Mon, Sep 26, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Europe’s vacuum of genuine leadership is slowly killing the EU

Few of Europe’s leaders seem to realize that the greatest risk the bloc faces is the ‘status quo’ of institutional dysfunction paralyzing its institutions

By Guy Verhofstadt

The EU’s list of crises keeps growing. However, beyond the UK’s “Brexit” vote to leave the bloc, Poland’s constitutional court imbroglio, Russian expansionism, migrants and refugees, and resurgent nationalism, the greatest threat to the EU comes from within: A crisis of political leadership is paralyzing its institutions.

As if to prove the point, EU member states’ leaders (with the exception of British Prime Minister Theresa May) met recently in Bratislava in an attempt to demonstrate solidarity and to begin the post-Brexit reform process.

The attendees made some progress toward creating a European Defense Union, which should be welcomed, and toward admitting that the EU’s current organizational framework is unsustainable; but there was scant talk of meaningful institutional or economic reform.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s refusal, at the close of the summit, to appear onstage with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all but confirmed fears that rudderless leadership is fueling institutional dysfunction.

A summit that was supposed to be a display of unity revealed only further division.

UNITY OR DISINTEGRATION

EU leaders must take responsibility for this latest failure. For starters, they must stop issuing empty declarations. The EU’s institutional impotence is apparent, especially to its enemies. So now it faces a stark choice: a leap forward toward unification or inevitable disintegration.

Few Europeans want to make that choice. Many politicians are afraid of paying a high domestic political price for pursuing an agenda of EU reform.

They argue that pushing for further integration in the current political climate is reckless, and that the EU should focus on doing less, better.

However, that is a false trade-off. The EU could build a more integrated economic governance model to increase investment and create jobs, while at the same time streamlining its operations to address common complaints about red tape and dysfunction.

Few European leaders seem to understand that the real risk to the EU — and to their own political futures — is the “status quo.” And with populist movements across Europe pummeling traditional parties in the polls, the window for delivering real change is quickly closing.

GENUINE LEADERSHIP

It does not have to be this way. Too many leaders are paying lip service to domestic nationalists and populists, mistakenly thinking that this will preserve their domestic poll ratings, when they should be showing genuine leadership and fighting for the common good.

Upcoming national elections in France and Germany will be bellwethers for the future of European leadership.

In recent German state elections, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its government partner, the Social Democratic Party, experienced notable losses, which could mean that Germany’s grand coalition is at risk ahead of next year’s election.

Meanwhile, support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) continues to grow.

Merkel has two choices: She can move to the right, as former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has done in his latest bid for the French presidency, or she can fight to hold the center by addressing the AfD’s simplistic arguments head on.

The choice is clear: Merkel should stand and fight, while also advancing an alternative vision for modernizing the EU.

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