LLM, MA in International Relations, Sofia University; Post-Graduate Diploma candidate in EU Competition Law, King’s College London
An idea with tremendous potential, a clear vision and huge emotional discharge emerged six decades ago in Europe – the creation of a Union which can bring piece and prosperity to the peoples of Europe. Unfortunately, 60 years later, this idea has yet to be accomplished.
European integration was conceived mainly as a continuous process. Communities were created not to solidify the status quo, but to create the foundations for the future development of the Continent and for the achievement of specific objectives; at first, economic, and, later, political.
For almost any political analyst it is clear that the EU needs further reforms, a much stronger economy, needs to protect its own integrity. However, the primary question that remains is: what does the EU actually need protection from? The answer appears to be it needs protection from itself. In the current economic environment it became clearer than ever that, in fact, it is the Union’s economy and the unity of its enduring diversity that are in deep crisis.
The global economic crisis set a special course for the whole European project. The current economic problems of the European citizens increased their skepticism of a unified European Union. This has resulted in yet another crisis of confidence in the European institutions, the increase of democratic deficit and the revival of concern over nationalism in Europe.
Under the Lisbon Treaty the EU was supposed to be politically and, thus, economically stronger. Indeed, the Lisbon Treaty is a good starting point as well as an inevitable phase in the integration process. According to its provisions, EU institutions enjoy greater powers: the European Council became grounded as a formal institution; the European Parliament expands its powers in terms of law making, scrutiny, budget, constitutional and foreign affairs; the meetings of the Council of Ministers, when it passes law, shall be public; the Community method is now extended into the area of freedom, security and justice; and the Charter of Fundamental Rights has become legally binding.
However, despite all these new provisions, it seems that recently the gap between the so-called “eurosceptics” and the “eurooptimists” has grown even bigger. It was ironic that it was the negative outcome of French and Dutch referendums on the draft Constitution of Europe that held back the Union’s integration aimed to overcome exactly those emerging nationalist ideas. And it shall be made clear that the EU needs further reform, mainly due to the fact that in many ways the present system is opaque and exhausted. This, however, means that the Lisbon Treaty lacks the potential needed to meet all of the current requirements raised by the ongoing social, economic and political events.
In these extraordinary times, instead of speeding the integration process Western democracies worried about their own future have felt the need to slow down Integration by introducing questionable mechanisms jeopardising EU fundamental freedoms.
Genuinely worried by the “Polish plumber”, and later by the cheap labour force coming from ethnic minority workers (mainly from Eastern Europe), the old EU Member States have felt the need to firstly limit access to their labour markets secondly to their systems of social insurance, and finally to their borders. The recent requests for partial reintroduction of border control within the Schengen area again raised the issue of how fragile the Union is. Moreover, this threat was not a minor one but against one of the fundamental freedoms and ultimate goal of the Union: the free movement of people and goods.
Following the Greek debt distress, the expulsion of Roma from France, the refugee waves to Italy and even the creation of a double standard in the attempts of Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area, everyone in Europe realised that the European integration model is in deep crisis. And this crisis goes far beyond the democratic deficit against which the European bureaucrats felt very comfortable to fight. As a result, four critical areas in EU policy have been recognised: the massive migration flows from the periphery to the centre of the Union, the loss of national sovereignty and identity, Islamization and the problems with the Roma minority.
In this complex socio-political climate of economic shortages, the far right political ideas seem to have become a gathering point for many. The social contract upon which the EU was founded has been weakened by the ongoing economic crisis, and this led to the emergence of various nationalist parties across Europe, which have been trying to promote their own understanding of national identity and thus endangering the European project.
According to different analysis, nationalists’ concerns in the East and in the West are quite different. In Eastern Europe, on one hand, the main issue is believed to be the presence of ethnic minorities, especially Roma, and the negative consequences of their cheap labour. The Western world, on the other, seems to have created a bias against certain religions given the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the last century. As a result many nationalist parties claim that the foundations of Europe lie within Christianity only and thus other religions’ traditions and beliefs are said to be incompatible with the ‘European idea’.
Nationalist parties claim that the excessive granting of various rights to minority groups is actually incompatible with the principles of the ‘welfare state’ and it destroys its foundations. ‘Sweden Democrats’, for instance, claim that the welfare state is at risk of extinction because of the migration flows, while ‘Attack’ in Bulgaria criticise ethnic and religious minorities in the country for having too many privileges.
As a general rule, all nationalist parties feel that governments transfer too much sovereignty to the EU. That’s why some nationalist parties see the withdrawal of EU membership as the solution to all problems. For example, organisations such as the Freedom Party in Austria and the Danish People’s Party have repeatedly demonstrated opposition to EU accession and its enlargement, while the Swiss People’s Party seeks to keep the Union out of Switzerland. However, other parties find EU membership acceptable, but reject its future enlargement. For these parties, the accession of Turkey, a Muslim country of 74 million people, is a major argument against EU future enlargement.
Despite the bitter experience of World War II, some countries have a lasting tradition of supporting nationalist groups. Switzerland is a good example of this. In the last federal election nationalist parties collected an average of 28 percent of the vote, and Swiss People’s Party is the leader. ‘National Front’ in France has received approximately 14 percent of the vote in the last three presidential elections. Similar results can be observed in other countries such as the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark. Finland can be recognised as the state in which the support of the nationalist parties had the highest growth in the last two electoral campaigns. Further, participation of nationalist parties in the government under some form can be seen in countries like Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria.
It is worth pointing out that recently a very interesting phenomenon can be observed. As a general rule it is the mainstream parties that usually control the executive branch in the country. With the emergence of nationalist parties, however, support for mainstream parties has decreased and it is not as easy as it once was for them to build powerful majorities in the national and regional parliaments. It turns out that these established parties have to cooperate and comply with the requirements of the small (often the nationalist right-wing) parties in order to be able to maintain their participation in the government. This trend could turn out to be very dangerous in the near future, not only for the Member States, but for the EU as a whole.
To determine the future of the nationalist parties is as difficult as to determine the future of the EU itself. The fact is that the more difficulties the European integration process encounters, the more popular the nationalist alternatives will become.
For the federalists it is clear that the future of the EU lies far away from the nationalist ideas as they strive for a truly federal state capable of solving all current problems. In a federal union the present inter-institutional balance shall be changed; a bicameral parliament shall be established comprised of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers with a true executive body: the Commission; and a real European Court. In terms of finance, the EU treasury and European Monetary Fund shall be established. These innovations will clearly dissolve many of the current economic and political problems the EU is facing. However, the national sovereignty issue will remain. This could only be overcome by introducing a truly European political space where the EU dimension of politics is presented at a national level.
It is clear that the prospect of successful European integration is a desirable goal. A federal Union is one of the proposals for a possible development of the European Project, but there may also be others that have yet to be seen. However, nationalism is definitely not one of them.
 Article 13, paragraph 1 of the Treaty on European Union.
 For further reference see Article 14 of the Treaty on European Union and Articles 223-234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
 Article 16, paragraph 8 of the Treaty on European Union.
 For further reference see Articles 67-76 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
 By virtue of the first subparagraph of Article 6(1) of the Treaty on European Union.
 This was a phrase used as a symbol of cheap labour coming in from Central Europe as a result of the Directive on services in the internal market during the EU Constitution referendum in France in 2005. It was first used by Philippe Val in Charlie Hebdo and later popularised by Philippe de Villiers