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The Disintegration of Europe

LONDON – If a clear signal was needed that the European Union is falling apart at an alarming rate, Hungary’s construction of razor-wire fences along the border with its fellow EU member Croatia is it. The crisis in the eurozone has, of course, fragmented financial flows, caused economies to diverge, eroded political support for EU institutions, and set Europeans against one another. Now, as governments erect barriers and reinstate border controls, the refugee crisis is disrupting flows of people and gumming up trade. And, as the EU unravels, the risk of Britain voting to leave is rising.

It is often argued that the EU progresses through crises, because they focus minds on the overwhelming need for further integration. But such breakthroughs require at least four ingredients: a correct shared understanding of the problem, agreement on an effective way forward, willingness to pool more sovereignty, and political leaders able to drive change forward. All four are now lacking.

EU leaders are weak, divided, and seemingly incapable of setting out a credible vision of the future benefits that European integration could provide, without which they cannot rally popular support and convince recalcitrant governments to bear their fair share of current costs. In the absence of an effective, common response, Europe’s crises fester, feed on each other, and foment unilateralism.

The eurozone and refugee crises have common features that make them tricky to resolve. Both involve disputes about sharing costs, complicated by a clash of values, at the center of which lies a newly dominant Germany.