At 17:00 CET on Wednesday the 25th January 2017, Kultura Liberalna held a discussion on the future of political union in Europe, looking at potential scenarios going forwards and asking whether we need more, less or a different Europe.
“You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically, a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out. I believe others will leave .” – This is the opinion the 45th US president Donald Trump expressed in his first interview with the European press since his election. In the same conversation, Mr. Trump once again called NATO “obsolete ”, heavily criticised Angela Merkel for her migration policy and, when asked whether he trusted the German chancellor or the Russian president more, he stated: “I start off trusting both — but let’s see how long that lasts”.
This interview was widely received as a clear sign that the new US President is ready to abandon the 70-year-old American-European alliance. And, only a few days later, the British prime minister, Theresa May, delivered a speech in which she announced that the United Kingdom would seek a “clean break ” from the European Union and would not just leave the political union but also its economic predecessor, the single market .
Besieged by international upheavals and facing a growing wave of nationalist populism within its member states, the EU is starting the year 2017 with three important elections in sight. Should anti-European forces prevail in one or more of France, Germany and the Netherlands, then it’s difficult to imagine that the EU would be able to survive in its current form.
Calls for referenda on membership of the European Union are becoming increasingly audible throughout the continent. At the same time, the authorities in Brussels and Strasbourg are trying to tame anti-European sentiment amongst member states by issuing warnings and threatening those governments which do not abide by liberal democratic standards with sanctions. Poland – seen until recently as a poster child for successful democratic transition – has become, along with Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, an enfant terrible within the Union.
Indeed, Foreign Policy started 2017 by publishing an article which claims that “Poland was never as democratic as it looked ” and blames EU institutions for not exerting enough pressure on Central and Eastern European countries during the process of their democratic transition.
Should, therefore, the EU toughen its stance towards mutinous governments in Warsaw and Budapest, or, to the contrary, should it respect their demands for more autonomy from Brussels? Or, are perhaps calls for more or less Europe themselves obsolete, as people’s expectations can only be satisfied by a radically different Europe?
What if the EU in its current form does disintegrate, what can it be replaced with and how long might it take to do so? Would the EU’s demise cause the old East-West divide to resurface and, most importantly, would we see a peaceful transition?
Ryszard Czarnecki – Member of the European Parliament for PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), Vice-President of the EP
Joanna Kędzierska – Director of Communications, Centre for European Policy Analysis
Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz – Co-founder of the Centre for Eastern Studies, former Minister of the Interior for PO (Platforma Obywatelska)
Rafał Trzaskowski – ex-MEP and former Polish Vice-President of Foreign Affairs for PO (Platforma Obywatelska)
Łukasz Pawłowski – Columnist and Managing Editor at Kultura Liberalna.
This debate was organised with the support of the European Parliament within the framework of the Debating nEPwork project. The Debating nEPwork project has been organised by the Time to Talk member The Red House Centre (Sofia) and takes place with the support and local efforts of the Time to Talk institutions Depo (Istanbul) and Kultura Liberalna (Warsaw).