MADRID ‒ The European Union has taken democratic integration – driven by the free will of its members, rather than military force – to unprecedented levels, securing its place at the forefront of institutional innovation. But today, sentiment in the EU seems to lean toward “conflict," rather than “cooperation."
Some member states are touting their sovereign right to embrace unilateral action, even as they request financial assistance, while others are acting as mere creditors, ignoring the social suffering that the current debt crisis has caused. To return to the path of innovative integration, the EU needs a new framework for public debate that underpins effective cooperation among partners and friends, instead of fueling conflict among seemingly irreconcilable rivals.
Overall, European integration has been a harmonious, ordered, and just process. Less wealthy member countries benefited from tools like the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund, which provided considerable resources to enable them to boost their per capita income. But protracted economic crisis has changed their citizens' perspective, with a rising proportion viewing EU membership as more costly than beneficial.
Not surprisingly, that change has fueled demands for more “national sovereignty," which populist parties, such as Greece's newly elected Syriza, have translated into electoral success. All of these parties, whether on the right or the left, place national sovereignty at odds with the so-called “external powers," and seek to tilt the EU's political axis accordingly. This reductionist view is the only glue holding the Greek ruling coalition together.