The Pathos of Politics – The European Union

The European Union

The means would be economics, but the goal was always political. ~ French political economist and diplomat Jean Monnet

Throughout its history, European tribes had repeatedly been united by a variety of forceful empires: the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Frankish Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, 1st French Empire, and Nazi Germany. War and wanting unanimity had long been the yin-yang of European politics.

Where the 1st World War had a politicising, radicalising effect, its successor produced the opposite outcome: a deep longing for normality. ~ French political scientist Raymond Aron

The desolation from the 2nd World War showed how profoundly national governments had failed. The war left Europe divided between a Soviet-dominated eastern bloc and western nations which were largely democratic.

There were fears over what direction Germany would take. Western European leaders hoped to bind Germany to pan-European institutions, and so preclude the possibility of future wars, as well as resist expansion of the communist east.

An exhausted western Europe wasn’t just after peace. There was the need to rebuild. The prospect of sharing resources was appealing.

On 5 May 1949, 10 western European countries founded the Council of Europe: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Other nations joined later. The council’s mission was fostering cooperation on legal, cultural, and social issues.

France had been reliant on German coal since the 1890s. By the 1930s France had become the world’s greatest coal importer. (France’s historic reliance on Germany for its coal explains why the country so eagerly embraced nuclear power in the 1950s.)

In 1945, in a repeat of the rapacious grasping for reparations following the 1st World War, French provisional government leader Charles de Gaulle sought to turn West Germany into an agrarian state by taking possession of its coal fields in the Ruhr and Rhineland. This appropriation was vetoed by the Americans and British for fear that a suppressed West Germany would either rebel or fall under the sway of the Soviets.

The fickle de Gaulle then flirted with the idea of a French alliance with the Soviets. Stalin wasn’t interested. So it was that on 9 May 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed a community for steel-making, so as to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.”

The 1951 Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community, bringing together France, West Germany, Italy, and the 3 Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) into the first modern economically functional supranational organization. The negotiations had been so dissonant that the sheet of paper which the ministers actually signed was blank. Those involved wanted to give up as little as possible.

There was also the tenor of the times. Grand schemes to shape society were tainted by Bolshevism and Nazism. During the 2nd World War, Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect, had drawn up plans for a pan-European political order. Pierre Pucheu, senior administer in Vichy France who was executed for his efforts, had called for a single currency.

The keen feeling of national identity must be considered a real barrier to European integration. ~ Norwegian diplomat Halvard Lange in 1950

Sovereign states were still imbued with nationalism. In 1950 came a proposal to create a European army rather than allow German rearmament under NATO, which had been created a year earlier. The idea made progress during the Korean War (1950–1953), which was seen as a sign of menacing Soviet aggression. The initiative faltered as the 6 European governments could not agree on how a unified army would be run.

French Gaullists especially hated the loss of sovereignty. Despite America’s threat of an “agonizing reappraisal” of relations, the French parliament rejected a European defense community in August 1954. The victors celebrated with a rousing chorus of the French national anthem.

As the 1950s wore on, the Cold War, domestic unrest, and the division between eastern and western Europe impelled further efforts at unification. On 25 March 1957, the Treaty of Rome led to the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC). Signed by the same countries as the earlier Treaty of Paris, the EEC aimed at economic integration: a United States of Europe. The EEC lowered tariffs and established common prices for agricultural products.

The 1957 treaty also created the European Atomic Energy Community to engender the development and production of nuclear power. This was at a time when the industrial world simple-mindedly thought that nuclear energy would be ridiculously cheap.

Further work at unification was thwarted with the reelection of French President Charles de Gaulle in 1958, a staunch nationalist who opposed supranationalism. Despite de Gaulle’s recalcitrance, the EEC merged into a single body in 1967.

Protests in spring 1968 shook de Gaulle’s leadership. He resigned in 1969 after losing a referendum over decentralization. With de Gaulle gone, the EEC expanded. In came Denmark, Ireland, and Britain in the 1970s. Greece, Portugal, and Spain joined in the 1980s. Turkey applied to join the Community in 1987 but was rebuffed.

Britain wavered in its support of the European Community. Its 1st applications were vetoed by France when de Gaulle was in power. He feared the UK as a Trojan horse for US influence.

