Europe 2017: A ‘community of destiny’?
Dima El Hassan| The Daily Star
Every year on May 9, “Europe Day” is celebrated – not just in Europe, but also in many other parts of the world, to remind us about the values of peace and unity espoused by the continent.

The commemoration goes back to 1950, when the French politician Robert Schuman made the historic Schuman Declaration, which aimed toward ensuring the political integration, solidarity and pacification of the nations of Europe, thus ideally making war between these nations “unthinkable.”

Schuman’s vision was first to create a European entity able to handle coal and steel production. Later on, his scheme is considered to have led to the foundation of what is now known as the European Union.

The idea of having a union of European states to resolve war and conflict between nations, especially after the devastation of World War II, was not new. In 1946, between stints as British prime minister, Winston Churchill raised the idea of creating a “European family,” whereby citizens of all European countries could share a sense of “patriotism and common citizenship” across a peaceful continent.

The idea developed over time until it gave birth to the European Union in 1993, via the Maastricht Treaty, which undertook to create a cohesive institution and a unified edifice for the social, economic, political, environmental and military policies of its member countries. Since then, the EU has witnessed rapid growth, especially at an economic and political level. Peace and prosperity have, since its founding, become intertwined with European identity, to the extent that Europe was considered by many a “community of destiny.”

But this gigantic bloc now faces many internal and external predicaments, placing its political, economic and cultural identity in question, along with its ability as a world power to restore stability and resolve global problems.

Today, more than ever, the mere existence of the EU is in jeopardy. Alongside the growth of euroskepticism – and the challenges of Brexit, the eurozone crisis and widespread angst over cultural identity – come other, external issues, such as the refugee crisis, terrorism and the struggle against terrorism.

These factors created the conditions for rebellion, and the rise of populist, nationalist and anti-establishment political parties in many EU countries. This dynamic was clearly on show in the recent French presidential election, which took “Frexit” as one of its primary themes.

With impending elections in many other European countries, including Italy and Germany, the picture remains unclear as to where these countries are heading and what the destiny of the European Union will be. Will the EU succeed in overcoming these challenges or will it succumb to various internal and external pressures and aggravations?

The election of Emmanuel Macron as president of France may have brought a moment of relief to the European Union. The French election revealed, as former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said, that the “description of Europe as a ‘community of destiny’ still holds true, even after 60 years. France will decide not just its own fate, but that of the EU, too.”

It may be true that the fear of Frexit, which far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen threatened to initiate had she won the election, is an even more existential threat to the union than Brexit. While Britain exists outside the Schengen area and the euro, France constitutes one of the fully integrated political and economic powers of the EU and its departure would surely create a domino effect, potentially resulting in the end of the bloc. Macron has threatened a potential Frexit if no reforms are made to the bloc. This threat behooves Europeans to get down to work.

On May 9, 1950, the French people, via the Schuman Declaration, were able to gather Europeans together and prepare the ground for an integrated Europe, making the continent a home for democracy and peace.

On May 9, 2017, with the beginning of a new era in the French presidency, it remains to be seen whether France will be able to reinforce the values on which the European Union was originally built, putting an end to its identity crisis, which is arguably the main cause behind its other socio-economic and political problems. The question remains: Will Europe still want to be, and be able to be, that “community of destiny” for the rest of the world?

Dima El Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at dima.h@hariri-foundation.org.

Dima El Hassan

The DailyStar