Hubert Védrine, policy adviser to François Mitterand during the 1990s, is the latest high-profile European old-timer to call for a pause on European integration. But is this really the remedy for the growing resentment visible across the continent?
European integration has come so far since the foundations of the European Coal and Steel Community between the six founding nations of Belgium, France, West Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Originally, stability and co-operation replaced rivalry and warfare on the continent, and prejudice had largely given way to open-mindedness. The European Union has born witness to the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union; it has withstood the test of unrest in the Balkans. Through trade relations it has improved worker conditions in the poorest countries of the world.
However, today, with fundamentalist terrorism threatening national security, and the Syrian Civil War causing a humanitarian crisis on the doorstep of the EU, coupled with the global financial crisis of 2008 from which many European nations have scarcely recovered and for which the single currency is largely blamed, populism and radical right-wing parties are again on the rise across the continent, and the European Union is the target of their scorn. Just last week, with the Brexit debate reaching its climax, Boris Johnson, former London Mayor, likened the European Union to Nazism, as Conservative Euroscepticism stepped over the bounds into UKIP populism.
In the face of this weakening appetite for further integration, is a ‘European pause’ needed? What would such a ‘pause’ entail? It questions the market integration, the Single Market, external action and trade relations with non-European countries. Europe’s current greatest threat seems to come from within.