Though it joined, Britain had second thoughts after seeing its economic growth lag behind the EEC. Channeling de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resisted further unification. Thatcher’s views on the Community were not shared by her cabinet, and she was pushed out.

In 1986, the Single European Act established a common market for EEC countries. Its signing was spurred by discontent in Community members about the de facto lack of free trade among them.

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty created the European Union (EU) and led to the creation of a single European currency – the euro – which replaced national currencies in 2002. The treaty obliged members to keep “sound fiscal policies, with debt limited to 60% of GDP and annual deficits no greater than 3% of GDP.” Britain opted out of the euro.

The Maastricht Treaty established a supranational government, including a leadership commission, parliament, and court, a common platform for foreign policy and security, and cooperation in civil and criminal matters.

There have been 3 treaty amendments since 1992. The last was the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. While tying the EU more tightly together, the 2007 treaty for the first time provided a procedure for a member state to leave the EU.

The Euro

A continental currency, resting on all Europe as its capital, would replace and bring down all the absurd varieties of money that exist today. ~ French poet Victor Hugo in 1855

The idea of a supranational currency has been around for a long time. Napoléon Bonaparte proposed that there be 1 currency for all of Europe, under French leadership, naturally. John Stuart Mill advocated a single European currency as part of an inevitable progression toward a single global money. Winston Churchill, in proposing a “United States of Europe” in 1946, endorsed a single currency.

Transnational money had more of a history than just as a thought exercise. The Latin Monetary Union was formed in 1865 and lasted until 1927. It had 5 states joined by treaty: originally France, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland, with Greece joining in 1867. 8 other nations were actively engaged. Neither Germany nor the UK participated.

Originally based upon a bimetallic standard, the Union was hurt by fluctuating silver prices. The standard shifted to solely gold in 1873, but that proved insufficient in light of a terminal disease: debasement. France and Italy printed paper money beyond metal backing. Greece, its economy perpetually weak, cheated more simply by decreasing the amount of gold in its coins.

Denmark, Sweden, and Norway managed a Scandinavian monetary union from 1873 to 1920. Though the currencies were not unified, they were tightly linked, with stability abetted by close cooperation among the central banks of the 3 countries.

A gold standard held sway globally from the salad days of industrialization until unraveling in 1971. Far from an unalloyed success in terms of promoting economic stability, the standard at least facilitated international trade.

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The Euro represents the mutual confidence at the heart of our community. It is the first currency that has not only severed its link to gold, but also its link to the nation-state. ~ Wim Duisenberg, President of the European Central Bank, in 2002

The dissolution of the gold standard left Europe struggling with the monetary turbulence that characterized the 1970s. The leaders of France and Germany determined to create a closer union.

The resultant monetary system was called the Snake, which began in 1972 and lasted until 1979. The Snake attempted to stabilize floating member currencies via state interventions in the foreign exchange market. It did not work well.

The UK and Ireland quickly withdrew. The French and Italians lacked the requisite discipline to batten down their currencies with sensible fiscal policies. Only the ever-staunch Germans had the will to fight the currency markets.

European governments were not savvy enough to adhere to the old adage: “once bitten, twice shy.” The European Monetary System (EMS) supplanted the Snake, with the European Currency Unit (ECU) as a market-basket surrogate of a single currency. Though the EMS was more hardheaded, the experiences during the days of the Snake were a harbinger of things to come.

Like the Snake, the ECU only worked when times were good. The mechanism blew apart after Britain joined.

The UK faced a deep recession in 1992. Currency traders were dumping the pound. Rather than fight the ECU, Britain joined it.

Germany showed no inclination to intervene in the markets on behalf of the pound, or to adjust its own interest rates to support the UK. So, after a desperate battle with the markets that cost billions of pounds, Britain was ignominiously ejected. (16 September 1992 – Black Wednesday – was the day Britain was booted from the EMS. In the event, Hungarian-American currency speculator George Soros made over £1 billion in profit by short-selling sterling.) Italy, also unable to keep up because of its lackluster economy, was booted the very next day.

Soon thereafter, the trading bands for the EMS widened to 15%: a gap vast enough to stay any sense of stability. The EMS was, in effect, dead.

