Column: It is time to save the EU

Apr 05 2014, 02:55 IST
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SummaryThe recent setbacks for the European Union leadership could actually help to save the EU

A surge of far-right parties is about to hit the European parliament. Last weekend’s success of the National Front in France was led by the party’s leader Marine Le Pen, who pledges to take France out of an agreement that is destroying jobs and flooding towns with immigrants. Similar advances by the right are appearing in differing degrees of intensity elsewhere in Europe.

The European elections next month will likely see 100 or more deputies from the Freedom Party of Austria, the British UK Independence Party, the Dutch Freedom Party, the Finnish True Finns, the Flemish (Belgian) Vlaams Blok, the German Alternative for Germany, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Italian Five Star Movement, the Swedish Democrats as well as the National Front enter parliament. They’ll be noisy, passionate, insulting, disruptive and in some cases well-primed to exploit every weakness and mistake in the European parliament.

The arrival of these deputies is the most recent bit of bad news for the Brussels politicians and officials whose job is to steer the European Union through its roughest patch in half a century. Together with two other hammer blows, this bad news could actually save the EU.

A no-holds-barred argument about the purpose of the EU would dynamise this somnolent assembly. Some would be forced to face the eurosceptic issues that are raised by far-right parties, including the difficulty of attracting interest to an organisation in which the members are unknown.

For decades, these issues have been ducked. But in the next election they will be forced on to the agenda. Finding the words and the passion to defend and promote the EU in debates will mean that Europeans will perhaps begin to see the point of the organisation.

The second bit of bad news is now familiar. The revelations of public debt in euro zone countries where growth has slowed or gone negative, as in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Greece, have raised fears of defaults. The total debt of the 17 member states that make up the euro zone was a cumulative $12.2 trillion (8.84 trillion euros) at the end of last year, or nearly 93% of gross domestic product in the euro zone states. That is way above the 60% limit that the euro zone had pledged.

Mind you, that is an improvement. The debt has come down slightly in the past few months (though it is still higher than it was a

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