The State Of Disunion

At the heart of the European Union, there are splits within splits. On Dec. 14, nearly half of Cyprus's Turkish minority voted for anti-EU candidates in parliamentary elections, despite massive economic incentives and political cajoling from Brussels. The vote blocks any hope of reuniting the island before it joins the EU on May 1--effectively importing the intractable Greek-Turkish conflict into Europe, where it promises to rumble for years to come.

Just the latest wrinkle in a long-running saga? Perhaps, but the Cyprus vote is also a sign of the times. The defining quality of Europe right now is division, not union. Euro barometer, the European Commission's own polling organization, recently reported that overall support for the Union had fallen six points, to 48 percent. Add to this the failure of Europe's recent constitutional conclave in Brussels, the implosion of the EU's rules governing fiscal responsibility and the languishing economy, says M.E.P. Daniel Hannan, and "all this bodes very ill for Europe."

Those woes will deepen over the coming year as the Union begins to grapple with the thorny issue of what to do about Turkey, itself hankering for a start date to accession negotiations. In Ankara, the ruling AK Party has made what it considers to be momentous strides in human rights and economic reforms, mainly at Europe's behest, yet has little to show for its efforts. The danger, if this keeps up, is that Turkey will turn its back on entry--and possibly dial back on the very reforms it has undertaken to ensure its admission.

For Europe's part, existing members cannot agree on what kind of "Europe" they want. France and Roman Catholic southern Europe are queasy about Muslim Turkey's accession on religious or "civilizational" grounds, while Germany fears a flood of immigrants and a massive development bill--not to mention the whopping bloc of votes Turkey would hold as the most populous member of the Union.

This crisis of confidence couldn't have come at a worse time. As the EU expands to include 25 members, Brussels had hoped to use the constitution to help forge a new European identity. Instead, says one senior self-described "Old European" diplomat, "we run the risk of diluting the idea of a united, integrated Europe until it becomes meaningless." It's no coincidence that many of Europe's harshest critics--a strange collection of bedfellows that includes British Conservatives, Scandinavian Greens and German Communists--are fervently in favor of continued expansion, on the ground that a larger Europe will simply collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

Some countries seem to think these divisions can be papered over. France, Germany and Belgium, for instance, all fervent supporters of closer union, are promoting something of a "two speed" Europe. They've already pushed the idea of a separate EU military headquarters, and after the collapse of the constitutional debate, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder met to flesh out more initiatives that could be adopted by what one German Foreign Ministry official describes as a "pioneer group" within the Union. The question of Turkey, though, is not likely to succumb to such schemes. The coming few months will decide whether Europe's disunion is a problem to be solved, or a state of being.