The capital of the European Union, Brussels, has fallen victim to yet another terrorist attack on European soil. Four months after Paris was sieged, this latest attack stuck a dagger through the administrative heart of Europe.
Aftermath of Brussels Subway Attack
In the very same neighborhood where transnational bureaucrats chart the political course for a new Europe, people died allegedly at the hands of folks who live right down the street. The subway stop right next E.U. headquarters was reportedly blown to smithereens by a Belgium-based ISIS-affiliated group.
The horrifying images out of Brussels this week are just the tip of the iceberg, as the European Union is deeply troubled. This latest terrorist attack comes amidst serious tensions between E.U. countries over a wide range of issues including an ongoing refugee crisis, and the looming threat of the United Kingdom abandoning the European Union altogether.
While more than a million people have marched into Europe seeking asylum, the economy has continued to perform abysmally. “Most of the E.U. already is on quite a slow growth path, with no end to those problems in sight,” said Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University. “The much-heralded economic recovery is always just right around the corner, but it never seems to come.”
It’s not just Greece that’s on a slow winding road to default, there are other countries that seem to be caught in a death spiral of zero growth and burgeoning debt. “Ultimately Italy is the biggest problem, it has high debt, basically zero per capita growth for the last sixteen years, and is too big to easily bail out,” Cowen said.
In an environment where meaningful economic growth remains elusive and unemployment stubbornly high, E.U. citizens are running out of patience with the European experiment. There have always been many roadblocks to European unity, but today those obstacles have multiplied. Sadly, you don’t have to look much further than right where the attacks took place to see why the European Union is falling apart. Belgium itself is a poster child of European dysfunction.
Belgium’s economy hasn’t grown much since the Great Recession, youth unemployment is alarmingly high, and many immigrants feel disenfranchised and are easily recruited by Islamic extremists.
Politically, Belgium is also a mess. The more prosperous Flemish-speaking North and the French-speaking South are always at each other’s throats in politics and would probably be better off if they separated into two different countries. The bad blood between the two groups was especially evident when Belgium went without an elected central government for 589 days (this happened just a few years ago).
Forget European integration across national borders–Belgium can barely keep itself together. There are loads of other examples across the continent of linguistic and ethnic groups that want to separate from their respective countries. “There is a lack of loyalty to the idea of the European Union,” Cowen said.
2016 may be the year that the European Union shows serious signs of strains. As the British prepare for a historic vote to exit the European Union (The “Brexit”) in June, questions will continue to fly about the sustainability of this political and economic arrangement. While integration has been relentlessly pushed forward for many decades, this era in European politics could diverge, and further fracture unity.
David is the Editor of Bold. He's especially passionate about millennial economic empowerment. A former local news reporter, David is originally from the Little Havana area in Miami, and later became a pioneer resident of the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, Florida. David holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.