Confidence in the European project is faltering but such sentiment has largely failed to impact EU policy and its institutions. With a strong pro-EU Germany at the core, change and reform seem unlikely. But could more Eurosceptic governments in France and Britain challenge Germany’s ‘hegemonic’ position and lead reform?
Last month, the center right party UMP chose ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy to be its presidential candidate in the 2017 election. Mr. Sarkozy has now adopted a more Eurosceptic tone as Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right anti-European Front National, is ahead in the polls. The unpopularity of the socialist President Francois Hollande, record high unemployment and a stagnant economy suggest that in 2017 the French electorate may vote for change. Indeed, for many in France, the European Union is to blame for their economic and social malaise; 58% believe that the EU is against their economic interests and 64% would like to see it more centred in the original 6 members and stop its expansion. Euroscepticism is en vogue in France.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Sarkozy has called for the end of the current Schengen travel area and for Brussels to devolve 50% of its powers to national governments. It is indeed very likely that the next guest of the Elysée Palace will have strong reservations towards Europe, an unprecedented situation that could change the fate of the European project forever. Certainly, a rupture in the ‘Franco-German Alliance’ could be fatal for the European establishment. In the UK a similar situation is developing before the 2015 general election. The anti-European party UKIP has been gaining momentum after two successful by-elections and is forcing the Conservative Party to raise its tone against Europe. In fact, Prime Minister David Cameron recently failed to convince the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to cap the number of immigrants entering his country. Reform in the EU, it seems, is unlikely to come from Britain alone.
But there could be a scenario of a Conservative or UKIP-influenced coalition government in the UK allied with a center or far right government in France to reform EU migration laws or to reduce the power of Brussels. A ‘Channel Alliance’ would have to overcome many obstacles, amongst them the historical rivalry between these two countries. But France and Britain have stood together against Germany before, and certainly the two countries together would have an influential voice within the EU.