Everyday media seems to believe without a doubt that the European Union is on the verge of disintegration. The light manner, with which it is discussed in the public forum, is surprising. It is almost as if it was something common and simple, which is definitely not the case. Even in theory, the disintegration of the EU would be a high-risk process, especially for countries that are in a complicated geopolitical situation, including Estonia.
The discussion about the possible disintegration of the EU became more concrete after the UK voted to leave. Donald Trump’s Brexit praise and the growing momentum of the French presidential election only added fuel to the fire. Yes, the European Union is facing several difficult problems – internal security or in other words the topic of terrorism, the refugee crises, Russia’s aggressive behaviour, slow economic growth, strained relationship with Turkey, Brexit negotiations and efforts to shift relations with the US into place. However, these problems are no reason for the EU to disintegrate, because none of the issues would be better solved by the EU countries on their own.
New anti-EU political forces have been able to gain more support by focusing on some of those issues, for example in the Netherlands and France as well as in Germany. The main ammunition in the anti-EU arsenal is the opposition to immigration, as if the EU was the cause of immigration to those countries. However, that is false. The decisions concerning immigration have for decades been in the competence of Member States and are not dictated by the EU. Still, the emotional discussion of this topic is the main argument for the increasing opposition against the EU.
In such a situation, it is necessary to take a step back and examine what in the foundations of the EU is either broken or worse, when compared to the time before the EU existed.
It should not be forgotten that during the existence of the EU, no EU member state has been at war with one another. This should be compared with Europe’s bloody history before the formation of the EU. The EU single market is working and has given a big boost to many companies of the Member States. Citizens are free to travel inside the EU. Even the euro zone is working and has had a disciplinary effect on several governments.
There are 530 million citizens in the EU and that makes it a considerable and important force in the world, and none of the big countries – Germany, France, Italy or UK – would be able to accomplish that on their own. Therefore, when discussing the topical issues and problems of the EU, it should also include the background, the fact that all the basic elements of the EU are functioning and there are no problems big enough to outweigh the positive side of the EU. Unfortunately, it seems to me that people are unable to see the big picture and tend to doubt Europe’s self-confidence, which leads to juggling with the possible disintegration of the EU based on reasons that do not outweigh the accomplishments of the European Union.
If someone wishes to speculate on the topic of the disintegration of the EU, it would be fair to give an idea of how the post-EU Europe would look like then. Will there be no more immigration pressure in the post-EU Europe? Will the wars and violence in the vicinity of Europe come to an end? Will there be less terrorist attacks? Will the economy bloom? Will the Netherlands or Slovakia or Estonia or any other EU member state be able to handle their problems better on their own after the end of the EU single market and cooperation in many other areas?
The disintegration of the EU would be most beneficial to great powers outside of Europe who have never liked the existence of the EU, because even though European countries are not their competitors in the global arena, the EU is.
Therefore, China, Russia, the African Union and it seems that also certain members of the new US administration would be overjoyed if the EU would cease to exist, because that would mean less competition. It is no secret that China and Russia have never really liked the EU and that they are trying to weaken it. That is the main purpose of Russian propaganda. And since there is always a certain balance in the world, if the EU would collapse, other great global powers would try to strengthen their positions in Europe as quickly as possible. One can only guess, based on history, which country would try to reinforce itself in the Eastern and North-Eastern parts of the EU and perhaps even elsewhere.
Consequently, it is no exaggeration that the strength of the EU, as well as the cooperation between Europe and the US, are vital for Estonia. All our foreign policy measures should be focused on that goal. Therefore, the main goal during the Estonian Presidency of the EU Council should be to make the EU stronger with every decision and every negotiation.
We live in an era of simplification, and this could also lead to errors. Even fatal errors. However, blaming the so-called Twitter era is not an excuse to not fight that kind of simplification. There was no Twitter in Germany in the 1930s, but Hitler was still elected.
I sincerely hope that the Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK will fail, since the UK will eventually realise that they will be weaker after the negotiations than they are today. I am also convinced that France’s collective memory will remind them the French tragedy of the 20th century wars before the EU was formed.
Of course, the ones who offer simple solutions should always be asked more specific questions. For example, what would Europe be like after the disintegration of the EU? Which powers will control the countries and dangers that are threatening Europe both from the East and the South?
Estonians and many other nations have a saying which essentially means that you should not demolish a house when it’s still being built. Toying with the idea of the disintegration of the EU out of boredom or short memory does not make life better or safer for any nation in Europe.