The Institute for Politics and Society organized a public debate at Prague House in Brussels to discuss the “East West Divide”. The debate involved the expertise of five speakers with different backgrounds and viewpoints: Martina Dlabajová, Member of European Parliament, Czech Republic; Pavel Svoboda, Member of European Parliament, Czech Republic; Anne Dastakian, Editor of French magazine Marianne, France; Ivan Hodáč, Vice President of the ASPEN Institute, Czech republic; and Jan Macháček, Chairman of Institute for Politics and Society, Czech Republic.
The purpose of the debate was to discuss the growing tension between the “East” and the “West” within the European Union. The recent abundance of crises the EU has had to face have resulted in an inflation of populist governments and criticisms against the EU’s ability to be politically cohesive and effectively manage crisis situations. These new issues the EU faces no longer involve balance or economic issues, as they did in the “North-South” divide. Today, the issues run much deeper – asking what the EU is all about and how to move forward – is there one EU or is the EU to remain a fragmented association of member states?
The debate brought many different subtopics to the floor with a few recurring concepts. The conversations tended to focus on examples involving migration and a common dense/European foreign policy. The main ideas highlighted below, were the concepts discussed as root causes to the growing division between the “East” and the “West”.
Institutions are ill-equipped to handle the current crises the EU faces. Many of the speakers agreed that the institutions set to run the EU are outdated and ineffective in dealing with the issues at hand today. The institutions have been around since the original 6 and are now bursting at the seams to coordinate 28 member states. Furthermore, the institutions lack the proper competencies to function effectively. There should be a continental institution established which can respond to migration, defense, or other related issues. It is vital that there be a common EU solution in regards to these issues. Finally, some believed that the institutions cannot gain influence and become more effective if they have no power. Power shouldn’t be pushed back to the national governments, because the national governments already have all the power (Svoboda). We can see the results of this with the migration crisis – Issues regarding migration and such have largely remained in the power of the national governments for they feared it would take away from their sovereignty. However, this has largely influenced the position the EU is in today, where it cannot effectively deal with the migration issue and find a common solution. Others, however, believe that smaller issues should be pushed back to the national level so that the EU can create a more effective and central body which can make swift decisions.
Observing the rule. In addition to the institutions being largely incompetent, there is a growing trend to change the rules as we go. Rather than following the rules put into place by these institutions and agreements, we tend to blatantly ignore them. As can be seen with Greece. Greece should have never been allowed into the Eurozone. It didn’t meet the criteria, yet based on political agendas it was accepted as a member and we can see the negative results of that decision weighing heavily on the Eurozone members and the rest of the EU today. Recently, member states have made it clear that the rules should only apply when convenient to their national interests, otherwise they should simply write new rules to deal with the same issues.
There are no EU personalities. It was largely agreed upon by the panel that the EU has no real EU personalities. Instead of being represented by the Heads of the EU or the EU Presidents, the spokespeople for the union have become national representatives, such as Angela Merkel. This lack of respect for the EU leaders has aided in creating an everlasting division among member states. With no real EU personalities to lead them toward establishing common solutions, the member states are playing the blame game and competing against each other. In other words, there is a lack of political integration. The rise of populism in governments has perhaps brought more attention to the growing “division” between the East and the West. It is often misused and results in a cycle of EU representatives focusing on national issues rather than issues at the EU level. Again, these populist movements overshadow the would-be EU personalities needed to lead the union into a more political cohesive environment.
The media is too negative. Another factor that is playing into the growing tensions between the East and the West is the media. As a whole, the media tends to spread bad news or negative information far more readily than positive information. There should be more coverage about the things the EU has successfully accomplished or how the member states are working together to achieve goals set out for bettering Europe. However, the media tends to focus on views that further enables this rift between the member states. Communication is key when attempting to reach a consensus with 28 member states who are very diverse in many aspects. Those that are being heard currently, are those that are criticizing the EU, what about the other side of the story? In short, there needs to be more audible politicians on the EU level speaking about EU affairs, not their home countries. There should be more sharing of best practices and less of pointing fingers and blaming others for the issues the EU faces.