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How Europe’s psychoses might just save the EU

If the individual member states of the EU were forced to see a psychologist, the degree of psychosis in those rooms would be off the charts. In addition to requiring so much treatment so as to ensure the continuation of the psychologist profession in great wealth for many generations; such a process would also unearth some of the core reasons as to why – in many people’s eyes – the EU is losing its effectiveness and, much more importantly, its relevance. 

Although hard to understand in Brussels, within most member states the EU is no longer a beacon for the principles of freedom and progress to which the Berlaymont still ascribes. And this is not just about the rise of populist governments, Brexit or refugees.  The issues at stake are much more fundamental than that.

Sixty years after the Treaty of Rome the EU, in many ways, resembles the Marie Celeste – a structurally sound, well provisioned, but deserted ship drifting aimlessly in open waters. The more pessimistic among us might liken Brussels to pre-1914 Vienna, where the gaiety and energy of the capital city obscures the deepening divisions in its crownlands.

So why the inertia surrounding the EU? Well for decades the integration project was an easy sell. The importance of peaceful co-existence, security of food supply and collective security were obvious to the post-war generations facing both the recent past and the might of the Red Army. But now, the limits of economic integration are fast colliding with modern political realities.

In this integration-meets-national-historical-psychoses landscape, the potential for real progress at European level is negligible. Sure, there can be fudge after fudge – or limited progress after marathon summits – but the era of the “Great Leap Forward” died with Mao. 

The Euro best sums up the conundrum facing the EU today. Although publicly popular, European Monetary Union (EMU) remains structurally weak and ill-equipped to deal with major crises in the future. Yet, further reform – and everybody agrees there needs to be further reform – is stifled by varying degrees of deeply held national psychoses.

Be it the German’s fear of non-existent inflation, the French fear of German dominance or the fear of many Eastern states aversion to fiscal solidarity - one can see the impact of poorly misunderstood historical narratives on the European integration process today.

But what if these psychoses might actually help, rather than weaken the longer term prospects for the EU? Rather than viewing the current impasses over issues like the Euro and immigration as presaging the ultimate decline of the integration process, perhaps they are providing the EU with a ready-made pause button to regain its direction.

Instead of pursuing further, deeper integration across a broad suite of areas, the EU now has the opportunity to focus its energies – and finances – on issues where the public expects Europe to meet the concerns of its citizens.

In areas like border patrol and enforcement, the single market, banking supervision and in facilitating the ability of Europeans to travel and work freely around Europe, the EU can rediscover its compass and aim for a leaner, more achievable vision of integration in the decade ahead. 

The successful meeting of these challenges would restate the EU’s relevance and ultimately increase public support in the longer term.  This approach would also refocus the relationship between Brussels and national capitals.

Of course, as any good psychologist will tell you, before Europe can move on, its composite parts will have to reach a level of acceptance regarding what has occurred in the past.  Unfortunately, given the current state of European politics such honesty will be hard to draw out.

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash