In the words of Jeffrey T. Checkel and Peter J. Katzenstein in the preamble of their beautiful compilation "European Identity," "The ship of European identity has entered uncharted waters. Its sails are flapping in a stiff breeze.
Beyond the harbor, whitecaps are signalling stormy weather ahead. The crew is fully assembled, but some members are grumbling — loudly. While food and drink are plentiful, maps and binoculars are missing. Officers are vying for rank and position as no captain is in sight.
Sensing a lack of direction and brooding bad weather, some passengers are resting in the fading sun on easy chairs thinking of past accomplishments; others are huddling in an openly defiant mood close to the lifeboats, anticipating bad times ahead. With the journey's destination unknown, the trip ahead seems excruciatingly difficult to some, positively dangerous to others.
Anxiety and uncertainty, not hope and self-confidence, define the moment." Seldom has an allegory been so to the point and acute. There is turmoil at the helm of the EU vessel, this is evident.
There is also increasing populism and rising fascism in many places and countries within and outside the EU. This is a fact, too.
A third fact is that the EU has never been "loved" by the public, it has always been seen as an "élite" project prepared by the European bureaucrats in Brussels behind closed doors and imposed upon uninformed masses.
The combination of these three factors, the hesitations, the absence of the visibility of the EU leadership, the rise of populism and the "unloved" nature of the EU has created the impression that these are the "last days of Pompeii" for the European integration.
It would be presumptuous to herald the end of Europe so soon, but in the absence of European leaders, the role of giving hope to the masses has been vested on Jean-Claude Juncker, the very European president of the Commission. He came up with a "White Paper" in the purest tradition of EU functioning, discerning five paths to follow for the Member States:
i. Carrying on with the current agenda,
ii. Focusing just on the single market,
iii. Allowing some countries to move faster than others toward integration,
iv. Narrowing down the agenda,
v. Pushing ambitiously for a uniform and more complete integration.
The first path will lead nowhere but to new crises. The present situation of the political dialogue within the EU is just a sorry sight. Everyone is accusing the others of not having complied with the agenda and the acquis communautaire. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the Eurogroup and the president of the Board of Governors of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) since 2013, has recently totally gone off course by making a bad joke about the southern member states of the EU.
"I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and plead for your support afterwards. This principle applies on the personal, local, national and also European level," he declared to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in reference to southern European countries involved in the Eurozone debt crisis. This has created a very vehement outcry, with Portuguese Premier António Costa and Italy's former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asking for his resignation. Sticking to the present agenda should not be seen as a sustainable option.
Focusing on the single market is fine, but the problem is not the functioning of the single market, it's the limitations in other dimensions that do not allow the single market to turn into a much wider space of co-operation and harmonization.
Allowing some countries to move faster than others is called differentiated integration and is perfectly implementable under the current legislative framework of the EU. However, it needs at least eight countries and a well-defined field of deepening. The number of leading countries taking the lead for such differentiated integration will only deepen the dispute among member states.
Narrowing down the agenda could have been a good idea, if such negotiations took place before the Greek tragedy and the rise of extreme-right policies, both in Poland and Hungary. Narrowing down the agenda today is basically equivalent to shout "Everyone for themselves and God save us all."
Pushing for more integration is unavoidable, but where to start? Dani Rodrik recently wrote an interesting paper for the World Economic Forum, where he states that: "Europe could have allowed a common social model to develop alongside economic integration. This would have required integrating not only markets but also social policies, labour-market institutions and fiscal arrangements. The diversity of social models across Europe, and the difficulty of reaching agreement on common rules, would have acted as a natural brake on the pace and scope of integration."
In a nutshell, as long as the political integration lags behind, there will be no real solution to the acute problems. That is the heart of the matter. How many member states in the EU are willing to establish a real political cooperation instead of playing petty games to "enhance" their respective national influences? And if an "à la carte membership" can be made available, would this suffice to give the necessary boost to the EU?
Regarding the countries at the periphery of the EU, which have totally integrated to the single market but remain non-members, what can be expected from the recent developments and Brexit? I have already tried to answer this question through an answer sent to Norwegian Aftonbladet: "It is erroneous to put all the non-member countries in the same basket. Norway and Switzerland were able to become members of the EU in a very non-disruptive way. This is definitely not the case for Turkey. So a "multi-speed" Europe has to be structured perhaps differently for each non-member state. What will definitely be necessary for all integrated non-member states is a functioning, serious cooperation for the decision-making within the EU. This is, for the time being, a very distant possibility unfortunately."
As a consequence, Turkey should not be at ease because of the internal problems of the EU, as it will have dire consequences on our economy and political perspectives as well.