Having failed in 2 attempts at monetary stability, the Continent’s leading politicians decided to double down and create a single currency, which only in their dreams would be impregnable to the whims of the money market.

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty called for a common monetary exchange unit: the euro, which was introduced in 1999. A central bank was established to manage the new currency.

Supporters of a single European currency touted that it would boost trade by eliminating foreign exchange fluctuations and thereby reduce prices.

It will be extremely important for the euro area to restrict entry to those countries which are ready in terms of their economic and anti-inflation policies. In monetary union, all the participating countries must be in a position to stay the course unaided. ~ German economist Hans Tietmeyer, president of the German central bank, in 1998

By treaty, to participate in the euro, members supposedly had to meet strict political-economic criteria. In actuality, several states came up short. Italy and Belgium were granted entry with public debt exceeding 120% of GDP. Despite hemorrhaging massive fiscal deficits, Greece vowed newfound rectitude, and so fudged its way in.

It’s the oldest democracy in the world, but not the most stable country in monetary terms. It would have been better to wait until Greece showed it was able to keep public finances and inflation under control. ~ German political economist Wilhem Hankel in 2000

Britain, Denmark, and Sweden sagely opted not the join the euro.

Once joined, mindless optimism reigned. There was no monitoring, scrutiny, or sanctions against countries that were profligate or otherwise negligent in their community obligations. No procedure was put in place for a country to leave the Eurozone and return to a sovereign currency.

Under a mirage of stability via monetary union, individual countries went about their merry way in the euro’s early years. The eurozone quickly became unbalanced; its fragility and internal volatility masked by interconnectedness.

In essence, the euro siphoned money from the core of Europe out to its periphery. Bankers and speculators made fortunes in a game that resembled real-life Monopoly. It was a unsustainable scheme that went unremarked for years.

Whereas Germany was toting up huge fiscal surpluses, the Mediterranean countries were piling up debts. Spain, for example, was consuming 10% more than it produced every year. Portugal, Greece, and other peripheral countries were financing their extravagance by borrowing money from northern stalwarts, notably Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland.

The fiscal tote board became a ledger of creditors and debtors on a massive scale. The imbalances were easily swept under the rug of a common currency.

While the core countries – Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands – were doing well enough, inflation was eating away at the economic health of the peripheral countries. Huge trade gaps opened up but were smoothed over by the banking system. The euro was a financial crisis waiting to happen.


During episodes of financial shock, belonging to a common currency can be a severe stress if policies do not account for the especial needs of hard-hit regions. Such was the case in the wake of 2008, when the contagious US financial bubble burst and spread woe throughout Europe. Greece, Italy, and Spain especially struggled under financial policies largely set by solvent and scrupulous Germany, the EU’s dominant nation by dint of being solvent and scrupulous. The crisis revealed the insensibility of having a common currency while retaining separate sovereignty, especially when the only accountability is widespread hardship for the people in an afflicted country.

A state with its own currency can respond to an economic shock by altering its monetary exchange rate, and so spur recovery. (There are several ways to adjust currency exchange rates, including fiddling interest rates.) That flexibility is lost under a single currency.

Under a common currency, the only possible adjustment for a weakened economy in a larger monetary zone is for wages to drop: a measure which only imposes misery and further depresses the economy, as well as risking rioting.

A 3rd way to address a depressive shock is with lumps of government spending to prop up a sagging economy. This can be done sensibly only if the cost of incurring additional public debt is bearable. In the euro zone, such largesse is supposedly forbidden, though it has been practiced most ardently in countries least able to afford it. Though sharing a common currency, national budgeting and attendant sovereign debt are still managed by individual countries.

The bond markets act as the only accountability, and seldom do so with prudence. Once bond markets balk by charging high rates, a country is in hock so deep that it must beggar its EU brethren for alms. At that point, demands for austerity from a country already in dire straits proves an excellent formula for political alienation; exactly what the European Union and euro were not supposed to be about.

The ability to remain solvent by rolling over debt is a confidence game played on investors. In the aftermath of the 2008 crash, Greece was no longer able to play the game. Investors wanted usury rates to finance Greece’s debt. The long-standing deception surrounding Greece’s public finances had finally caught up with it.

