BERLIN – Since 2008, when the global financial crisis erupted, the European Union has been confronted by a succession of crises: the escalating Greek crisis; Russian revanchism in Ukraine; and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean (which is inextricably linked to the regional crisis in the Middle East and Africa’s various wars). These crises have stretched the EU’s powers and institutions up to – and beyond – their limits, which is why Europe’s response has been so mortifyingly weak.
The ineffectiveness of existing institutions and structures in the face of today’s threats is now jeopardizing the EU’s legitimacy, because Europe’s citizens are calling for solutions that the EU obviously is unable and partly unwilling to provide. One consequence is erosion of support for the EU among its member states’ electorates.
And the pace of erosion could accelerate in the next two years. The United Kingdom now seems certain to hold, by 2016, a referendum on remaining in the EU, and a far-left party – determined, as in Greece, to escape the rigors of economic reform – could win Spain’s general election next autumn.
Certainly, events could turn out positively, with the UK remaining part of the EU, and Spain opting for the status quo or a more moderate vision of change than Greece’s Syriza-led government has embraced. But the worst-case scenario for the EU’s future looks increasingly likely: “Grexit” (Greece leaving the eurozone), “Brexit” (the UK leaving the EU), and a Spanish election result that resembles Greece’s.