MADRID – Most political leaders in Europe want the European Union to emerge from its current crisis stronger and more united. But the economic policies that have been implemented in most EU countries since the crisis began have given rise to an unprecedented threat to deeper integration – and, indeed, to what already has been achieved.
After five years of financial and economic crisis, anti-European politics has come resoundingly to the fore in many EU countries – France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Holland, Finland, Greece, Portugal, and even Germany. Growing institutional disaffection has become a corrosive reality almost everywhere in Europe. The only way to overcome Europe’s existential crisis, and to respond to citizens’ demands for change, is to confront Europe’s domestic opponents head-on: politics without palliatives.
Europe needs, first and foremost, to break the vicious circle of recession, unemployment, and austerity that now has it in its grip. That means, first of all, refocusing economic policy on growth, employment, and institutional innovation. It is impossible to advance toward political union while seeming to abandon Europe’s citizens along the way, which is the impression that unremitting austerity has created. Sacrifice, too many Europeans believe, is not laying the groundwork for a better, more prosperous Europe, but is dragging them into a fatal tailspin.
European leaders cannot remain passive in the face of the dangerous populist tsunami now crossing the continent, and they know it. There is still time to react – by demonstrating strong leadership and prioritizing growth over short-sighted policies – but that time is limited and the clock is ticking.