The European Union Council meeting currently under way takes place against a background of rising tension among EU member states.
The 28 EU leaders that have gathered in Brussels for the two-day summit are divided over a number of issues, ranging from the contentious idea of new quotas for refugees and sealing off Europe to British demands for EU reforms.
Indeed, indicative of the potential shift in the balance of power in the political landscape of the European Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be forced to make compromises that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
For starters, while Merkel defends Germany’s “open-door” refugee policy, Germany creaks under the strain of this policy and the Chancellor’s popularity has fallen sharply over her handling of the refugee crisis.
Unsurprisingly, Merkel has said that the number of refugees admitted this year into Germany will be much smaller than what was admitted last year, and it would not be a big surprise if she gave in to pressures about new quotas for refugees if the latter is the price to pay for avoiding sealing off Europe, which is what several EU member states are proposing, including Austria.
Then of course there is also the question of the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union, which is probably a bigger concern for Germany and other major European players than the refugee crisis.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has spent months traveling around Europe’s capitals in order to defend his position for a “reformed” EU, which includes demands to tackle so-called abuses of the right to free movement and exempting Britain from an “ever closer union” while bolstering national parliaments, among other things.
Cameron plans to put the matter of UK’s stay in the EU in a national referendum this coming June.
Needless to say, the prospect of a European Union without Britain’s participation is something that no European leader wants to entertain.
Accordingly, Chancellor Merkel said recently that Cameron’s demands are “rational” and should be given full consideration at the 18-19 EU summit.
What the outcome of the summit will be is anyone’s guess. What is clear to all, however, is that Europe is a divided continent and the future of European integration is at greater risk than any other time since the founding of the EU.
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