Spain, Portugal, and Italy were other shady countries caught out by the global economic shock, but they got off easy compared to Greece, where corruption is so commonplace as to be a cultural more.

Our basic problem is systemic corruption. ~ Greek prime minister George Papandreou in 2009

Greece badly needed a bailout. And it got one. Then it needed another. And another.

The price imposed by supranational lenders was austerity measures designed to reign in Greece’s reckless sovereign debt. (The lenders were the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank.) This meant cuts in public spending combined with increased taxes: a double whammy to a country economically flat on its back.

It’s all about exchange and solidarity, helping one another out in these very hard times. ~ Greek home keeper Angeliki Ioanitou

Impoverished Greeks managed the best they could. Bartering became widespread. At least one community adopted a local currency to facilitate trade.

The average Greek will throw anything into the fireplace that can be burned in order to get warm. ~ Greek environmentalist Stefanos Sapatakis

As the depression wore on, the hills around Greek cities were denuded as residents illegally chopped down trees for firewood. During the winter, the air in Athens resembled London’s Great Smog of 1952.

Greeks can’t see any light at the end of any tunnel. ~ Greek citizen Chryssa Christodoulaki in 2012

The government’s austerity measures were most oppressive to those least able to accommodate further duress. Tax evasion by the rich, and corruption by the business and political elite, continued unabated.

We can take no more. Out with the EU and IMF. ~ Greek anti-austerity protesters in 2012

Austerity led to general strikes and rioting. The turmoil roiled Greek politics.

Uncertainty is the new normality. It could manifest itself in apathy, violence, more uncertainty, we just don’t know. ~ Greek psychologist Fotini Tsalikoglou

Facing more austerity for another bailout in mid-2015, Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras held a snap referendum on whether to accept the bailout terms then being offered. Tsipras recommended rejection, which the voters agreed with. Then, within days, Tsipras reversed himself (ignoring the results of his sponsored referendum) and struck a deal with supranational lenders, getting the bailout that Greece so desperately needed at terms considerably worse than before his flailing temper tantrum. In an epiphany of rationality, Tsipras had stared into the abyss of sovereign bankruptcy and unceremonious ejection from the EU, and unilaterally decided against it.

The Greek parliament backed the new bailout, though only with support from the pro-European opposition party, while Tsipras’ own party was divided. With the additional dollop of aid came another squeeze of austerity. Greece limped on, toward the next crisis.

In early 2017, worries about Greece’s overwhelming sovereign debt flared up again. By that time, Greece’s economy had shrunk 25% since 2010. Having sufficiently suffered under the yoke of the euro, Greece got another bailout: kicking their can of sovereign debt down the road one more time.

There is now light at the end of the tunnel. ~ Greece finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos in June 2017


The euro was never about economics. Instead, European leaders believed that a single currency was a significant step toward creating an irrevocable alliance among countries on the continent. It was a wishful and reckless fantasy.

Experts warned that the euro could be destabilizing unless accompanied by further political and fiscal union. Since that did not happen, the currency union has been vulnerable to financial panics, and subject to the will of Europe’s most powerful economies: Germany and France. Germany has especially benefited from the euro: able to rack up huge trade surpluses which would have been impossible without a single currency.

With individual currencies, any country with a widening trade surplus would have its national currency appreciate through the exchange-rate mechanism; thus, rebalancing trade by making its exports more expensive for others and imports less so for itself. The German taxpayer would have had no need to write checks to the Greek government for its mismanagement. All Germans would have to do to exploit a weakening drachma was head to the Greek islands for a vacation or buy inexpensive Greek products.

The International Monetary Fund, which ladles loans to Greece and other nations-in-need, recognizes that the eurozone simply cannot work in its current form. Greece is bankrupt in all but name, and it is not alone. The only way to achieve Greek debt sustainability is through fiscal union – an arrangement which would essentially mean continuing subsidy by wealthier EU countries to poorer ones.

Such unity is what economists have long foretold as the only way to run a single currency regime; what northern EU leaders hoped for back in the rosy 1990s, but came to resolutely resist a decade later, as it would mean endless alms to continental cheaters and loafers down south.

