamic terrorism in the Western world made the concept of national interest more important and values such as nationalism, identity, awareness of nationhood increased their importance more. Besides that, the unfair distribution of capital that has emerged after globalization has also increased the migration mobility of the middle class. The main events that feed the far-right have been factors such as the economic recession and youth unemployment observed in the last decade, increasing violence and terrorist incidents, nationalism, and populism triggered by the wave of immigrants sweeping the world. What is more, the euro crisis of 2010-2012, the Ukraine crisis of 2014, the migrant crisis of 2015, and the Brexit crisis of 2016 experienced within the EU in the last ten years, it is seen that internal factors and political dynamics within the EU have played a differentiating role on the union.
2015 migration crisis as a result of Syrian civil war that exacerbated discontent among European citizens over issues. Economic anxieties and political unrest fueled both left and right-wing populist movements. Migration crisis has shaken EU deeply because people coming from conflicting zones such as Syria, Afghanistan or Africa are seeking asylum in Europe. 2015 migration crisis caused EU to make a good choice between its own citizens and other nations’ citizens. The crisis also had significant political impacts in Europe. The public showed anxiety towards the sudden influx of immigrants, often expressing concerns over a perceived danger to European values.
Globalization that accelerates technological changes as well as growth of social media, democratic participations rate has radically changed over the years. Especially, media or digital platforms boosted opportunities for citizens to reach the information easily and make an analysis of the multiple issues properly. The global economic recession, global terrorism, crises in global income distribution, civil wars, and migration mobility have played an important role in the far-right’s gaining power in the parties. In 2015, the EU also experienced several terrorist attacks, which left hundreds of people injured or dead. Multiple terrorist attacks in the European continent resulted in strengthening counter terrorism attack policies, making judicial reforms and taking preventive mechanisms in the system. Besides that, the most important source of xenophobia or anti-immigrant sentiment leads individuals to feel like foreigners in their own country. Moreover, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union in 2016 has weakened the European unity in the continent. ‘’Britain and exit’’ (Brexit) has also impacted the economy, trade as well as people on both sides of their lives. The concepts of the superiority of the white race, national values, anti-global approach, identity have started to become more important in global politics every day. Ironically, the leave campaign slogan ‘take back control’ reveals the key lesson for the European Union to learn.
Another big challenge for the EU is the Covid-19 crisis that caused a lot of restrictions on the freedom of movement, freedom of decision as well as postponement of electoral processes. In particular, with the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of being self-sufficient within the European Union has been demonstrated once again. In this process, the state-centered political understanding of the European Union countries has gained importance again, protectionist economic policies have been given more space, borders have become more defined and the importance of the concept of national sovereignty has been emphasized more than before. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has also given an advantage to the rise of far-right parties, has led to further exacerbation of uncertainties and further intensification of challenges in society.
In other words, the many diverse issues covers economic insecurity, cultural and social integration, European identity, youth issues, radicalization, technology, misinformation and fake news, and even how the EU defends and promotes its values in the international diplomatic arena. These challenges have been met with innovative responses to strengthen democracy all over the Europe. The failure to achieve social integration, the increasing questioning of the future of the Euro and EU institutions, and the concept of nationalism, which is increasing in high doses, are gaining more momentum every day in European countries. The increase in anti-European sentiment, the acceleration of differentiating values or discriminatory activities constitute a major obstacles to an integrated European community.
Right-wing radical groups defend national security issues by taking a nationalist approach and turn to populist discourses and turn to extremism in the face of possible threats. Right-wing parties, which come to the fore with separatist discourses within the international structure, are on the rise and trying to have a say in the power structure in the European continent. Far-right parties that increase their votes in the European Parliament lead to a decline in the idea of Europeanization, the inability of the EU to move to a new stage in constitutional discussions, and countries turning more towards their own internal politics. The rise of right wing populist parties in the European countries leading to breakdown of the united Europe. Currently, French protesters in the Paris streets has caused another big internal problem in the European continent. Nationalist groups across the bloc seized on the riots in French cities to score political points at home. Police violence and perceived discrimination along ethnic, racial and socio-economic lines have long angered minority communities in France.
