When looking at the European Union (EU), it’s hard not to draw parallels to an empire. Consisting of 27 member states post-Brexit, the EU spans across a significant portion of the continent, with a common legislative, economic, and political framework tying these diverse nations together. Yet, recent developments, both within and outside the EU, have sparked concerns about the bloc’s future and influence, as illustrated by Con Coughlin in The Telegraph.
The re-election of President Erdogan, notwithstanding Brussels’ objections, reflects a weakening geopolitical influence of the EU. As the bloc grapples with a constellation of internal and external challenges, it stands at a pivotal juncture, facing existential questions and their far-reaching implications for the region and beyond.
A key internal factor contributing to the perceived “crumbling” is the rising tide of nationalism and Euroscepticism within member states. Brexit marked a historic turning point, setting a precedent for member states’ departure from the union. The internal dynamics of the EU have since shown signs of strain, with the ‘ever closer union’ vision appearing increasingly contentious.
Nationalist and populist movements are gaining ground in countries like Poland and Hungary, threatening the EU’s foundational principles and shared values.
This growing discord is symptomatic of a broader struggle between the ideals of national sovereignty and a collective European identity, marking a possible departure from the EU’s original mission of fostering peace, stability, and cooperation in the post-Second World War era.
Further, the EU’s handling of economic crises and global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic has been met with criticism. Economic disparities among member states and perceived institutional dysfunction have fostered discontent and further inflamed Euroscepticism.
Meanwhile, the external geopolitical landscape is rapidly evolving, adding more pressure to the EU’s strained fabric. The resurgence of China, Russia’s unpredictability, and the United States’ shifting priorities have fundamentally altered the global power dynamics, challenging the EU’s consensus-driven decision-making model.
President Erdogan’s re-election in Turkey signifies this shift in geopolitical influence. The fact that the election proceeded despite the EU’s reservations underscores Brussels’ dwindling geopolitical clout. This instance, among others, points to the EU’s limited leverage, underlining the difficulty in promoting its norms and values beyond its borders.
However, the potential “crumbling” of the EU’s metaphorical empire is not merely an internal problem; it will have profound regional and global implications. Within the region, the EU’s ability to inspire and influence reforms in neighboring countries could diminish.
The Western Balkans, for instance, have looked to EU membership as a path towards political and economic stability. However, the enlargement process has been slow, burdened by domestic resistance and internal divisions within the EU.
A weakened EU might further slow this process, prolonging uncertainty in a region already beset by economic and political difficulties.
Beyond the immediate region, the weakening of the EU could potentially destabilize the broader geopolitical equilibrium. The EU has traditionally been a significant actor in international diplomacy, contributing to global governance, peacekeeping, and development aid. A less influential EU may alter the balance in global forums like the United Nations and other international negotiations, including climate change, international trade, and human rights.
Finally, it’s crucial to consider the economic impacts. The EU represents one of the world’s largest single markets and economic blocs. Any significant disruptions within the EU could send shockwaves across global markets, affecting international trade, investments, and financial stability.
Nevertheless, a note of caution is warranted in interpreting these developments. While the EU faces considerable challenges, it has demonstrated resilience in the past and has the potential to reform and adapt.
Indeed, the assertion that the “EU Empire is crumbling” might be a reflection of specific perspectives. As pointed out by an article on Modern Diplomacy, the British press, following the Brexit, has shown a propensity to emphasize the EU’s difficulties, as illustrated in the aforementioned Telegraph comment. Therefore, the narrative of a “crumbling EU Empire” should be taken in context and not viewed as an inevitable outcome.
The EU is undoubtedly confronting significant trials that could potentially impact its future trajectory and its regional and global influence. However, how it navigates these challenges and adapts to evolving circumstances will ultimately determine the lasting impact on the region and the world at large. Rather than focusing on the narrative of a ‘crumbling empire,’ it is more constructive to look at how the EU can reform and evolve to address its current challenges and continue playing a significant role in the global arena.
Researcher at the University of Pisa, Italy.