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“The EU did not fail, its alternatives have”

by Ihsen Sbabti (EU international Relations and Diplomacy Studies - Manuel Marìn Promotion)

Europe outside the Box, the debating society of the College of Europe, organized last week its inaugural event for this academic year. The motion chosen by the society’s team stated that “this house believes that the EU has failed”.

This topic was qualified as “triggering” and “rather provocative” as it challenges the ruling pro-European narrative. In this sense, it has the merit of allowing the College’s mostly (or totally) Europhile students to open up to the arguments of their counterparts: the Eurosceptics. Especially at a time of political crisis characterized by the emergence of nationalistic populism whose perception of the EU can be challenging. Thus requiring a better understanding of those tendencies.

The debate, which took the form of British parliamentary system, helped foster a discussion around a few problematic aspects of the work of the EU that have been raised by the different speakers.

Guillermo, the first speaker claimed that the European citizens, are growingly believing that referendums should take place on whether their memberships in the EU should be maintained or not. According to the numbers he presented, these beliefs, exceeded the 50% threshold for the first time in opinion polls from Spain. For him, these numbers reflect the disillusion and loss of hope due to the lack of action by the EU. Especially when it comes to social prosperity and economic welfare.

Rita, first to speak on behalf of the second team, chose to remind the audience of the achievements of the EU. For her, peace was the fundamental purpose of the EU. And the absence of conflict should be considered as a privilege for the European citizens when compared to other parts of the world. People should remember their common beliefs: Human Rights, the abolition of death penalty, and Democracy: three components of the European identity.

Nathan, claimed that the EU has failed to fulfill its responsibilities and that the EU itself was the architect of its very failure. He stressed that the EU is not democratic because it is not elected nor accountable. Leading people to turn their back to the European elections. A trend palpable through low lection turnouts. Moreover, the EU, according to Nathan, is the source of rising populism. Populists are promising to give back to the people what the EU has taken from them.

Jakub, on the other hand, recalled what happened in Ukraine a few years ago. Stating that people took the streets ready to fight and die for the membership of the EU bloc. He also believes that peace is easy to forget. And that no matter how hard the economic situation is, people need to be reminded of the primary reasons of the integration in the first place. Stating that the EU is a success in this regard.

Niklas, proposed three criteria to evaluate the role of the EU: peace, prosperity and values. He finds however, that the EU failed in all of them. He claims that the EU is not responsible for the fulfilled peace. Prosperity also, did not depend on the Euro. It rather derives from the different trading facilities and FTA’s that could have been adopted even outside of the EU. And as for values, member states such as Hungary are taking stances against those values. As well as rising illiberal democracy.

Josselin claimed that people stating that there is no future for the EU cannot provide alternatives. For him, the only solution would to be reform the existing institutions. He also defends that the lack of public interest into EU institutions is due to the member states keeping the EU from further integration by asking to keep more powers in their competences.

For Erica, peace is related more to the presence of democracy and global trade. Stating examples of countries living peacefully with no need to EU-like structures such as Canada or Australia. And even when those structures exist: they cannot fulfill their role. She gave the example of the rule of law violations taking place all over the EU member states.

Rayan stated that the core arguments in favor of the EU’s success were left untouched by the team’s opponents. For him the EU did not fail in defending peace. And this peace’s importance should not be underrated especially if one looks back into European history. He concluded by claiming that without the EU, the students of the College of Europe would have had to wait for Visas to be able to study in Bruges that “by the way wouldn’t have even existed”. Rayan believed that the EU did not fail, its alternatives have.

After opening the floor to the interventions and questions of the audience members, a voting on the Motion took place. With the majority stating that the EU did not fail. One speaker though, Rita, expressed her disagreement with the adoption of a merely binary perception of the topic. If a failure was to take place: one has to look for it, its reasons and potential solutions etc. Moreover, we need more Europe and not less Europe.


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