This September has been awash with commentary regarding the future of Europe. From Macron’s address on a future EU finance ministry, to President Juncker’s call for a new EU blueprint, Theresa May’s Florence speech and the upcoming German election result, it is clear that the tectonic plates are shifting. But in what direction and what does this all mean.
The EU’s political consensus is fracturing. The Brexit referendum has demonstrated that EU membership is not permanent and consequently that there are political consequences to constantly attacking the union. As a result, politicians who have previously attacked the EU in order to deflect unpopular decisions in their countries now face a choice: do they make a pro-federalist case for EU reform through integration or do they support a de-centralisation strategy. The choice is likely to be settled by two issues: the German election composition and Turkey.
Germany’s election is more complex than it seems. Current polling suggests that the CDU will win, but the question is whether they are able to govern with a “Jamaica coalition” of the FPD and Greens. A Jamaica coalition is desirable because of another party, the AfD. The AfD are on course to receive 11% – 12% of the popular vote and become the 3rd largest party in the Bundestag. If the CDU and SPD were to form another grand coalition, then the AfD would become the official opposition to the German government. A great podcast covering this is available here. If Germany does assemble another grand coalition, it is expected to be much more open to renewed EU federalism. However, if the FDP enters government then the dream of an EU finance ministry will be dead in the water.
Assuming a pro-reform minded Germany, the only barrier to further EU reforms would be Turkey. The migration crisis in 2015 was not resolved, but Merkel’s bilateral arrangement with Turkey has been a very effective stop-gap measure. Following a heated war of words between both nations in the last two years, the status of the refugee arrangement may be under review. According to the UN there are 3.1mn Syrian refugees alone in Turkey, though the official number may be higher. Were Turkey to renege on the deal, Greece would certainly see a significant uptake in new arrivals, as would most of south east Europe. Given the current hostilities and tension towards migration in the union, the risk that shengen may collapse in parts is very feasible. Such an action would again set back momentum towards a unified Europe.
The resurgence of pro-EU sentiment following Brexit, suggests that the political stalemate on further integration may finally be broken and that meaningful treaty reform is feasible. But this requires the German domino to fall into place and the migration pact to hold. As Guy Verhofstadt’s most recent book title suggests, this may be “Europe’s last chance” to successfully push through irrevocable integration among EU members.