A Collapse Isn’t Coming, It’s Even Worse: The Decline of the European Union

Source: Flickr/European Parliament

In the aftermath of Brexit, the influence and relevance of the European Union appears to be waning. As evidenced by the declining familiarity with EU political figures and limited awareness of current events, the British public no longer closely monitors EU affairs.

While some view this as concerning, it reflects the reality of Britain’s political separation from the continent. Regardless, rumors of the EU’s economic and political successes seem overstated when examining sluggish growth, business confidence, the rise of extremist parties, and other challenges facing member states.

The UK’s Departure From the EU

The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union has had significant implications for both entities. Since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the UK’s formal exit from the EU in 2020, the relationship between the two powers has evolved in complex ways.

Source: Unsplash/Alexandre Lallemand

Politically, the EU no longer has any direct authority over the UK. British voters and politicians are no longer obligated to consider the demands of EU governing bodies like the European Parliament. However, some in the EU appear reluctant to fully accept the UK’s independence, as evidenced by Brussels’ criticism of Britain’s new minimum service levels for labor strikes. This policy does not affect trade between the UK and the EU.

Economic Struggles in the Eurozone

The Eurozone continues to face significant economic challenges. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Eurozone economies have experienced lackluster growth since the United Kingdom departed from the European Union. The OECD reports that the UK economy has outpaced major Eurozone economies like France, Germany, Italy, and Poland in the post-Brexit period.

Source: 2017-2021 State Gov/OECD

Germany, which benefited substantially from the euro for many years, is now in a recession. Business confidence is positive in Britain but negative in the Eurozone, indicating the UK economy is performing better. The euro currency zone remains vulnerable, with some analysts predicting another crisis could emerge.

Germany’s Recession and Business Confidence

Germany’s economy has fallen into recession, shrinking for two consecutive quarters. Economists say Germany’s gross domestic product declined significantly in the third quarter of 2019. This follows a low contraction in the previous three months. Germany is heavily dependent on exports, particularly from the automotive industry.

Source: Flickr/Gruffydd Thomas

Politically, Germany faces challenges from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD is critical of the EU and opposes immigration. The AfD has gained votes in recent state elections, particularly in eastern Germany.

Comparative Economic Growth Rates Post-Brexit

The economic performance of the UK has surpassed that of major EU economies since Brexit. According to the OECD, Britain’s GDP has expanded faster than France, Germany, Italy, and Poland since leaving the EU. While the UK economy has steadily grown, the Eurozone has struggled and faces the impending threat of the euro’s collapse.

Source: Unsplash/Habib Ayoade

Germany, which benefited greatly from the euro for many years, has descended into recession. Business confidence is decidedly positive in Britain but notably negative across the Eurozone. The anemic growth of European economies as a whole stands in stark contrast to the relative success of the British economy.

The Rise of Extremism in EU Politics

The European Union is facing rising political turmoil as extremist parties on both the far-right and far-left gain momentum across member states. Voters in France, Germany, Poland and Spain are increasingly drawn to fringe political movements that promise radical changes to the status quo.

Source: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

The rise of extremist parties poses an existential threat to the EU. As more member states come under the control of radical groups with little commitment to European unity, cooperation and shared values, the EU will struggle to function effectively. If this trend continues across Western Europe, the EU may face an unraveling from within.

The Decline of Centrist Parties

The European Union faces significant political challenges as centrist parties across member states decline in popularity and influence. The rise of populist and extremist political movements on both the far right and far left threatens the stability of national governments and the EU.

Source: EPA/Marius Becker

There is a risk of increased political gridlock at the national level and conflict between member states. The EU must work to address the root causes driving voters to extremist parties and make the case for centrist, pro-EU policies if it hopes to turn the tide.

Ongoing Tensions Between the UK and EU

The EU appears intent on complicating border crossings between the UK and EU. New regulations have made transporting goods across borders more demanding, in what some analysts see as an attempt at punishment. The EU has also objected to some of the UK’s domestic policy changes, such as establishing minimum service levels for strikes, even though these do not directly impact trade.

Source: Unsplash/Christian Lue

However, because the UK is no longer closely monitoring the EU, unrealistic positive perceptions of the organization have emerged. In reality, the EU faces significant challenges, especially economically. The euro currency continues struggling, and major economies like Germany face recessions. Business confidence is higher in the UK than in the Eurozone.

What Does the Future Hold for the EU?

The future of the European Union appears precarious. While imminent collapse seems unlikely, the EU faces significant challenges threatening its stability and global influence. Politically, fringe parties on both the far-right and far-left are gaining popularity across Europe.

Source: Flickr/European Parliament

These parties tend to be Euroskeptic and oppose further European integration. Their rise indicates a growing dissatisfaction with the political establishment and a desire for radical change. Leaders of mainstream parties will need to address voters’ concerns to curb the advance of extremist groups.

External Challenges

The EU also faces external challenges like an increasingly assertive China and Russia. As the geopolitical influence of the United States wanes, the EU will need to strengthen cooperation on foreign policy and defense to counter threats to its interests. However, divisions among member states may hamper efforts to project power on the global stage.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Hann Lans

While the EU is unlikely to disintegrate completely, its status as a major political and economic force in the world depends on overcoming the many issues currently straining the bloc. More decisive leadership and a willingness to reform are desperately needed to ensure the EU’s long-term survival.

The Slow But Steady Decline of The EU

The slow decline of the European Union is evident as economic and political turmoil continues to plague the alliance. Germany faces recession, France contends with a disappearing center-right party, and Italy struggles for growth. The EU’s complex border policies and lingering punitive measures against the UK highlight lingering tensions.

Source: Unsplash/Jason Leung

Yet the UK’s departure has allowed it to focus inward, with business confidence and economic forecasts more positive than those of its former partners. As issues mount on the continent, detachment allows the UK to avoid getting entangled.

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Charlotte Clad

Written by Charlotte Clad

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