In many cases, the potential exit of Greece from the Eurozone can be perceived as a greater metaphor that is bringing to light much of the EU’s underlying troubles. With the turmoil of the European financial crisis likely to escalate and further erode confidence across markets worldwide, the EU’s motto “united in diversity” has now come to a fork in the road. What’s more, the vulnerabilities of the monetary union have come to reflect a political crisis that call into question the very existence of the European project.
The possibility of a Greek default could have dire consequences; a scenario which could potentially see other members succumb to the domino effect of a destabilized currency or Eurozone departure (with Italy feared to follow). After scrapping plans to call a referendum on a hard-fought EU deal to bail out his country and narrowly surviving a parliamentary confidence vote, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou – now set to make way for a unity government – escaped a conceivable scenario that would have put his country on the brink of disaster. Despite strong resistance to his government’s austerity measures, a recent opinion poll showed that over 70% of the Greek public still want to remain within Europe’s monetary union.
What are the wider-reaching consequences in trying to keep Greece afloat? With increasing discourse about the future of the EU and euro-skepticism on the rise among its member states (and prospective members), the project may conceivably come to a grind. Depending on the geopolitical environment shaped largely by events that have unfolded throughout the Arab world, coupled with the cases of enlargement fatigue and even Putin’s Eurasian Union proposal, the debate about Europe’s future integration efforts is sure to intensify.
With a two tier separation of the EU becoming a more viable option for some leaders (separating Eurozone members and those outside of it), the dangers of dis-integration also follow. Indeed, would candidate countries and prospective members of the EU – namely in the Western Balkans – be subject to monitoring by the more affluent West? Insofar as potential reforms may transpire, the two-tier debate is merely but a diversion of Europe’s central problems. Namely, it lacks the political fervor it once had in the preservation of a united Europe.
Regardless of the pressing issues facing the EU today, it must maintain its hopes of unity as envisioned by the project’s founding fathers. Instead of idealistic hopes of an evolvement into a federation, however, European leaders should strive to create a realistic path towards shared norms and standards. In part, this includes (continued) cooperation on common defense and energy policies, open labor markets and a common foreign policy agenda that will allow it to remain an important player in global affairs. Accordingly, a united Europe should not be based upon the establishment of a central government, but rather upon a continued notion of shared customs and values.
Finally, a more decentralized approach of powers will be needed to ensure that state sovereignty remains at the core of future EU progression. In an environment where elements of nationalism are slowly beginning to re-emerge, however, leaders also need to be wise and approach these issues cautiously. Ultimately, in a foreseeable scenario that will pin EU powerhouses against “weaker” states (predominantly Eastern European countries), leaders across the continent must be careful in their efforts to drive forward the nuts and bolts of collaboration and harmonization.
Mikel Kotonika is currently a Foreign Policy Intern at the American Action Forum.