Academics across the European Union have issued a damning review of the state of the project, warning top Eurocrats their pursuit of further integration is fuelling growing dissent among EU voters. As Italy descends towards the brink of recession threatening the stability of a fragile eurozone, eastern European countries have been increasingly voicing their dissent towards the plans for the future of the European project and demanded control over matters of national concern be returned to them. With Brexit on the horizon, experts in EU policy have warned the bloc changes will have to be made to the inner structure of the European Union machine to save it from total collapse.
The EU you see today is going to be a very different one in 10 years time
Craig McKinley MP, a staunch supporter of the Brexit campaign, suggested the “quasi-religious” regard the European Commission and its boss Jean-Claude Juncker have for the European treaties could be a driving force of dissent among EU member states craving more independence.
Speaking to Express.co.uk last year, Mr McKinley said: “The Commission is the guardian of the treaties, it has almost become a quasi-religion for them, ‘how dare any country even want to leave?’ The EU has got some significant problems.
“You’ve got a parliamentary election next year on the backdrop of an increasing number of the countries that are concerned about the direction of travel. There’s certainly Italy, one of the big four, that has had a complete change of Government recently. Greece is obviously desperately unhappy with the situation it finds itself in.
“If it doesn’t change quickly and reflect what people are saying, I think it’s got real difficulties in the future. The EU you see today is going to be a very different one in 10 years time.”
EU news: Academics across the continent have warned Brussels failure to change may lead to collapse
European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker used his penultimate State of the Union speech in 2017 to urge member states to accept proposals for increased cooperation with Brussels in the future – suggesting the bloc should agree to elect a common Finance minister to manage the eurozone.
In addition to Brexit negotiations, the European Union has been juggling with increased pressure from Hungary, Poland and Italy to stop interfering with national policies.
But unexpected actors have been slowly joining forces to mitigate attempts at further integration – especially economic – proposed by the echelons of the bloc and key member states such as France.
EU expert Rem Korteweg said: “I think this very clearly, particularly in one specific area, which is the Northern European creditor area.
“The Netherlands, along with seven other smaller eurozone and non-eurozone members have been quite vocal in terms of pushing back against Commission and French ideas to further integrate the eurozone.
“This group of eight countries goes by the name of the Hanseatic League and they are the three Baltic states – Finland, Denmark, Sweden – Ireland and the Netherlands. These are eight smaller countries which have signalled their discomfort with Commission, or more French, plans to deepen and further integrate the Eurozone to give the Eurozone a proper budget to perhaps moving toward the setting up of separate structures inside the European Union to manage the Eurozone.”
Dr Korteweg warned Brussels a “systemic shock” to the integrated monetary system of the EU – including a potential fallout of the Brexit negotiations or a recession – could threaten the stability of the bloc as a whole.
He added: “I think there’s awareness the Eurozone is very much still a work in progress and that means any systemic shock – whether its Brexit or its an EU trade war or whether it’s just the systemic vulnerability in some of the Southern European states – can still undermine the project.”
Italy emerged as a significant menace to the bloc due to repeated clashes the populist Government led by eurosceptic Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio have had with Brussels since coming into power in the summer of 2018.
Both leaders have threatened to cut off contributions to the common budget to obtain more control over policy-making, especially in regards to immigration and deficit goals. The leaders of the populist Government had also expressed support for a referendum on euro membership.
European Affairs expert Ian Kearns said: “It would be fatal to the entire European project were a country like Italy to leave the single currency.
“If Italy were to leave there would be speculation that others would be forced out, or that others might one day follow. That would be enough for markets to stop lending to those countries and the bailout mechanism of the single currency would be simply insufficient to cope.
“There would be no longer any appetite to provide bailouts from those countries that have money and there’s no longer any appetite for more austerity in countries that would need to borrow in bailouts scenarios.
“I think there would be an unravelling of the single currency which would lead to a breakdown in the intra-European trade payment system, a fragmentation of the single market, the re-imposition of non-tariff barriers. That, for all intents and purposes, would be the end of the European Union.”
While the threat of a withdrawal from the Eurozone holds political clout for Rome, the Italian Government would first have to change the country’s constitution as Article 75 of the text of law does not allow for referenda on international treaties such as the one covering membership of the Euro and the European Union.
Hungarian economist Andrea Hosso last year also concluded attempts to “force” plans for an “aggressive federalisation project” have already begun to show signs of a backlash among member states.
Ms Hosso said: “I said in my answer when talking about the 50-year horizon, I’m not sure that the EU will be around in 50 years. I didn’t give a year but actually, I do stand by that.
“They should try to change and convert the EU into a union which really is based on shared interests among the member states. They haven’t changed that so they are going to forge ahead with this very aggressive federalisation project that they pursue politically and economically and it’s going to have a backlash.”