The European Union is at a crucial point in its history. Its greatest achievements, such as the single currency and transparent internal borders, are now at risk. Within the EU, there are serious disagreements regarding the concept of its reform and distribution of financial flows.
The existing threats are a consequence of the EU’s focus on rapid expansion, accelerated development of its new members’ economies, free migration, and ‘politicisation’ of the European Union, with a number of severe risks coming up.
Straightforward disintegration of the EU or withdrawal of individual countries:
On April 18, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced a dissolution of the House of Commons and called an early general election for June 8. It will probably result in a government that will ensure the UK's exit from the EU by 2019.
Brexit can become an example and a precedent for other EU countries. Previously, the potential candidates for withdrawal included Greece, France, and even Germany, but now Italy seems to be a more likely one.
A rift or deepening confrontation between different parts of Europe:
Within the EU, there is an obvious tension between the ‘old Europe’ and the countries that joined the EU after 1991. In 2016–2017, the tension has been increasing because of the disputes on subsidies and financial support for weaker economies of the ‘young Europe’.
In February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the concept of a ‘two-speed Europe’ that officially acknowledges the possibility of varying levels of integration.
The concept has already been rejected by Poland, with Hungary and other EU countries also standing against it. However, at the March EU summit, the Rome Declaration allowing for different speeds of integration was adopted.
Currency and financial crises:
Marine Le Pen potentially winning the French presidential election was named as one of the major threats to the euro in 2017.
At present, the biggest threat to the EU’s financial stability is supposedly Italy. In April, however, the European Central Bank declared the end of austerity and the transition to economic growth.
Rise of nationalism and Euroscepticism:
In recent years, Europe’s nationalist and anti-globalisation parties have strengthened their positions. The Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom formed its political group, The Europe of Nations and Freedom, in the European Parliament. A popular name for these movements is ‘Eurosceptics’.
During the January meeting in the German city of Koblenz, the leaders of the nationalist parties declared the following priorities: the dissolution of the eurozone, the return of certain powers to national governments, and its own border controls for each EU country.
There was a sharp increase in migration in 2015, with 1–1.8 million refugees and illegal immigrants coming to Europe from Asia and Africa. In 2016, the trend persisted.
Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, as well as the Baltic countries, take a tough stance on immigration. They are supported by Greece and Italy. In Germany and Sweden, the majority of people appear to be more welcoming, as shown by the polls. However, anti-immigrant groups are also active there.
Some of the EU countries are building walls and fences along their borders and partially restoring border control.
In the autumn of 2016, Luxembourg called for Hungary to be expelled from the EU because of its rejection of refugee quotas, meaning that the migration crisis is already threatening the integrity of the European Union.
Rise of terrorism:
In 2016, several hundred people were killed in terrorist attacks in the EU. In 2017, the terrorist threat is still high. Islamic State terrorist group has claimed responsibility for all the attacks.
Islamic terrorism is ‘counterbalanced’ by a growing right-wing terrorism threat. In the middle of May, two soldiers of the Bundeswehr were arrested in Germany on charges of preparing an attack on Syrian refugees. Nazi symbols were found in their possession.
The threat of terrorism strengthens the Euroscepticism position.
Growing tension between the EU and the US:
US President Donald Trump publicly doubts the prospects of the EU in its current form, labelling it ‘a vehicle for Germany’.
European politicians have long been arguing that the current US administration might be content to see the collapse of the EU.