What Does the Future Hold for Europe?

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Marc Rastoin, SJ

Paid Article

The Covid-19 crisis has brought to the fore a key question of recent years. It is the crucial question for Western European countries: Is there still a future for the European Union? For this Union that gives weight and backbone to a hard-to-define geographical Europe? One can almost hear the words that the Lord spoke to the prophet Jeremiah in the time of exile and despair: “There is hope for your future, says the Lord” (Jer 31:17). In the face of criticism and mistrust, is it possible to imagine a plausible future for Europe without the European Union? Must the Union be a political and not just economic entity for Europe to be an effective part of human history? And should it not also have a cultural and spiritual dimension?

Many people who had hitherto been rather pro-European became less so following the ups and downs of EU aid as the global economic crisis due to the pandemic was beginning to take shape. Eurosceptics rejoiced and propounded their “solution” of retreat into national spheres as the only possible one. The pro-Europeans reiterated that, to be effective, solutions and responses must be European and coordinated, but the refrain seems worn out. Is it possible to identify reasons for hope?

An old issue

The question has taken on a more obvious gravity, but it is not at all new. For years people have been wondering how to breathe new life into the process of uniting European countries. With the dominance of financial concerns, the limits of the democratic process, too much bureaucracy, and above all the lack of inspiration for the future, is Europe still making people dream? The answer is clearly negative in many cases, as Brexit has shown. 

On the one hand, many are convinced that a more united and more decisive Europe is the only way to carry out its responsibilities in the face of China and the United States and, closer to us, to resist Putin’s meddling, aimed at weakening democracies.

He does so not because he has an eye on Europe as such, but because a failure of this great democratic enterprise would favor the survival of his authoritarian system and long-term confirmation of his tenure in power, convincing the remaining Russian liberals and democrats that it is pointless to look to the West. Strategies of this ilk have been pursued for two centuries in Russia.

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