Europe Rides Crises, Regains Confidence In 2017, But Big Challenges Ahead

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After lurching from one crisis to the next over the past 10 years, the European Union has survived a series of seemingly existential threats – and its leaders claim the bloc is ascendant.

Economic growth in the Eurozone is forecast to be higher than in the United States and Britain, while the migrant influx appears to be easing. But analysts warn that the underlying problems haven’t been solved – and the EU can’t afford to get complacent.

From the 2008 euro debt crisis that nearly bankrupted several European states, to the chaotic arrival of millions of migrants fleeing war and poverty, plus the 2016 Britain’s vote the leave the EU, the European Union has survived a decade of crises.

But in 2017, its leaders claimed Europe is back in business. In his September State of the Union speech, the EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker captured the mood.

“The wind is back in Europe’s sails. We have now a window of opportunity but it will not stay open forever,” Juncker said.

As Emmanuel Macron stepped out to give a victory speech in front of Paris’ Louvre gallery in May, he was seen by many as Europe’s savior. Macron won the presidency on an explicitly pro-European ticket, defeating the anti-EU National Front under Marine Le Pen.

Supporters credit Macron with halting the seemingly unstoppable right-wing, populist surge in Europe. But analyst Leopold Traugott of policy group Open Europe says those forces cannot be written off.

“Yes, Macron was elected a pro-European candidate, but in the end mostly because for many voters, he was the lesser evil compared to Marine Le Pen in the second round.”

President Macron even voiced hope in a September speech on Europe’s future that Britain might be lured back into a reformed EU.

Macron said that “In a union refocused on its unwavering values and an efficient market, in a few years, if it wants, the United Kingdom could find its place.”

But Europe should not get complacent, argued analyst Traugott.

“On the one hand the migration crisis is continuing, people are still coming in, and there is no system in place yet that can solve the issue in a sustainable manner, because member states are simply unwilling to agree to it. And on the Eurozone, it currently doesn’t have the necessary stable framework that is needed to keep the union working,” Traugott said. 

Europe will enter 2018 in a far more confident mood than a year ago – with the Eurozone growing, migrant numbers falling and pro-EU leaders in charge.

But from Germany’s struggles to form a new government, to the threat of a so-called hard Brexit, and Catalonia’s bid for independence from Spain – there is no shortage of potential challenges ahead.

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