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European Union facing a litmus test: national leaders bear the burden of choice

Heads of Government and State of EU Member Countries are due to convene for next week’s European Council with a busy agenda that includes the major challenges faced by European political life, ranging from migration to economy, from security to Brexit. The meeting will offer yet another opportunity to relaunch integration. The risk is the collapse of the “European common home”, that would pave the way to national egoisms, weakening Europe on the global scenario

The European Union is constantly facing a “critical moment”, a “turning point”, a “dangerous intersection”, a “decisive crossroads”, ready to make a “leap forward” or a “leap backward” according to the various expressions used by different interlocutors. This reflects – for the good and for the bad – the very nature of Community integration, understood, since its origins in the post-war years, as a “construction site”, a work in progress. An unfinished flow in a permanent state of dialogue-and-tension with the course of history, with deep-rooted, never-ending transformations in the Old Continent and vis a vis ongoing changes occurring at global level.

A “suspended” continent. Alas, even in the present stage of EU history there are some indications – or so they may be defined – that Europe could be headed towards a point of no return. Pressed by nationalisms, populisms, migrations, negative consequences of the economic crisis, terrorist threats, geopolitical instability (which in some cases bears the name of Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Assad…) and much more, the EU is suspended between a renewed capacity to close ranks in order to move forward, facing difficult challenges, and rationally deciding to leave room for national egoisms, that would cause the collapse of the “common European home” ,  thereby bidding a final farewell to 70 years of arduous achievements in the areas of peace, democracy and wellbeing, with unpredictable outcomes.

Urgent issues. This can be easily discerned from the programme of the upcoming European Council, the meeting of the 28 Heads of State and Government to be held in Brussels on 28 and 29 June. In fact the official agenda refers to “a meeting to discuss urgent issues” that include migration; security and defence; employment, growth and competitiveness; innovation and digital Europe; Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF); external relations. EU leaders will also “review the state of play of Brexit negotiations” (without the presence of UK PM Theresa May) and discuss Eurozone (during the Euro Summit, i,e. 19 States adopting the common currency).

Migrations, a litmus test. The proclivity – or lack of proclivity – to draft a final common answer to migratory phenomena will act as a yardstick to determine whether the EU28 intends to relaunch the EU process or shelve its historical course. And this is not because the arrival of asylum-seekers is the main “problem” faced by Europe today, but because migrant reception capacity – whether or not motivated by solidarity – is a challenge enabling us to gauge the extent to which EU member Countries intend to proceed in unison. Until now, national governments were the ones causing a slowdown in the definition of a common migration policy. Will EU leaders attending next week’s summit manage to make a leap forward and recover the deepest meaning of “walking together”, for their mutual benefit?

Economy: state of play. The long-standing recession is behind us, experts said. In fact some Countries are proceeding with the wind in their sails. But at a closer glance some national economies are lagging behind, others register GDP growth but are confronted with disastrous levels of unemployment (with over a third of youths with no prospect of job placement or income), certain Countries are heavily exposed to sovereign debt (it is the case of Italy, for example). Hence Eurozone governance must be reformed, as is widely agreed, by adopting financial and monetary safety nets for the common currency to avoid future economic crises. Countless proposals have been developed in this respect, that include the completion of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the Banking Union; this should be followed by veritable fiscal harmonization, anti-dumping rules, new measures for the single market … But it is not enough draw up a “to-do” list. It’s time to make decisions.

Other urgent issues. Each EU policy chapter deserves a separate discussion, such as security (terrorism, African and Middle Eastern instability, Isis and Boko Haram, Russia, Turkey …), the positive European aspirations of the Balkans, Brexit, climate change, energy, the digital environment, the ” social pillar”, just to name a few. Moreover, it is evident that political sectors are not those requiring “more Europe”, namely, common responses for the benefit of all those involved. In fact the European scenario as a whole is calling for the recovery of the spirit of the founding fathers. This “spirit” today appears to be thriving only in Parliament and Commission – albeit without great enthusiasm – while EU Council, representing national Governments, is “missing in action.”

Wise words. ECSC and EEC founding project, reconfirmed in the current EU Treaties, has been reaffirmed and rightly updated over and over again in the course of Community history, the last one dating back to the Rome Declaration of 25 March 2017: “Together, we are determined – Member States representatives declared – to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world and to offer to our citizens both security and new opportunities. We will make the European Union stronger and more resilient, through even greater unity and solidarity amongst us and the respect of common rules.” Will EU leaders remember these wise words during next week’s summit? Facts will speak for themselves: opportunities for a fresh start together are less than previously imagined.

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