The alternative is canceling at least some of Greece’s debt, but the Germans consider that a pill too bitter to swallow. As Germany is footing the bill more than anyone else, it calls the shots.

As of 2019, Emmanuel Macron had achieved the typical low level of popularity that French presidents get after a couple of years in office, owing to typical leadership incompetence. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally lost steam with her long run of behind-the-curve governing style. The new is unlikely to push for the reforms necessary for the EU to prepare for the next inevitable crisis, whether it is immigration, a military crisis on Europe’s fringes, or a shock on the Euro from debt-laden national budgets over which the EU has no control.


As of mid-2019, the European Union comprised 28 states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Nonmembers on the European subcontinent include the states in former Yugoslavia (Albania, Boznia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia), Moldova, Norway, the ever-neutral Switzerland, and former USSR states Belarus and Ukraine. Turkey never did pass muster.


We don’t have a European people. ~ Italian politician Marco Zanni, member of the European Parliament

The European Parliament (EP) is exemplary of how political unity may not unify people. While most Europeans know who represents them in the country where they live, few know who their EU parliamentary representative is.

Many voters treat EP elections as national polls that offer a chance to register a protest against the incumbent government at home. Hence, about a 1/3rd of the EP representatives are Eurosceptics rather than supporters. This inherent disharmony saps the efficacy of the European parliament.

At the same time, the EP knows that most of the political power still lies with member states. Hence, the parliament acts as if it were a lobbying group rather than a legislature, campaigning for more power and bigger budgets. This only makes the European parliament more remote and ineffective.

In 2001, the EU tried to put this right with a constitution to establish the Union as a covenant directly between Europeans rather than a deal struck between governments. The result was a 500-page document with 446 articles and 36 supplementary protocols. English historian Perry Anderson called it “an impenetrable scheme for the redistribution of oligarchic power.”

After being rejected by voters in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland (the only countries to put it to a vote), the new constitution was adopted in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty – so much for democracy.

Writing about world order, Henry Kissinger observed that a geopolitical system must balance power and possess legitimacy to attain stability. Challenges arise when power shifts or legitimacy is brought into question.

Imperial China was overthrown when the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) could no longer command the loyalty of its subjects. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 when Russian power declined.

After the fall the Soviet Union, German reunification gave it additional heft in the EU. The accession of central and eastern European countries into the EU furthered German influence.

The euro strengthened Germany’s hand. When a check needed to be written, the pen was brandished by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The waves of refugees that overwhelmed Europe in the mid-2010s were at first welcomed because Merkel took the moral high ground of obligation – another instance of German leadership among other, more hesitant, member states.

However approved by the governments of member states, the European Union has managed at best a tentative legitimacy among its subjects. Continuing economic stagnation and high unemployment feeds populism and fuels resentment against the ruling elite.

This is a Europe that people are feeling increasingly estranged from. ~ Maltese politician Joseph Muscat in 2016

The European Union is democratic, but in a technocratic and remote way. Societal identities remain nationalistic, and only secondarily European. Besides an open market, which feels like an abstraction to the average person, citizens have little to point to that is beneficial in being part of the European Union. Easy migration, a supposed perk, is resented by the natives, who don’t care for immigrants. So too are regulations that seem to come from afar with no regard to local custom.

We may wake up one day to find that far from solving the problems of our continent, the myth of ‘Europe’ has become an impediment to recognizing them. ~ English historian Tony Judt in 1996


On a referendum held on 23 June 2016, Britain voted by a margin of 4% to leave the EU. (The referendum was a ploy played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to shut up Brexit supporters in his party. Cameron misjudged and lost his post for it.) The result was spurred by a campaign of lies. For those who voted to leave, it was a protest vote against the status quo: imagining that their country might be better off independent, rather than staying in an international union which had failed to deal with a succession of crises, from the financial collapse of 2008 and resultant economic stagnation, to a resurgent Russia, and the massive influx of migrants from the war in Syria and other conflicts. (The UK was not affected by any of the named crises by being in the EU. Instead, EU membership had been a great advantage to Britain, as it was to learn with its departure.)

Somnambulists to a fault, UK politicians and the world at large were caught unawares. Political and economic panic ensued.

