European Union Must Get Its Act Together, as Time Is Running Out

The European Union continues to have its problems and doesn't seem to be resolving any of them.

It must turn things around and turn them around soon.

Events last year didn't help the EU, especially the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump as president of the U.S.

This year doesn't look like it will bring a release of the pressures being felt within the community, especially with elections coming up in France, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Italy.

Almost since it began, the EU has done the minimum necessary to keep things together, and it often just seems to be kicking the can down the road.

Financial Times Associate Editor Wolfgang Munchau has argued that this kind of behavior can't continue, and that the EU "will not be able to muddle through for four years, let alone eight, of a Trump presidency."

There are, in my mind, two reasons for this.

First, protectionism doesn't work. And if protectionism doesn't work, people have to learn to work together and build together or suffer alone.

EU members have achieved the scale needed to be an economic force in the world, have gone a long way to integrating their economies and have the second-strongest reserve currency in the world, a great starting point.

But as Munchau wrote, "The history of monetary unions has shown us that it needs to be embedded in a political union to be sustainable."

The EU "crisis is in its eighth year. The EU needs to stop quarreling about Greece or fretting about whether the euro can survive the next Italian elections," Munchau wrote. 

EU leaders need to get serious and really get to work.

"There are not many options left to fix the eurozone," Munchau wrote.

The move must be made to bring the community into a political union or suffer the consequences.

Second, the EU and the U.K. must put behind them the "hard-bargain" effort to save face in their negotiations. They must work something out because it is obvious that they need one another.

Devising a trade agreement between the U.K. and the U.S. is fine, but the more crucial deal is between the EU and Great Britain.

"The U.K. will always trade more with the EU than the U.S. Geography matters," Munchau wrote.

Institutions are already closely integrated between the two areas. A separation would really hurt everybody, and the disentangling would be costly and time consuming.

Whether or not the countries involved can actually get together and work on not only the economic problems but also the issues pertaining to political union is in question.

But time is running out. Kicking the can down the road is no longer an option.

In its present state, the EU, to quote Munchau, is "pathetically weak."

The pressures bringing Trump together with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May might be one of the last events in splitting the connection between Europe and the U.K. A deal between May and Trump could create the distance between the continent and the U.K. that would exacerbate the tensions within the EU.

And this could produce the final slide for the EU down the slippery slope to ultimate division.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. 

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