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The unravelling of ever closer Union?
A year ago, the EU was on a rocky path: in the midst of the Greek crisis, where it was accused of enforcing aggressive austerity measures, the cracks were starting to appear as euroscepticism became ever more prominent.
Now, the Union is skidding off towards the edge of a cliff: its second largest economy has left, member states have been pulled apart by the refugee crisis and even those who champion its principle of European cooperation - under pressure from domestic politics - are calling for reform. The push of the early 21st century, of bringing an increasing number of nations together, is being reversed.
To salvage the Union, many European leaders and former leaders agree that the project needs to be scaled back. Two men hoping to become France’s next President, Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé, both acknowledge that people are tired of a faceless Brussels elite and have suggested measures to dilute the EU’s influence in national affairs.
The EU seems to have responded to the criticism, as it recently succumbed to the protests of some member states with regards to its free trade agreement with Canada.
The pact between the EU and Canada has taken seven years to reach, but after a deal was finally struck between negotiators on both sides the agreement will have to undergo further scrutiny as the national governments of each of the EU’s 27 member states will now have to ratify it.
Canadians will be more than frustrated to learn that that is unlikely to materialise. The free trade agreement is considered by some in the EU as the antecedent to the notorious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, another free trade deal, between the EU and the United States.
TTIP is controversial for a number of reasons: firstly, the deal is being negotiated behind closed doors, and the EU has been accused of a lack of transparency. Secondly, by harmonising the EU’s standards to those of the US, the deal would lower food and safety standards for European consumers and therefore enable American companies to enter EU markets.
Finally, perhaps most controversial of all is that TTIP would enable American companies to sue European governments were they to implement profit-damaging policies, through an international jurisdiction named ISDS (although it has been reformed as ICS in TTIP’s case).
The proposed free trade agreement has sparked fierce opposition in many EU countries - most notably in Germany, where up to 250,000 voters took to the streets to protest in October of 2015 - and is seen as one of many issues today jeopardising the Union’s integrity.
The EU’s approach is coherent with what pro-reformists are calling for. During a Republican party event in London last week, Nicolas Sarkozy - among other proposals - suggested that legislation passed by the European Parliament should also have to be ratified by national governments before becoming law in those member states.
Although Mr Sarkozy would have to be elected President before kicking off any reforms, his concerns and solutions over the European Union are shared by a number of other European politicians.
The EU’s decision with regards to its free trade deal with Canada should be interpreted as an attempt both to appease those who worry about the Union’s future in its current form and to dispel the myths of the inevitability of a European super-state described by those trying to undermine the European project.
The EU’s decision is also a statement that the bureaucrats at the helm of the Union - often at the centre of much of the populist tongue-bashing - are well aware of the problems that might trip up the bloc’s prosperity. Some will consider this as the beginning of the unravelling of “ever closer Union”, but perhaps the EU can now only survive if it is scaled back.