Last Sunday, German President Joachim Gauck said in an interview to Die Welt newspaper that integration in the European Union should be suspended. “Creating the EU, we developed a concept which previous generations could not even dream of. However, on the way to unification, we sometimes chose very fast speed and not all citizens wanted or were able to follow us. It worries me,” Gauck said. In an interview to www.valdaiclub.com, Alexander Rahr, research director of the German-Russian Forum, discussed how Gauck’s words reflect the mindset of Western elites and what the prospects of the European project are.
According to Rahr, Gauck’s statement is especially remarkable because it was uttered by a high-ranking German politician. “The fact that the EU’s further expansion has reached its limit is being discussed covertly and openly by almost everyone. Perhaps out of the mouth of a German politician it sounds particularly surprising, since Germany has always advocated for further EU integration. But what the outgoing President Gauck said is the consensus within the EU,” he said.
Alexander Rahr believes that it is impossible to talk about the enlargement of the EU after Brexit and amid calls for a similar referendum in countries like France, Austria and the Netherlands. The cause of frustration in the European project lies in the dysfunctionality of its political dimension, he said. “The European Union cannot agree on about anything, be that the issues of refugees or the European army.”
According to Rahr, the EU’s eastern policy is also dysfunctional: “The association with Ukraine is blocked by the Netherlands. Moldova has signed the association agreement, got a visa-free regime and immediately turned its attention to the Eurasian Union. There is a similar trend in Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. What kind of further integration or expansion can we talk about?”
Europe on the Cusp of Change
The past few decades have been an experiment in Europe (though not the first one, historically). Now that attempt to realize the dreams of its romantics, utopian philosophers and certain economists and build an ideal common European home has begun to falter.
The German political analyst does not see any more candidates to the EU accession or countries where the majority of the population would be in favor of it. “I think that even in Ukraine or Georgia there is no majority standing for the EU membership after the implementation of all the necessary procedures. Serbia is trying to negotiate with the EU, but not so enthusiastically, as did, for example, Croatia. So the EU enlargement process is losing appeal, and there is no enthusiasm that prevailed ten or, even more so, twenty years ago,” he said.
According to Rahr, hard times are coming for the countries of “New Europe,” which joined the EU after 2004. “They have to face the truth. They joined the European Union when there was a beautiful, sunny weather, and now, when it is raining, these countries are unable to contribute to the strengthening of the European home. They will have to find their place in the EU. Sooner or later, they will do what Moldova is doing now: focus on Europe, but also look for eastern markets,” he said.
Rahr does not agree with the opinion that the European Union is threatened by inevitable collapse. “The EU will not fall apart, but it will change its image,” he said. “Political correctness, the liberal model of economics and politics exalted in the recent years to the status of religion: all this will change. In the geopolitical sense, Germany will return the EU to the idea of a native Europe. There will be states that want to continue to be inside the European Union, live within the model they have built, and there will be states which would like to enjoy the benefits of a common market, but give up on a political union. The idea of the United States of Europe can be buried, but a common economic bloc satisfies the states which compose it,” concluded Alexander Rahr.