Wed, Jan 24, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Battle to save EU looms and a line is drawn at an Alpine pass

Resurgent nationalism and the rise of Euroskeptic politicians threaten the unity of the bloc while Austria mulls initiating border controls at a pass that connects Italy with lucrative markets in northern Europe

By Marc Champion  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Mountain People

Austria built a steel canopy over the northbound lanes of the highway through the alpine Brenner Pass about a year ago, ready to reimpose border controls with Italy. The shelter has yet to be used and Stefan Pan for one wants to keep it that way.

“The Brenner Pass is Europe’s main north-south artery,” said Pan, vice president of the main Italian business association, Confindustria. “Block the border, and it could cause a heart attack.”

The crossing symbolizes Europe’s past and present, though the question troubling Pan is what it will mean for the future.

Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler cemented their partnership in World War II there. As the EU helped foster post-war peace, customs and immigration checks melted away.

Now the busiest pass through the Alps encapsulates what is shaping up as the continent’s defining challenge this year: Should governments respond to the frustrations that boosted populists in elections last year with more EU integration, or less?

Economies are growing again, the flow of refugees has abated, yet a nationalist undercurrent still threatens to submerge the Franco-German vision for the European project.

French President Emmanuel Macron has taken the lead in pressing to recapture the political initiative and strengthen the EU so it can start solving the problems that have prompted voters to turn to extremists.

Key areas he has identified for deepened integration include intelligence sharing and defense, control of the bloc’s outer borders, and a budget for the euro area.

Germany might be getting on board. A preliminary coalition deal reached between German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party and the center-left Social Democrats puts “a new start for Europe” at the top of its list of priorities.

Last week, Portuguese Minister of Finance Mario Centeno, the new group head for the eurozone’s finance ministers, said that the coming months offer a “unique window of opportunity” to strengthen the common currency.

He called for agreement by the EU’s June summit to unify banking and capital markets regulation, and to increase fiscal burden sharing.

However, persuading the EU’s 28 nations to agree on game-changing projects is likely to be tough, even with the perennially awkward British heading for the exit door.

Euroskeptic nationalist politicians run Hungary and Poland. In March, Italy is expected to hold elections that could produce a less pro-European government in Rome.

Meanwhile, the far-right Freedom Party of Austria has joined a coalition government in Vienna. Its party members or affiliates head the foreign, interior and defense ministries.

Last week alone, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he was “much more skeptical” about creating a common budget for the euro area, while Austrian Minister of the Interior Herbert Kickl said infrastructure was needed to “concentrate” asylum seekers.

In an interview published on Friday, he also announced the creation of a “standby force” ready to staff checkpoints on Austria’s frontiers within hours of getting the order.

Just how awkward the divisions can be was on display at the last EU summit last month.

A two-hour debate on immigration went so badly that EU President Donald Tusk said it was proving “hard to even find common language.”

This story has been viewed 2216 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top