The main impact will be massive disorder in the EU. ~ French international relations researcher Thierry de Montbrial fretting in 2016

The immediate response by EU leaders to Britain’s internal poll was childishly inhospitable. While the procedure to initiate exit from the EU is entirely up to the government of country wishing to do so, EU leaders demanded an immediate withdrawal. Befuddled Britain took its own sweet time in pulling the ripcord to exit the EU.

The British government was utterly unprepared for the complexity of treaty negotiations required to exit the EU and retain the favorable trade deals it had by being a member. The problems inherent in leaving the European Union were obvious, which means Brits voting to leave out of trite pique was shortsightedly self-defeating.

It is an illusion to suggest that the UK will be permitted to leave the European Union, but then be free to opt back into the best parts of the European project. ~ Belgian politician and EU parliamentarian Guy Verhofstadt in January 2017

In the 3 years that followed the Brexit vote, Prime Minister Theresa May incompetently tried to negotiate an ongoing relationship with the European Union rather than crash out of the EU and further damage Britain’s economy and diplomatic standing. In the meantime, facing uncertainty, many international companies relocated from the British Isles. The UK slumped economically. Domestic political backbiting became especially acute, with some of the more sensible members of the House of Commons abandoning both of the major parties to form their own.

Abetted by an inept cabinet, it took Prime Minister May 2 years to disabuse herself of delusions that she could cherry-pick the UK’s association with the EU. Instead, the EU wrote the terms of Britain’s walking papers: an outcome that was clearly predictable, based upon the EU constitution and the balance of power. The British parliament rejected the deal by 230 votes: the largest majority in modern times.

Despite the education that the Brits received over what a folly it was to leave the EU, British politicians irrationally could not bring themselves to ask their citizens to reconsider Brexit. As of mid-2019, a pall of uncertainty clung, with Britain unceremoniously exiting the EU without any negotiated deal a distinct possibility – the most disastrous option for the UK’s political and economic health.


Citizens will only accept the EU if it makes it possible for them to prosper. ~ Angela Merkel in 2016

France and Germany were ever the core of the European Union. To put it mildly, their history has been contentious.

Germany invaded France 3 times since 1870. France is skittish even in peace, not to mention nationalistically haughty.

The EU was France’s a way to bind Germany to it, and so amplify its own power. The French regarded any ceding of sovereignty as a way to reinforce, not undermine, their nation-state. France never aimed at a supranational government. They only wanted to empower themselves.

By contrast, to the Germans, the EU was an admirable ideal. Aghast at their Nazi paroxysm, Germany was eager to prove itself responsible within the community of nations.

The growing chasm of opinion between France and Germany about the European Union owes to economics. In 2002, the 2 countries enjoyed comparable prosperity. Then Germany began to reform itself. France did not. By 2017, Germans had 17% more purchasing power per person than the French. Labor costs in France rose faster than in Germany, undermining French competitiveness and deterring the creation of lasting employment.

The most devastating difference has been unemployment. In 2002, joblessness was a tad higher in Germany. By 2017, German unemployment was 6%, while France was stuck at 10%, with over 25% of French under 25 unable to find a job. (Cited are official government unemployment figures, which are always a gross understatement.)

The result is predictable. Whereas 69% of French people viewed the EU favorably in 2004, only 38% did in 2016. Meanwhile, the Germans have remained steadfast to the ideal of supranationality. 60% of Germans continue to see the EU positively.

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While the UK was contemplating its departure, EU leaders floundered for a way to give the European Union a fresh leash on life. All the well-worn ideas, such as greater integration of markets or the military, met resistance at the national level. The politics of nationalism keep supranationalism malnourished, feeding it only when idealism can be indulged.

The EU is vital for its member states in both economic and political terms since, as individual countries, their future would be bleak. Alone, EU member states would stand no chance of coping in a world in which economic dominance continues to shift to the East, especially with the US being on a declining long-term trajectory. ~ Sudanese-British economist Ali El-Agraa

The idea of one EU state, one vision, was an illusion. ~ Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, in 2016

There really was never any investment in building a shared sense of European identity. ~ Francis Fukuyama in 2017

The European Union is in an existential crisis. ~ Hungarian-American political activist George Soros in 2018