Fri, Feb 15, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Europe must wake up or it could go the way of the Soviet Union

The sleeping pro-European majority needs to mobilize ahead of the European Parliament elections in May to protect the values on which the EU was founded

By George Soros

Europe is sleepwalking into oblivion and the people of Europe need to wake up before it is too late. If they do not, the EU is likely to go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991. Neither its leaders nor ordinary citizens seem to understand that they are experiencing a revolutionary moment, that the range of possibilities is very broad and that the eventual outcome is thus highly uncertain.

Most people assume that the future is likely to more or less resemble the present, but this is not necessarily so. In a long and eventful life, I have witnessed many periods of what I call radical disequilibrium. We are living in such a period today.

The next inflection point will be the elections for the European Parliament in May. Unfortunately, anti-European forces will enjoy a competitive advantage in the balloting. There are several reasons for this, including the outdated party system that prevails in most European countries, the practical impossibility of treaty change, and the lack of legal tools for disciplining member states that contravene the principles on which the EU was founded.

The EU can impose the Acquis Communautaire (the body of EU law) on applicant countries, but lacks sufficient capacity to enforce member states’ compliance.

The antiquated party system hampers those who want to preserve the values on which the EU was founded, but helps those who want to replace those values with something radically different. This is true in individual countries and even more so in trans-European alliances.

The party system of individual states reflects the divisions that mattered in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the conflict between capital and labor, but the cleavage that matters most today is between pro and anti-European forces.

The EU’s dominant country is Germany, and the dominant political alliance in Germany — between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) — has become unsustainable.

The alliance worked as long as there was no significant party in Bavaria to the right of the CSU. That changed with the rise of the extremist Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). In last year’s Bavarian state elections, the CSU’s result was its worst in more than six decades, and the AfD entered the Bavarian Parliament for the first time.

The AfD’s rise removed the raison d’etre of the CDU-CSU alliance, but that alliance cannot be broken up without triggering new elections that neither Germany nor Europe can afford. As it is, the ruling coalition cannot be as robustly pro-European as it would be without the AfD threatening its right flank.

The situation is far from hopeless. The German Greens have emerged as the only consistently pro-European party in the country, and they continue rising in opinion polls, whereas the AfD seems to have reached its highpoint, except in the former East Germany.

However, CDU-CSU voters are now represented by a party whose commitment to European values is ambivalent.

In the UK, too, an antiquated party structure prevents the popular will from finding proper expression. Both Labour and the Conservatives are internally divided, but their leaders, Jeremy Corbyn and British Prime Minister Theresa May respectively, are so determined to deliver Brexit that they have agreed to cooperate to attain it.

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