The EU is going through a very challenging period because of the Covid 19 crisis. There are three vectors of crisis in action simultaneously and interdependently: party conflicts domestically, tensions between Member States (MSs), and external powers’ interferences, writes Raffaele Marchetti, Professor of International Relations, LUISS Guido Carli University of Rome.
While a more conflict-ridden environment materialized since the European parliament election back in 2014, the present health crisis, coupled with the incoming economic struggle, is only intensifying the political divergences inside and between different Member States (MSs). Additionally, external powers have no interest in the strengthening of the EU integration process.
For many decades, the history of the European integration was characterized by a widespread consensus in the political elites of the MSs. EU leaders for the most part shared a feeling of overall support for a gradual economic integration at the regional level. At times, such support was almost unquestioned, leading to a “quasi-delegation” of decision-making power to technocratic elites. The expression of “permissive consensus” was coined precisely to describe this situation of de facto
cession of sovereignty to supranational technocrats.
The situation changed with the Eurozone crisis that is still hitting parts of the EU since 2009. The economic downturn provoked dramatic changes in many domestic political systems and had a significant impact on the European institutions, beginning with the European Parliament. At the national level, a number of governments were challenged, they had to give up their leadership, or to accept alliances with opposition parties in unprecedented trans-ideological grand coalitions. At the same time, long standing Eurosceptic parties grew and new critical political movements emerged with a clear anti EU establishment agenda. As a consequence of such shift, the European landscape became much more pluralistic than in the past, and the European elections of 2014, as well as those of 2018, just reflected such increasingly pluralistic and conflicting scenario.
While during the period of the permissive consensus there was only a limited scrutiny by European civil society concerning the decisions taken in Brussels, with the economic crisis and the current healthcare crisis, the level of attention towards the European decision-making process has steadily increased. More and more, national leaders are challenged in their positioning concerning major EU decisions, EU technocrats are made object of criticism, and the EU as such is more and more seen with suspicion, if not with straightforward mistrust, by significant segments of society in many member states especially in the south of Europe, as indicated by the Eurobarometer data.