It’s an important question. How united is the European Union on anything other than #Brexit?
I don’t ask this in a partisan fashion, but because it’s worth considering the facts about European unity in a turning world.
As the recent EU leaders’ summit in Brussels showed, the bloc is divided on key issues. These include Russia; Syria; refugees and good behaviour within the Eurozone.
First, Russia, the big bear. The EU continues sanctions against Russia until July. They were imposed after the annexation of Crimea but it’s anyone’s guess how long they will continue? By late January, Donald Trump’s America will have officially cosied up to President Putin and the impetus for Europe to hold Russia accountable for its actions will grow weaker.
In Crimea, Ukraine…and Syria. The EU is divided on the right response to Russia’s intervention in the war-wracked country. Germany and France (and the UK) want sanctions but Italy doesn’t agree and is sticking to that position despite having changed prime ministers. Dismal though it may sound, the Europeans are under no pressure – no one seems to expect them to do anything – about the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo. The French have been shouting that Europe is obliged to say something, do something. But reconstruction plans are not ready and no one is sure what can realistically be done and when.
Aleppo illustrates the EU’s impotence over and over. It can talk a good game but is unwilling to offer even a limited military response to a crisis. As Jennifer Rankin recently reported in The Guardian, the “EU can draw on rapid-reaction forces of 1,500 soldiers to stabilise crises but has never done so. It has mechanisms to allow EU armies to work together, but these have never been tried.”
Then there is the refugee issue. After toying with the idea of imposing refugee quotas on EU member-states – and fining those who refuse – the bloc has had to subside into a state of bitter irresolution. For now, resistance from Hungary and Poland has won through. The refugee issue hangs fire.
Last but not least, the Greek tragedy may be taking centrestage again. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ seasonal gift of a Christmas bonus to pensioners went against the strict budgeting terms set by the EU. It has responded with penalties. Who knows if the cycle of recriminations and accusations, tears, jeers and fears will start up again.