Six whole decades of peace, democracy and freedom in Europe. That is not a bad accomplishment. The future ahead of us seems uncertain, full of challenges, including the first departure of an EU member. Experts on the subject of Europe at the University of Seville mentioned some of these challenges on May 9th in a seminar held to mark Europe Day. The immigration crisis; Populism; the European Union investment fund; the Digital Single Market; relations with border countries like Morocco. These were just some of the most recurring subjects in an event where attendees were able to debate and share their concerns with Enrique Barón, ex-president of the European Parliament; Vincenzo Cardarelli, from the Joint Research Centre; Paz Guzmán, a representative of the European Commission in Madrid; Professor Cristina Gortázar, from the University of Comillas, and Julio Ponce, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Seville.
How do we rise to all these challenges? Nobody has the magic formula – even if everyone would love to have it. Just a few months ago, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, presented his White Paper which contained some possible ways out of the impasse the Union has reached. During the seminar at the University of Seville, the audience was asked what their preferred proposal was.
The result was an almost perfect parity between two options: “doing much more together” or “those that want more, do more”. Or in other words, a two-speed European Union. The result of this small survey is not surprising if we take into account that this is also a debate in the rest of the European Union. In fact, leaders such as Angela Merkel or the Frenchman, François Hollande -before the elections on 7th May- were inclined to bolster the Franco-German axis in order to gain impetus towards a two-speed Europe that would, eventually, release the handbrake which seems to have been stopping the European Project from progressing for several years. We can carry on moving towards more unification, but the same level of integration for all countries is not necessary: that is the underlying message of this proposal. Everything seems to indicate that, in a European setting, the spirit of Fuenteovejuna is dead.
It is with this perspective that the European Union celebrated its 60th anniversary in March this year with bitter-sweet feelings between representatives of member states and European institutions. Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament this year that the EU was going through an "existential crisis". What is certain is that it has not been straightforward for the European club recently. Since the Brexit result that dealt a blow just one year ago, and the boom in Populist leaders in Holland and France, pro-Europeans couldn't breathe a sigh of relief until just a week ago.
The economic storm that seemed to threaten the common currency has now passed and the recession has started to fade across Europe. It has, however, done some damage in its path. It was more destructive in some places than in others – it remains quite visible in Greece. Those years of anxiety may be in the past, but it seems that all the political issues that were forgotten about during the recession have come out from hiding. The North-South bloc, set up in the depths of the recession, now seems to have blurred boundaries.
However, new axes have emerged which divide Europe: the East-West axis, which will no doubt be key when the time comes to establish the new speeds for members of the European club if the concept of a two-speed Europe comes about. Some leaders, such as the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, have already said they are against this proposal, believing that it would create elite countries within the European organisation. However, Mrs Szydlo is opposed to more European unification in certain areas, such as welcoming refugees. There is no will to move forward, but neither is there a longing to retreat. That means we are all together, but at a standstill.
Developing together for sixty years, united in the face of adversity, on a path which has yet to be defined. The idea that development continues seems to be tried and tested by the European Union. In fact, we are talking about a project which has been under construction throughout its whole existence using trial and error. Essentially, it is unique in history. It remains to be seen whether the next steps will be taken hand in hand, or whether we will decide to continue our paths beside each other, but not intertwined.