Much has been discussed about the internal identity crisis within the European Union. It is indeed a question that precedes the original concepts of ‘Europeanism’.
In Revolutionary France, firebrands in Paris struggled to unite peasants behind the new state as many, in spite of their poverty, identified with regional localities not with the French state (whether the Kingdom of France or the French Republic).
Today, when individuals are more globally inter-connected than ever, thanks not to governments but to technology, an identity crisis persists in Europe.
Can one identify with a nation state and with the EU simultaneously? In Britain at least, the recent Brexit vote answered this question in the negative.
But an even more interesting matter is the EU’s external identity crisis: how does the EU define its position in the world?
Is the EU’s destiny as a global bloc what it has been in the last 8 years or so: a political arm of NATO/Atlanticist policy, which sanctions whomever the US sanctions, condemns whomever the US condemns, and can even be used to give cover to US policies that even the US itself is ashamed of – think of France’s leading role in Hillary Clinton’s war on Libya, a war Obama now regrets?
Or is the external identity of the EU that of a bloc which is friendly to the Anglo-American consensus, but which ultimately is independent of and distinct from it.
This approach has also been attempted, most famously under the Commission of Jacques Delors, whose Social Chapter softened the neoliberalism of the bloc, if only a bit.
Such a possibility dates back to the bloc’s inception, where in spite of the aid the then European Economic Community was receiving from the US, France’s Charles de Gaulle was keen to block what he saw as the spread of Anglo-Saxon influences in the bloc.
It was for this reason de Gaulle twice vetoed British membership of the European Economic Community. Inversely, it was also the reason why the US wanted a sceptical British ally inside the bloc, so that the UK could promote Atlanticist policies inside it.
Yet in the early 2000s, the leading founders of the EU, France and Germany, led at that time by President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, opposed the US’s war on Iraq, and led most of western Europe into opposition with them.
However, the year following the declaration of war on Iraq, the so-called A8 countries were all admitted to the EU.
Many of these countries have stridently anti-Russian foreign policies, and over the years these countries have influenced the EU in the following two ways: (1) They have made it easier for countries like Britain (until now) to push for a less economically and politically integrated EU; and (2) They have made it easier to achieve an anti-Russian consensus within the EU.
This consensus however may be showing signs of unravelling. Here’s why:
The two immediate causes are the increasing unlikelihood that TTIP will come into place.
Opposition to TTIP from both the left and right in the European nation states and the toothless but occasionally influential EU Parliament has contributed to this.
Additionally, opposition in the US from the increasingly powerful anti-TTIP alliance of Ron Paul style libertarians, Trump style neo-protectionists, and anti-globalist commentators like Alex Jones, has pushed TTIP on to the back burner.
Secondly Angela Merkel’s policy of welcoming the world’s refugees whilst enacting policies which create refugees in Donbass looks set to end the long political career of this coldly calculating opportunist, defenestrating Europe’s most powerful leader.
However, a third and more important issue has arisen, which threatens to unravel even further the present, uneasy consensus in Europe.
What is at stake is the creation of a unified EU army, something which Jean Claude Junker says will prevent future wars between European states.
Clearly the names Charles V, Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler are not familiar to the nominal leader of the EU.
Whilst the full proposals for an EU Army will be laid out in December, there is already opposition to its creation, and it is coming from some unexpected quarters.
Some of the most stridently anti-Russian member states of the EU have come out in opposition to an EU Army, including the Baltic states and Poland, countries which if they had nuclear weapons, might well have a collective Hillary Clinton style spasm, and fall atop the little red button if Vladimir Putin so much as stamps his foot energetically whilst putting on a pair of shoes.
The fact that these countries have energetically welcomed NATO troops to occupy their territory with arms and men, means that they are not exactly ready to climb aboard the peace train. What it means is that they find the US dominated NATO to be a reliable partner in their anti-Russian crusade, but are sceptical that a would-be EU Army would share such zeal.
Their underlying fear is that a future Schröder, Chirac or de Gaulle might do with Europe what Trump seeks to do to the US: put local interests first. This would exclude wasting European time and money antagonising Russia economically (not that that has worked), and would certainly imply no interest in further military provocations of Russia.
Britain is also opposed to the creation of such an EU Army for the same reason it has opposed many integrationist policies.
Publicly Britain articulates the fears of Poland and the Baltic states in stating that an EU Army is unnecessary, as it would more or less duplicate what NATO does.
In reality Britain would never join an EU Army, even if Brexit had been soundly rejected.
And then comes the question of NATO itself.
Donald Trump wants to shift NATO’s focus from being an anti-Russian bloc to being an anti-ISIS bloc, something that might well upset countries who bankrupt their small treasuries buying weapons to fight an imaginary Russian attack, and countries which unlike Germany, France, America and Britain, have never been the victims of Islamic terror attack.
Many of these countries are in fact totally unfamiliar with the terrorism that swept western and central Europe in the latter half of the 20th century. There was no Baader-Meinhof Gang in Poland, no IRA in Latvia, and no Symbionese Liberation Army in Estonia.
Much therefore depends on forthcoming events. What is certain is that the fate of the EU looks to be uncertain at best, and this is because the consensus it was supposed to consolidate, is instead unravelling.