The Return of Europe’s Nation-States: A Response

This month’s edition of Foreign Affairs features a strongly anti-EU piece by Jakub Grygiel (“The return of Europe’s Nation-States: The Upside to the EU’s Crisis”), a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. In his article, Grygiel argues that citizens are disillusioned with the European Union and that the EU has failed. He claims that a return to newly assertive nation states is necessary to master the continent’s pressing security challenges.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that a return to the nation state is the answer to the problems the EU is facing. But there is no wall high or wide enough to insulate a country from the globalised challenges we are facing. As recently noted by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, “in the twenty-first century, the turn away from cooperation and integration amounts to burying one’s head in the sand and hoping the dangers will pass.” It was exactly a lack of coordination between national intelligence services that facilitated terrorist strikes, and it was many years of neglect and lacking solidarity that worsened the refugee crisis. Instead, EU Member States need to cooperate better.

Mr Grygiel, for example, believes that European nation states would do a better job on their own checking Russia, but how? Europe’s sanctions against Moscow would be the first victim of a return to nation states. China’s and Russia’s ‘divide and rule’ tactics would flourish in such an environment. Germany would happily continue to conduct bilateral energy deals with Gazprom, to the detriment of Central and Eastern Europe, without EU legislation binding its hands.

Furthermore, recalling Senator Moynihan, Mr Grygiel is of course entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. Public opinion polls show support for the EU. According to Eurobarometer, citizens consistently trust EU institutions over their own national governments. After the historic Brexit vote, support for the EU actually increased in a number of Member States, particularly Germany. A recent annual survey of the World Economic Forum also highlighted that only 13% of European millennials identify primarily with their nation state, while over 50% see themselves as either global or European citizens.

What the European Union needs is neither ever more integration, nor a complete return to the nation state as supported by Mr Grygiel. Instead, flexibility is key, allowing for different types of deepening integration. EU Member States have an arsenal of integration models at their disposal. They can advance “enhanced cooperation” between groups of Member States or they can use Permanent Structured Cooperation under Article 46 of the Treaty of the EU, as is currently being debated with regards to creating a Defence Union. Options for different forms of integration exist and need to be used.

Quoting the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Mr Grygiel argues that individual countries will provide the kind of safety that Brussels can’t. Well, let me return the favour with another Niebuhr quote: “Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.”

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