Whatever one thinks of the deal made with Greece in the morning hours of Monday, July 13th, the EU once again managed to achieve what most though impossible just hours before: Reaching an agreement. It might be an inadequate agreement, and it might not hold, but it does keep the member states of the Eurozone and the EU together for now. That unity, however, came at a price. Most importantly, the disputes of the last years have left the citizens of the EU more divided than ever. All actors in the Greek drama share responsibility for this development, and they all have to be part of mending it in the years to come. One can only hope that the old saying of Winston Churchill when describing the United States might also describe the European Union: The Europeans will always do the right thing…after they have exhausted all the alternatives.
That said, the real challenges for the EU still lie ahead. The last years have made it painfully obvious that there needs to be a higher level of economic and fiscal integration within the EU and particularly the Eurozone. There is also a need for policies that foster much-needed sustainable growth in Greece and other economically fragile member states, essentially a “Green New Deal”. The European Union must reform its immigration policy by putting greater emphasis on burden-sharing, creating more legal pathways into the EU, and integrating the increasing number of migrants into its societies. And last but not least, it has to bolster its common foreign and security policy in light of the vast array of security challenges and the need for stabilization in its immediate neighborhood.
All of this needs to be achieved in an extremely unfavorable political environment. The image of the EU has suffered greatly in the last years. Its member state governments have by and large continued to play the blame game, making the EU responsible for their own failure to create prosperity and opportunity for their own citizens - particularly their youth. More than 70 years after the end of World War II the EU’s peace dividend is not resonating with younger people in Europe as it did in the past. Right-wing and left-wing populist forces are gaining ground, bound together by an anti-EU and anti-establishment rhetoric. These centrifugal forces are threatening to lead to disintegration at a time when the most pressing challenges Europe faces cannot be dealt with on a national level.
In comparison to the aforementioned challenges, the Greek crisis and the past summit seems only like the first mile of a marathon. The next years will require a lot more bold decisions, strong political leadership, and solidarity among the European member states and their citizens. The project of reinvigorating Europe, regaining self-confidence, and redefining our common sense of mission in the 21st century has only just begun.