There are some external necessities in the European Union that accelerated to take an independent policies in the international arena. The EU has to push forward its model to the European society and also protect their interests in the international system. There is a need to integrate in all the areas based on the cooperation in the EU external policy. To illustrate that, Donald Trump’s orientation towards a foreign policy that prioritizes national interests does not coincide with the traditional US foreign policy, and has also played a divisive role within the Western alliance structure. The power vacuum formed after the divisions experienced in the West wing and the increasing inward-looking practices, the rising powers have tried to replace it. The increasing practices of the Trump administration towards the ‘‘America First’’ discourse, the making of foreign policy decisions within the framework of cost-benefit analysis, and the prominence of discourses supporting realist theories have brought transatlantic relations to the breaking point. The importance given by the Donald Trump administration to cost-benefit policies, policies that put forward national interests and increasing demands on countries within the EU have led to a great damage to the existing structure, which has been built on values for many years. Transatlantic relationship had been affected harshly after the Trumps interest oriented foreign policies. US President Donald Trump’s early withdrawal from the G-7 Summit held in 2018, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, or support for the UK’s departure from the EU (Brexit) have led to damage to the sense of unity within the alliance.The developments have shown that the West is no longer acting on the axis of common values, but in a monolithic manner under the roof of common interests.
It is important to mention that Russian-Ukraine War that started in 2022 has established grounds for the further consolidation of the NATO alliance and revise their security strategies in the Union. While Ukraine crisis led countries to act together on the western flank against Russia, it also enabled the rebuilding of the long-standing trust in the transatlantic alliance. It is clear that while the transatlantic alliance community acting under a single roof against Russia, the loss of trust in the alliance with the Ukraine crisis was regained, the harmony within the union was restored. While the Russia-Ukraine War, which started in 2022 and is still ongoing, has led to further growth of problems in Europe, many successive problems. The migration mobility experienced after the Ukraine Crisis, the decline in the economy as a result of the increase in energy prices, as well as the increase in food prices, will contribute to the re-acceleration of the right-wing political trend in Europe.
On the one hand, the European self-identification of Ukrainians is apparent in the desire of the vast majority to overcome dependence on Russia through integration into the European political, legal, cultural, and economic system. Ukrainian crisis also caused important security problems in the Europe. For example, the Ukrainian authorities announced that they will not apply visas to those who want to come to Ukraine from foreign countries to fight, and they will send prisoners with combat experience from prison to the fronts. This issue leads to occurrence of other problems for the EU, which has opened its doors to Ukrainian citizens, as well as for Ukraine itself in the future. European members have faced huge migration problems after the mobilization of Ukraine citizens to European countries. This issue will have a spillover effects on economic, psychological, and social problems in the Europe. In addition to this, Western countries after showing their special interest to Ukraine have faced severe economic limitations or obstacles by Russia. For example, Russia has planned to reduce gas flows to Europe. As a result of this, energy shortages and high prices will have harmful effects on the Europe’s economy. European countries have also faced huge economic problems after excessive use of resources and harsh embargo policies applied by Russia. European Union will be more addictive to USA energy in its production of units and other areas of the economy in the future. As two major suppliers of energy, food, and commodities, Russia’s conflict with Ukraine has caused disruption in supply for both developing and developed countries. The conflict has become Europe’s worst security crisis since the end of the Second World War.
The acceleration of separatist policies in the European Union, the greater orientation of countries towards financial goals rather than social goals, the social depression caused by economic crises, the increasing powers of global powers over country politics, the increasing trend towards regionalization and authoritarianism, the increasing ethnic discrimination and racism activities have provided a great advantage to the rise of the far right. In the post-Cold War period, the regionalism and nationalism activities of the parties in the EU, which have increased in parallel directions, have allowed them to gain more advantages over internal and external dynamics The increase in anti-European sentiment, the acceleration of differentiating values or discriminatory activities constitute a major obstacle to an integrated European community. Increasing problems in the field of security as a result of globalization, the erosion of culture and norms have revealed the problematic of identity. The increasing problems of loneliness after modernization have played a driving role in the increase in crime rates and social violence. Although economic problems play an important role in the rise of far-right parties, the psychological and social dimension cannot be denied. Whenever the crises adversely affect stability and integrity across the EU, member states fail to cope with the outreaching consequences individually. It is high time when EU governments turn to collective action. The lessons learned will help implement best-case scenarios to cope with all the challenges. Union’s solidarity and cohesion are at the core of survival within the realms of the new normal. To cope with the ongoing and forthcoming crises, the EU should pursue a multi-stakeholder approach with a strategic emphasis on collaboration with business ventures. The main task of European Union is to defend and enrich the European values, liberal institutions and democratic systems. European democracy has been faced by many challenges over the years. The road ahead in a multiple problems will not be so easy to overcome but there is shine on a light towards better future for European society.
Dr. Seda Gözde TOKATLI
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