In the last one decade, the European Union faced many crises. First, the bailout crisis in the debt-ridden southern countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and later, the refugee crisis due to war in West Asia- both times, Germany, more specifically Angela Merkel, the de facto leader of the Union, came out for rescue.
Angela Merkel led German government gave billions of Euros in loan to debt-ridden countries like Greece, Portugal, and when EU is suffering with the refugee crisis, she came forward with the offer to accept a large number of migrants in the crisis.
EU also survived the Brexit, which the European leaders could not stop despite their best efforts. But now, the continent is suffering from a crisis very different from previous ones and this time, Germany is not coming forward to rescue the union.
The Southern European countries, namely Italy and Spain, are among the most badly hit by the virus with thousands of deaths and lakhs of patients. Therefore, these countries are asking for ‘Coronabonds’, a debt instrument jointly guaranteed by all EU countries, but Germany and the Netherlands, the strongest economies of the Union, have rejected the idea.
Nine countries, including France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, were supporting the Coronabonds, but most of these countries are already under a huge pile of debt and Germany does not want to go the same way.
Since then, there has been a huge protest, especially in Italy and Spain, against the European Union. Also, the right-wing leaders in these countries supported and participated in the protest. Images and videos of Italian people disrespecting EU flags and marching with flags of China and Russian has went viral on social media.
“If Europe does not rise to this unprecedented challenge, the whole European structure loses its raison d’etre to the people,” warned Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “I represent a country that is suffering a lot and I cannot afford to procrastinate,” he added.
The cultural contradiction of Germany and other Southern European countries is at the centre of contention. The governments of Italy, Greece, and even their people, have no problems with living under huge debt, like the Americans. Basically, these countries like to spend more than saving, even if they have to borrow. On the contrary, Germans are very financially prudent people. Their governments are mandated to keep the deficit below one per cent, and therefore, the Germans are against issuance of Corona bonds.
“The [German] business community is strongly against the idea, so the debate could end the same way it did before — without issuing the bonds,” said Anke Hassel, professor of public policy at the Hertie School in Berlin. “And the conservative politicians here don’t see any reason why they should have to support them — that is, unless they think the eurozone could fall apart or Italy could leave the EU.”
The successive crisis in the southern part of union in the last one decade has created a North-South divided. The South is looking for help to richer northern states like Germany, Netherlands and small Nordic countries, but now, these countries have their own problems too big to go for help to Southern neighbours.
The populist politicians in the deep south, supported by the extreme left, have launched an aggressive campaign against status-quoits ruling parties. “This is definitely a make-it-or-break-it moment for the European project,” said Nathalie Tocci, a former adviser to the EU foreign policy chief. “If it goes badly this really risks being the end of the union. It fuels all the nationalist-populism.”
The European Union project, with a success history of almost seven decades, has fallen from grace in the last few years. The bailout crisis, refugee crisis, and Brexit have already weakened it. The rise of the populist right and the radical left in many countries France, Italy, and East European countries puts the EU project in danger. Every time de-facto leaders of the group, Angela Merkel, used to come out to rescue the integrity of the Union; but this time, it seems, she has withdrawn her hand. And the fall of the European Union is just a matter of time.