European political integration still an elusive dream

From News Xinhuanet.Com

One year after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the prospect of a politically united Europe remains just as dim.

The treaty, which came after eight years of horse-trading, was aimed to streamline the 27-nation bloc’s institutions, and to win Europe as a whole a greater role on the world stage.

For one thing, Herman Van Rompuy, who was appointed as president of the European Council, silenced doubts over his capacity to represent the EU’s interests in the world with efficient coordination between EU governments.

But by contrast, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and her newly founded European External Action Service (EEAS) have yet to gain more credibility.

The EEAS, officially launched on Dec. 1, exactly one year after the Lisbon Treaty came into force, is aimed at giving the European bloc a single, unified voice in the world.

However, resistance by Euro-skeptic Britain and the reluctance of many nations to share more sovereignty prevented the EU from moving toward further political integration.

The task was also complicated by the debt crisis that many feared was contagious in the euro zone. The crisis promoted national approaches rather than European ones, thus marginalizing Europe’s political integration, as national interests prevailed over those of the EU in decision-making despite the one-year-old Lisbon Treaty.

In a typical example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reported to have held off on important reforms, including measures to help bail out Greece, for two months to avoid endangering elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in May, thus leading to the deepening of the Greek debt crisis. Ironically, the postponement failed to bring needed help to her government in the North Rhine-Westphalia elections anyway.

Meanwhile, within the British government, the voice of Euro-skeptics is often louder than that of Euro-optimists, and even Prime Minister David Cameron himself has repeatedly criticized Europe. In addition, Euro-skepticism has already become an important trend in the governments of the Czech Republic, Poland, and other East European countries.

Since the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, political integration in Europe has never come easy.

In 1992, Denmark said no to the Maastricht Treaty, and, in 2005, France and the Netherlands rejected the EU constitution.

The current Lisbon Treaty was largely rejected by Ireland in 2008, and was only adopted in the following year when a second referendum was organized.

“Political integration is a complex and sensitive topic, because it involves nations giving up or sharing their valued sovereign powers,” said Prof. Wu Xian with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“That is why the EU had decided to take a more indirect approach — to build economic unity first to pave the way for political integration,” Wu said.

The introduction of the single currency euro, the EU’s most prized project, in 11 countries in 1999 marked a big step forward in European integration, which is in essence a gradual transfer of national sovereignty to the EU.

However, nations grew more jittery about their reserved and more valued sovereign powers as the integration went deeper.

The integration fatigue resulted in the structural flaw of the euro since European countries at that time simply wanted to exploit the benefits of the single currency, but were not ready to give up their national powers over public finances.

Nevertheless, the debt crisis might also mean opportunities for European integration.

At this year’s last European Council summit on Dec. 16-17, European leaders agreed to revise the Lisbon Treaty to make room for a permanent rescue mechanism for countries that got into debt trouble.

The mechanism might strengthen the EU’s power and rein in member states’ financial policies, paving the way for European integration in the future.

– Prophecy News Watch

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