The grinding recession in parts of Europe has even led to outright protectionism. With Spain’s unemployment rate at 21 per cent, more than twice the EU average, the government sought to protect its labour market by banning Romanians from looking for work there. While the ban doesn’t impact Romanians already living in Spain, the move opened the door to further restrictions and extensions.
The problem—at least for those who favour the “ever closer union” advocated in the 1957 European Economic Community Treaty—is that the process of European integration has always been an elitist project. Most citizens of European countries ignored it. But now the EU has become politicized, and in many circles unpopular. “What’s so troubling right now is that the trend lines are toward re-nationalization, and no major politician is doing anything about it,” says Kupchan. “Politicians are being led by the public, rather than vice versa. And the European street is growing increasingly anti-Europe.”
As rising right-wing populism continues to spread, it is likely to lead to even thicker borders. Italy says it is overwhelmed by refugees from North Africa and wants help from other members of the union. Countries such as Germany and France counter that asylum seekers arriving in Italy simply pass through on their way north. Earlier this year, Italy issued temporary residency permits to refugees from Tunisia so that they could travel within Europe, and move on somewhere else. France responded by reinstituting controls on its border with Italy, trapping the Tunisians there.
Piece by piece the European political and economic experiment is failing. Putting it back together will be a monumental if not impossible task, says Minford. Yet the cost of failure will be the final end of Europe as an economic power. “The sad thing about this crumbling of the European dream is that there will be a revival of economic nationalism,” he says. “You can’t separate the different bits of this whole experiment in union. If one part goes, the rest will be chipped away at until it’s a patchwork of countries that are increasingly less relevant to the global economy.”