Commentary Nº 24 - July 2015 European integration starts abroad Giovanni Grevi Director Following last week’s European Council and the expiration of Greece’s bailout, all eyes are now set on the outcome of the Greek referendum and the future of European integration. The summit has shown the extent of strain in Europe’s political fabric. Sharp exchanges among European Union (EU) leaders on the pressing refugee issue and the breakdown of negotiations on Greece point to the risk of a much-diminished Europe at home and abroad. Faced with the risk of collective failure, a strong collective reaction to restore political cohesion is urgent. But Europeans should beware of spinning into another spiral of introspection. The world is watching and taking notes. Foreign policy begins at home, American diplomat Richard Haass reminded us a few years back. In short, domestic political, economic and social conditions can provide a sound basis for, or debase, ambitions and initiatives on the international stage. The economic and political crisis that has shaken Europe since 2009 has provided ample evidence of that. However, it has also shown that this is not a one-way street. Domestic politics often starts abroad. This trend is particularly consequential for Europe because, in this case, internal politics unfold at two levels – national and EU. And those often appear out of sync. Europe struggles to weather the impact of external turmoil on national politics with national publics growing sceptical of the EU, often for opposite reasons. European Commission The financial crisis was the mother of all external shocks to Europe’s cohesion. It originated in the US before hitting the rest of the world and the EU, where it exposed the fragility of the Economic and Monetary Union and economic divergences among Eurozone countries. The crisis shockwave required rescuing countries in financial disarray and strengthening the coordination and monitoring of national public finances. The consequent fiscal austerity alongside growing unemployment and difficult reforms at national level generated much controversy among and within member states. The rise of parties at the extreme wings of the political spectrum has considerably shrunk support for both traditional mainstream parties and for the EU. The sustained flow of migrants and refugees towards Europe is also exposing cracks in Europe’s politics. Already absorbed by the impact of the economic crisis, Europeans took a hesitant approach to the Arab uprisings of 2011. Europe did not truly engage North Africa and the Middle East at a time of critical change. Four years on, this destabilised region is very much engaging Europe. Countries like Italy and Greece called for joining forces and sharing burdens at European level to deal with the massive human flows pushing on their borders. After much quarrelling and many casualties at sea, member states have made available some ships and planes for missions directed to both rescue migrants and disrupt their brutal traffic. But the bitter and divisive debate within and among member states on the Commission’s proposal to distribute among them up to 60,000 asylum-seekers (in a Union of 500,000,000) shows how deeply external pressures are affecting the bonds between EU countries. The standoff between the EU and Russia over Ukraine seems to tell a different story. EU members agreed to adopt sanctions towards Russia following the latter’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. This show of common resolve (including the renewal of the sanctions in June 2015), however, masks significant differences among member states on how to deal with a more assertive Russia beyond punitive measures. Besides, Moscow is nurturing links with those political forces across Europe that favour closer ties with Russia, and bash the EU, such as the National Front in France, the Northern League in Italy and Syriza in Greece. Moscow’s soft power towards governments such as those of Hungary and Greece introduces another corrosive external variable in European politics. These three very different cases reveal two broadly common patterns. First, paradoxically, the more decisions are taken at EU level, the more fragmented European politics become. The measures adopted to respond to the Eurozone crisis have been far-reaching and unprecedented. The agreement on sanctions towards Russia was a foreign policy achievement and Europeans are at long last taking timid steps to deal with refugee flows. In some of these cases, however, FRIDE Commentary Nº 24. July 2015 decisions have amounted to too little, too late. In others, punctual deals do not necessarily reflect shared assessments of the underlying problems and of required solutions. Second, in recent years external trends and events have shaped EU politics more than the EU has been willing or able to shape them. Foreign policy is inherently reactive, the EU has not stood still and all actors meet limits to their power in a polycentric world. However, the overarching pattern has been one where the EU and its member states have been consumers of challenges more than providers of opportunities. The importance of external factors for domestic politics is not new. After all, the start of the European integration process owed much to the security guarantees of the US during the Cold War. Besides, interdependence has always been a two-way street – from the inside-out and from the outside-in. The problem for Europe is that the external context is the least benign since the early 1990s and the dark side of interdependence is amplifying. Whether through financial interconnections, new media channelling propaganda or radicalisation, or flows of desperate masses escaping conflict and famine, interdependence reaches deep. Separate decisions have not produced a strategic vision to renew the pact among Europeans, which remains essential. They have also not adequately coped with broader regional and global trends that are in turn affecting European politics. The outcome of the Greek referendum this weekend will be a defining moment for Europe. But Europeans cannot afford further fragmentation and introversion. They must take responsibility together to provide security, prosperity and rights beyond their borders, as a condition for preserving them at home. Europeans badly need a shared assessment of their interests and priorities on the international stage. Amidst political turbulence, the European Council has tasked EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to work with member states on an EU global strategy on foreign and security policy. The deeper the crisis at home, the more there is a need for a more effective common foreign policy and joint action abroad.