Europe on the Brink: Five questions with The Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly

Is a breakup of the EU still possible? How will Dion handle his double appointment? We spoke with The Globe's man in Europe to find out.

By: /
February 10, 2017
EU flag
A man waves a European Union flag outside the Supreme Court before the decision of a court ruling on whether Theresa May's government requires parliamentary approval to start the process of leaving the European Union, in Parliament Square, central London, Britain, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

With anti-EU candidates running for office in France and Italy, the ongoing process in Britain to leave the union, and a NATO shaken by U.S. politics, European unity is in crisis. 

We asked The Globe and Mail’s European bureau chief Eric Reguly — who has been covering economic and political stories on the continent since 2007 — for his thoughts on the region in advance of a panel next week in Toronto. 

Reguly will join former Canadian Ambassador to the EU, Jeremy Kinsman, Executive Director of the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, Jason Langrish, and OpenCanada's managing editor, Eva Salinas, for a deeper discussion on the same topic Wed. Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m., at Ryerson University

1. Assuming Stéphane Dion's diplomatic appointment will be accepted by Europe, what kinds of challenges will he face representing Canada to both Europe and Germany?

The challenge Dion will face is getting stretched too far, potentially to the point of being ineffectual. Dion's appointment to both ambassadorships — Germany and the EU — is a mistake. Not only was he a weak foreign minister (which is why he was ousted), but the two jobs are hugely demanding. Germany is the EU's biggest economy by far, a great Canadian ally and trading partner; that post requires the very best diplomats that Canada can deliver (Dion does not even speak German).

The EU is in crisis and Canada needs superb, on-the-ground intelligence on the EU's machinations, all the more so since CETA has arrived. The notion of Dion endlessly shuttling 800 kilometres between Berlin and Brussels is crazy.

2. How important are this year's elections in Europe to the future direction of global governance?

Hugely important, though the French election and the (probable) Italian election are the ones to watch, not the German one, which will almost certainly be won by Angela Merkel. While the xenophobic, anti-EU Marine Le Pen has only some chance of winning the French presidential election, Italy's Five Star Movement has a great chance of winning the Italian election. If it does, Italy will become the first economy in the hands of a populist, Eurosceptic government — Five Star wants to hold a referendum on the euro. Its election would rattle the EU and the euro even more than they are already rattled.

3. Is a breakup of the EU still possible?

It's not just possible; it seems to be happening. Britain's exodus — Brexit — is in progress and the loss of the EU's third-largest economy is a severe blow to the grand European integration project. If Le Pen somehow wins the French presidential election and makes good on her vow to yank France out of both the EU and the euro, both will die, end of story.

4. With all the attention on Trump, are there any underreported stories coming out of Europe?

The big underreported story in the EU is the cruelly high youth unemployment rates in the Mediterranean countries, even though growth has returned in most of them. In parts of the region, like Sicily, more than 50 percent of young people are without work. When will they take to the streets and burn the place down?

5. How high on the list of European priorities are the issues of CETA, NATO and any others in which Canada is involved?

CETA is done, if not actually in force, so that has dropped off the priority list (CETA was of zero interest to most Europeans). The biggie is NATO, which Donald Trump declared "obsolete." Justifiably, Trump has complained that most of NATO's 28 members are not pulling their weight. The NATO guideline calls for each member to spend two percent of GDP on defence. The majority of EU countries don't even come close — Germany and Italy are spending about one percent of GDP. Ditto Canada. But what programs — health, education, environment — will suffer if the laggards bump up their defence spending? And if they balk, will the Americans pull back from NATO? Vladimir Putin would love that.