As 2016 gets underway, U.S. writers and commentators have been looking into their crystal balls, predicting that this will be year the European Union will buckle under surmounting problems.
“Terrorism, Migrants, and Crippling Debt: Is This the End of Europe?” blasts Vanity Fair. The Washington Post hones in on Europe’s crises in 2015 and speculates 2016 will be the year it unravels. Break-up of the European Union is on the table, predicts Fortune.
The thinking behind the headlines is clear: a one-two punch of economic calamities and an unprecedented refugee crisis will bring Europe to its knees. And instead of working together to solve the problems, European nations will become increasingly nationalistic, turning their backs on decades of ever closer EU cooperation and integration.
My response? I am reminded of Danish scientist Niels Bohr who said that prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. This time last year, the same pundits predicted 2015 would be the year the European economy would tank. That Greece would fall out of the Euro creating a domino effect. But twelve months later, boosted by significant reforms put in place by the combined efforts of the countries of the European Union following the financial crisis, low energy prices, and a weakened Euro, 2015 was the year of solid European recovery.
Based on the success of this track record, we have good reason to question the analysis of those declaring the European project will go the way of the dodo in 2016. That is not to gloss over the challenges we face. Several EU countries still confront high levels of debt and unemployment, while they struggle to provide a safe haven to an unprecedented influx of migrants and refugees — more than one million in 2015. We see Europe’s nations tackle these challenges differently, some choosing to reinstate border checks and controls temporarily.
But to suggest that this will break the European Union apart fundamentally misses the point of why the EU exists in the first place. The foundation of our Union was built out of crisis, the death and destruction of World War II and the fear of a potential third World War. Our solution: have former sworn enemies work together, opening up their borders to each other, allowing the free movement of goods and people for the benefit of all.
It has worked. It is working. As the Nobel Peace Prize Committee acknowledged in 2012, the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” And over that time, we prospered as we created a single European Union market, a common currency, and became the largest economy in the world. We may once have been the continent millions of people would flee from; today, the reverse is true, unfortunately often with tragic consequences.
The role of the EU as a collective crisis manager demonstrates our tremendous resilience over the years. From shepherding in fledgling democracies once the purview of former dictatorships, to unifying Europe at the end of the Cold War or bringing peace to the Balkans, our greatest strength has always been facing any crisis and finding a way through it. In recent years, we have seen this collective power of the EU being used successfully on the world stage to sanction Russia and Iran, fight pirates off the coast of Somalia, and secure an ambitious climate change deal in Paris. Our 28 European Member States working closely together made that happen — without such cooperation and interdependence, we would have failed. A globalizing world with global problems has made the EU as relevant as ever. If the EU didn’t exist we would urgently need to invent it.
So, despite my reluctance to predict the future, I think it is safe to say that when we look back over 2016, it will be a far better year for Europe and the EU than the soothsayers will have you believe. Our problems will not sink the EU, rather, they will reinforce the EU as we Europeans come together once more to find solutions from a place of strength and solidarity.
Compliments of H.E. David O’Sullivan, the European Union Ambassador to the United States.