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Europe in Review 2016

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The biggest events that shaped the European Union in 2016.


EU LEGITIMACY IN QUESTION From lost referendums to growing contention of the EU's role in policies, people's commitment to the European project has diminished further this year. By Eric Maurice Referendums are dangerous for the EU. In recent years, almost all popular votes on EU matters ended up with the same answer: No. "One always breaks out in a sweat when someone dares to ask the opinion of the people," he told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The vote with the most far-reaching consequences was Britain's EU membership referendum on 23 radical option: leaving the Union. Only weeks before, in April, 61.1 percent of voters in a Dutch referendum had rejected an EU-Ukraine association agreement, casting doubts on the bloc's strategy to stabilise the war-torn country. These two referendums in 2016 followed one in Denmark, at the end of 2015, when a closer cooperation with other EU countries in some justice and home affairs issues was dismissed by 53 percent of voters. "I'm fundamentally not a big friend of referendums," European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said in June, days before the UK vote. Admittedly people do not always vote only on the question asked in a referendum, and domestic THE 'LAST-CHANCE COMMISSION' seems to be reciprocated. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey - the regular EU study of public opinion - conducted last spring and published in July, just 33 percent of Europeans said they had trust in the European Union and 34 percent had a positive image. The level of trust was slightly above the 31 percent low reached in 2013-2014, just before Juncker became commission chief, but down from 40 percent in spring 2015. UK vote. Photo: Reuters

"This will be the last-chance commission," Juncker warned in 2014. "Either we will succeed in bringing our Two years later, the EU is about to lose a member and anti-EU movements are gaining ground in several countries. Dutch and French far-right leaders, Geert Wilders and Norbert Hofer nearly missed the presidency in a rerun election in December. In countries such as Poland and Hungary, elected leaders have pursued programmes putting them in a collision course with EU policies or values, but they stop Even in Germany, immune from large far-right movements since World War II, the year 2016 has seen the rise of the anti-migrant and anti-EU Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Launched in 2013, the AfD won a symbolic victory in CDU in her own region. FROM DEMOCRATIC TO LEGITIMACY DEFICIT austerity push developed into a broader critique of the EU's role in issues, including the refugee crisis and free trade. Another referendum was organised in Hungary against the EU's policy of sharing asylum seekers. Only 44 valid votes cast rejected the idea that the EU should impose mandatory quotas. LEGITIMACY FROM COMMON BENEFIT "Historically, the EU drew its legitimacy from common Priban, director of the Centre of Law and Society at Cardiff University, told EUobserver. But with time, the EU has become a more political project and "the question of its legitimacy will hit at every new step", he noted. But now, "the EU is turning into a machinery of decisionmaking and it is losing its spirit and is producing ghosts of the past, like nationalism, ethnic hatred and authoritarianism". The EU, faced with what Juncker has called "a polycrisis" - from economic crisis to refugee crisis - is also more fragile than other levels of powers. "Europe is the weakest level of power of all, because European identity is so weak," Herman van Rompuy, a former European Council president, said during a conference in Brussels in November. He said that when a problem arises, "we switch from slowing action and encouraging anti-EU forces. 'PEOPLE RESPECT LEADERSHIP' For Priban, EU democracy was threatened at national level by austerity policies and constraints on governments. To regain legitimacy with European Even the EU's trade policy, of which the commission has led the charge for decades, is under growing criticism. France, a founding member of the Union, called for more national involvement. The ultimate proof of contention regarding the EU's role came when the Belgian region of Wallonia held up the signing of an EU-Canada trade deal. Canada ultimately had to negotiate directly with Wallonia to ensure its concerns were taken into account. neither decisive enough nor protective enough of their to overcome it in a few years," he said, adding that the EU needed to show better leadership and give concrete results on the economy, security or migration. "People respect leadership even if they don't agree," the former EU leader said. EUROPE IN REVIEW DECEMBER 2016— 21

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