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Welcome to Europe!

The European Union , 27 Member States, 492 million consumers, a single market and the greatest free trading zone in the world, with open borders in 18 of its Member States. Only 53 years after the end of one of the most atrocious wars in history, the European Union has not only created tenable peace within its own territory, it extends its reach to ensure stability in its neighborhood and the world over, with its peacekeeping forces deployed to missions Kosovo and the Congo.

Despite the ill-fated attempt at giving the quasi-federal structure a recognizable, legal ‘face’ through the introduction of a Constitution for Europe (which was largely procedural in nature anyway), Europe has become ‘normal’ for its decision makers and its citizens. Thousands of young Europeans have taken advantage of the EU's programs to expand their horizon through Erasmus or Comenius, two of the Union's largest funds to encourage the mobility of its citizens. Hardly anyone can remember the extended waiting lines at inner-European borders. Citizens now expect high-speed trains to criss-cross the Union's territories, irrespective of whether a French TGV, a German ICE or even the Eurostar is taking them to Paris. At the same time, with 80% of national legislation ‘Made in Brussels’ politicians and civil servants from all Member States have become highly-adept at negotiating in a multi-national context, even if issues of sovereignty and national interest can still dominate the discussions. But not all is rosy. Proclaimed as a serious identity crisis, the rejection of the European Constitution by the Dutch and French in 2005, and the subsequent 'thinking phase’ made the Union look weak, not only to its citizens. For them, Europe has become so ‘toujours‘ that many have become disconnected from process. If most consider national politics a lofty affair, than EU policies are even more of an elite club. The unique triumvirate of institutions that comes close, yet not close enough to the legislative-judicative-executive model most Europeans are used to, is confusing enough. Decision-making remains an elusive process for the average man or woman on the proverbial European street.

The recently approved Lisbon Reform Treaty is just that – another treaty to help streamline the decision-making process, according greater rights to the European and to national parliaments, and bring some clarity into certain representative functions (i.e. the Chairmanship of the European Council) and policy areas (i.e. the European External Action Service). But it has lost all hallmarks of a ‘people's treaty’ it may have previously had: no mention of flag or anthem, European civil rights reduced in legal force. National sovereignty and its symbols were too precious.

By and large, European leaders are adopting a pragmatic, self-centered approach to the EU. Recent protectionist sentiments, as voiced in Poland and France could mark the death knell for the federalist idea. The question is, whether that is truly such a horrible prospect. Should quasi-American federalism truly be the European holy grail? With a Union set to expand even further (and the divisions the possible inclusion of Turkey is already causing), aren't we already witnessing the dilution of the original European dream? Or is, in fact, what has been achieved already the penultimate: a common currency, open borders, a regional giant and a global player?

Challenges, however, remain aplenty: the internal market is still incomplete and the liberalization of services throughout the Union was one of the most fraught political initiatives in recent years. Until this year, the EU was still spending the largest part of its budget on agriculture, rather than putting its money where its mouth was and allocating the lion share of the bugdet toward enhancing competitiveness, the proclaimed goal of the fabled Lisbon Agenda. The latter aimed to make Europe the “most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.” Despite its open borders (the so-called Schengen area was just recently extended), the Union still lacks robust immigration policy and while it is the largest single donor of development aid in many country's of the world, foreign policy is still in many respects the prerogative of individual Member States.

This blog is dedicated to EU current events and macro-political developments. It aims to explain European integration in jargon-free language that everyone can understand. Most importantly, it should be a platform for an exchange of views and ideas on Europe's present, its future and perhaps its overall destiny, however distant that may seem.

 

Author

Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

Areas of Focus:
Refugees; Immigration; Europe

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