No progress was made at the last EU summit of the year. The British prime minister added to the discord by making his special requests. Joyful prospects are not in sight for 2016, writes DW’s Barbara Wesel.
“The crises we have will remain and new ones will come,” the EU Commission president has predicted for the coming year. Jean-Claude Juncker is a seasoned navigator of European policy. He does not need to prove anything to anyone.
It was the twelfth summit this year, and government leaders were not able to summon up much energy. In all likelihood, they urgently need a break from each other. It must be tiring and demoralizing to listen to the same arguments over and over again and realize that the entire system is barely moving.
EU systems are overwhelmed
As a result, all the resolutions read like a bad report card that Europeans have given themselves. “At least we were able to implement what we decided upon long ago” – no joking, that’s really what is written in black and white. If the European Union had just implemented the measures that have already been agreed for dealing with the refugee crisis, such as relocation, registration and border patrols, then the prospects for next year would be more upbeat. But the way things are, we have to rely on what Germany’s Chancellor Merkel calls the “exponential curve” of Europe’s capability to learn. When the going gets tough, Angela Merkel can always fall back on her past as a physicist.
Terrorist attacks, the disturbing rise of the terrorist organization “IS,” drama in Syria, wrangling over the Greek debt crisis, more than 1 million refugees in Europe, toxic relations with Russia: these are the problems that have shaped this year in the European Union. Many countries have responded to the excessive political strain by retreating to their own national backyards. Hungary is one of those countries, along with Poland and Denmark. There, leaders are closing their eyes tightly and hoping the global crises will pass them by while they wave their country’s flag. They desperately need to grow up.
However, these government leaders are actually impeding the systems that create consensus and lead to decisions in the European Union. The apparatus that has, to give it its due, overcome the euro crisis and other problems – albeit it very slowly and steadily – has now come to a virtual halt. The only solution seems to be to follow the example set by Angela Merkel and her allies in coping with the refugee crisis: establishing coalitions on specific issues and proceeding in smaller groups. For the EU as a whole lacks the abilities that are required: speed and flexibility. For example, the decision on a planned joint border patrol force cannot be taken before next summer – that’s right in the middle of peak refugee season!
Cameron’s referendum is explosive
As if the EU did not have enough real problems to deal with, now David Cameron has added to them with his self-inflicted commotion over the “Brexit” referendum in Great Britain. It is taking up unnecessary time and energy to devise a set of legal contortions that he can present at home as a victory over Europe. “We have to help him get off his horse,” a German politician sighed resignedly in Brussels. But there is no way around it, because the matter is explosive. If things go wrong, Cameron could end up not only isolating his country, but even breaking apart the United Kingdom, as Scotland wishes to remain in the EU. Sadly, it cannot be expected that London will be overcome by a sudden bout of reason any time soon.
Some of the challenges ahead next year are familiar: the existence of IS, the threat of new terrorist attacks, war and crisis in the Middle East and Putin with his czarist airs. And new, yet unknown problems will also arise. Government leaders will be required to mobilize the remnants of European solidarity to keep the whole place together. Unfortunately, things won’t get any easier. But maybe Chancellor Merkel’s faith in the learning curve is justified.