Will France and Italy capsize the Union?

The Roma affair is evidence of an existential crisis in the European Union. A Romanian editorialist argues that it highlights the degree to which certain governments, on the look-out for easy votes, now hold the EU and its values in contempt.

The European Union, or rather the European project, has been plunged into a profound crisis by France's inadequate response to the real problem of illegal camps. And there is no denying the seriousness of the debate now that a French Minister [Pierre Lellouche, Secretary of State for European Affairs] has rejected the assertion that France should act as "a guardian for treaties" of the European Commission. Can member states citing the need to protect national interests simply ignore the terms of treaties they have signed, and act in any way they choose?

Apparently, they can. But if this is the case, further discussion of the project for peace and prosperity launched in the wake of the Second World War, which was later extended to include post-Cold War Eastern and Central Europe, will be little more than a joke. And the scene will be set for economic protectionism and the affirmation of rival nationalisms — a worrying prospect, because history has taught us that this scenario inevitably results in the domination of smaller nations by their larger neighbours, the restriction of civil liberties, the collapse of democratic regimes, and an ultimate recourse to conflict.

Overweening focus on vote-winning on a national level
But why are certain political leaders behaving in such a fashion? Because that is what the market for votes demands. With the disappearance of the threat of Soviet oppression, many Western Europeans have come to envisage the common project in terms of profits and losses, and not in terms of peace and solidarity. In so doing they disregard the fact that today's world continues to be marked by conflict over these values: we have nothing in common with the savage capitalism of the Chinese state or the Russian authoritarian-oligarchic regime. We have to defend the political territory of Europe, but many European citizens no longer give credence to this priority, and in this regard they have been encouraged by leaders who are eager to cultivate the cheapest form of popularity — in particular Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi, who are past masters at this type of manoeuvering.

Will their overweening focus on vote-winning on a national level, which appears to have supplanted any vision of Europe as world power, lead them to scupper the European project? There is no doubt that such an outcome would be a historic catastrophe for Romania. Europe provides an essential framework for the only modernisation project that we have in this country, and under current conditions, it is impossible to imagine any alternative. Without the European project, our country along with a number of neigbouring nations would slide back into the space from which we fought for so long to break free. The Westernisation of Romania, which was launched 150 years ago by a handful of young enthusiasts studying in Paris, would once again grind to halt.

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