There is a thoughtful essay on the Brooking Institution‘s website by Spanish politician and diplomat Javier Solana entitled “The flip side of Euro-Atlantic integration,‘ which will allow me to return to one of my favourite themes: Europe needs a multi-tiered socio-economic and political superstructure because, as the Brexit proves, one size does not fit all, which is something I have been saying a lot in the last few days and weeks.
Mr Solana says that “the looming British exit from the EU has reminded us of something fundamental that had been hidden until now: the EU’s tendency to expand is not irreversible, and the EU’s continued existence as a political entity cannot, and should not, be taken for granted.” Agreed.
He also explains that “Two key dynamics have marked the EU’s trajectory over the years, and that of the European Communities before it. On the one hand, European integration has become deeper and, on the other, the benefits of integration have extended to a growing number of states. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 gave rise to more opportunities—and major challenges. With communism’s collapse, the divided Europe created at Yalta disappeared, and EU expansion was no longer confined to states belonging to the Western orbit … [but] … the first organization to undertake the sensitive task of integrating Western and Eastern Europe was NATO. In 1997, two years before the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland became full members, the Alliance reached an agreement with Russia—the so-called Founding Act—to cushion the impact. This agreement marks the true end to the Cold War. In 2004, those same countries joined the EU, along with seven others. Europe’s traditional spheres of influence seemed to vanish as the EU saw its magnetism strengthened on a continental and global scale.” I agree, again, even if I remain unconvinced that NATO’s expansion was a good thing ~ it certainly seemed to many to involve breaking an explicit promise (by then US Secretary of State James Baker) to leave Western hands off Easter Europe.
After considering the rater strange and, I’m sure, disappointing (to the EU) case of Poland, Javier Sola concludes that, “The EU model is based on a series of basic commitments that must be respected. In fact, these commitments were precisely what attracted the states of the former Soviet bloc to seek membership. It is clear that every sociopolitical advance has its downside but, by the same token, even the rise of nationalism and populism has an upside. By setting itself against both of these forces, and creating a revitalized narrative that responds to the priorities of European society today, the EU can recover its legitimacy and momentum. The future of Europe depends on it.” That “revitalized narrative” seems a sensible challenge, to me, and I suspect it demands a layered approach … rather like an ornate cake: a system within which pretty much everyone, including, even, Britain, Norway and Russia can choose to take part in a rules based free trade area (even a customs union) but every additional step, some of which require nations to surrender some sovereignty, requires a new layer of agreements.