PARIS – Ten or 20 years ago, the existential question facing the European Union was whether it still had a purpose in a globalized world. The question today is whether the EU can respond effectively to major external shocks.
Europe’s neighborhood is poor and dangerous. South of Gibraltar, income per capita drops more than fivefold. War has recently raged in Ukraine. The Israel-Palestine conflict has continued for more than 50 years. And the war in Iraq barely ended before the mayhem in Syria commenced.
For several decades after World War II, Europe could afford to overlook what went on beyond its borders: security was the business of the United States. But things have changed. The US retreat from Iraq signaled the limits of its engagement, and the problems in the EU’s immediate neighborhood – not just in Syria, but also to the east and the south – are now knocking on its door. So it would seem that the EU’s top priority should be to protect itself and help stabilize its environment.
Yet three internal fault lines are making it difficult for the EU to achieve these ends. Britain is wondering whether it should exit. Western and Eastern Europe are at odds over the refugee crisis. And France and Germany differ on priorities.