Signs of disunity raise concerns over EU solidarity
BRUSSELS – Europe has persevered through a year of challenges in 2021, in the wake of Brexit and amid painstaking efforts for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the year draws to a close, the consequences of Brexit, speculation over Poland’s exit from the European Union (EU) and the lingering migrant crisis continued to weigh heavily on the sense of cohesion and solidarity. of EU Member States.
Thorny post-Brexit issues
In one of the most heart-wrenching headlines, 27 undocumented migrants died in a Channel boating accident on November 24 as they attempted to reach the UK from France. The accident sparked a quarrel between the two countries, which blamed each other for the tragedy.
The sinking of the English Channel further worsened Anglo-French relations, which were already strained after London signed the AUKUS pact with the United States and Australia in September, and the dispute over the licenses of French fishermen to fish in British waters after Brexit.
Another major post-Brexit dispute concerns the Northern Ireland Protocol, an agreement between the UK and the EU to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit by maintaining Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods.
But the arrangement led to controls on goods crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland, creating a barrier to trade in the UK. After six months of unsuccessful negotiations, the dispute will continue in 2022.
Analysts interpret Brexit as a wake-up call for European integration, as a result of which new divisions could develop between EU member states, especially between euro area countries and countries outside the area euro, net payers and net recipients of the EU budget, and between member states in the north and south, and east and west.
“The threat of European disintegration in the wake of Brexit has turned the seemingly irreversible course of an ‘ever closer union‘,” Cambridge University doctoral student Ugur Tekiner said in an article, adding that the EU needed effective leadership to set a clear course for the integration process. .
Poland was in the limelight again in October after its highest court ruled on the primacy of the national constitution over EU law – a ruling that challenged the supremacy of EU law, considered a central pillar of European integration.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the decision called into question the foundations of the EU, “a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order”.
Critics of the Polish government feared the move would push the country further on leaving the EU, although the government dismissed the idea as “fake news”.
As the absolute majority of Polish citizens strongly support its EU membership, only a few believe that the country, the biggest recipient of EU funding, is leaving the EU.
The Polish government, led by the conservative Law and Justice party, has been in conflict with EU officials since taking office in 2015. The dispute mainly centers on changes to the Polish justice system, which give the ruling party more power over the courts.
Polish authorities say they want to reform what they describe as a corrupt and inefficient judicial system, as the European Commission believes such changes erode the country’s democratic system of checks and balances and reserves affected billions of euros for Poland to a recovery plan in the event of a pandemic.
The committee announced last week that it was taking legal action against Poland for violating EU law and undermining the judicial independence of Polish judges, which prompted a reprimand from Warsaw.
Meanwhile, a months-long standoff on the Polish-Belarusian border lasted from summer to winter. The border crisis intensified last month, when large groups of migrants attempted to cross Belarus to the EU, raising the specter of a humanitarian emergency.
The EU blamed Belarus for sending migrants across the border in retaliation for EU sanctions, while Minsk denied the accusation.
The European Commission has proposed a package of temporary asylum and return measures to help Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, three EU members bordering Belarus, cope with the emergency. According to the proposal, migrants could be held in closed camps at the border for up to four months and faster deportations will be explicitly allowed.
The move, however, was the subject of immediate criticism from some Members of the European Parliament and rights groups, who said the new approach was unacceptable and “put politics above people’s lives. “, especially at a time when Belarus had already evacuated the main camps on its border with Poland and expatriated hundreds of asylum seekers.
The EU – and its individual Member States – approach to migration has created what appears to be a continuing crisis of solidarity. This is a hot and increasingly controversial issue within the bloc and even within Member States, prompting the EU to tackle the crisis at its root.
The European Commission has proposed to make 2022 the European Year of Youth, hoping that the younger generation will strengthen European solidarity and build a better future – a mission already taken by some.
Since the age of 18, Mary Finn, a British aid worker, has been involved in rescue operations at sea for migrants off the coasts of Greece, Turkey and Libya. Now 24 years old, she testifies to the refugee situation in Europe and its consequences for European politics.
“We are not alone, there is a generation of young people who do not want to sit idly by and watch humanity and our planet crumble,” she said in an Instagram post after the premiere of a documentary on his experience and that of his peers. at the Cannes Film Festival in July.