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February 05, 2013, Tuesday

Europe à la carte?

Joining the European Union is a challenging process. It took years even for the United Kingdom. However, the EU acquis does not provide any mechanisms for its members to withdraw from the union. Due to its economic and political success, the EU has turned into a union that every country wants to be a part of. There has been no country that has regretted joining the union up to now.

The euro crisis that has gained depth in the global economic crisis and destabilized EU members, primarily Spain, Greece and Portugal, shook the EU myth summarized above. The view that predicts the disintegration of the EU, or Greece's being kicked out of the eurozone and even the EU, has begun to threaten the success story of the union.

German ‘opportunism'

The EU bureaucracy and Germany succeeded in turning the crisis into an opportunity for deeper unification, and, taking advantage of the helplessness of the countries in financially dire circumstances, reduced the authority of those countries' national financial policies and increased the power of EU institutions over the members tremendously. In other words, countries like Greece lost not only their national monetary unit but also their power to determine the fate of their monetary unit to a large extent.

Thanks to the precautions taken, it seems that Greece has been saved from collapse. But actually, as a result of the insistence of Germany, the factors that caused the crisis have been strengthened. As is known, due to the insistence of Germany on a “more united Europe,” countries like Greece, Italy and Germany that are in many ways different from each other were forced to carry out the same policies in many areas. Industrial manufacturer Germany and tourism earner Greece use the same monetary unit, for example. These conditions are being interpreted by some experts as putting the European Union into a straightjacket.

Accordingly, if the EU does not follow a more flexible method, especially on monetary policy, economic crises will be inevitable, as implementing the same policies for different economies and societies in the EU severely limits development. However, the solution that the European Central Bank has brought to the current crisis does not add flexibility to the system; in fact, it makes the system even stricter and more centralized. This approach, which is based on the assumption that states cannot direct their economies according to the required EU fiscal regulations without strengthening fiscal discipline and introducing more automatic sanctions, disappointed certain members, notably the UK.

British response

From the beginning, the UK has been in favor of a more flexible EU. According to the UK, as integration is furthered, the real potential of each of the members is restrained, morphing the EU into a monster that is impossible to outrun. These days, euro-skepticism has hit new highs in Britain. More than 50 percent of its voters advocate withdrawing from the EU. It is an undeniable fact that euro-skepticism has become a powerful force in British politics.

At that rate, it is not difficult to understand British Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently said that the UK might withdraw from the EU. Cameron desires a more flexible union in terms of finance, employment, justice and social policy.

The threat of withdrawal by the UK has not been welcomed in Germany and France. Although both countries argue that they can persuade the British of the importance of tightening fiscal discipline, we in practice have now at least two EUs. It seems that 21st-century Europe will be shaped by Germany's ambition of a “more deeply united Europe” and the reaction of the UK to this ambition.

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