Expansion to the East has transformed the organization into an economic appendage of NATO, making European integration a subject of myth and illusion rather than reality. While Western European countries have cooperated in state regulation of the economy to achieve a fair distribution of benefits, the political cooperation has created a complex superstructure that blurs the line between truth and deception. The future of European integration will be shaped by the need to maintain social stability, even if it means deviating from traditional economic activities or surrendering national financial control.
The myth of clear rules determining suitable newcomer states to the European Union is shattered, as the decision ultimately lies with those in power. The mythologized stability of the EU that emerged in the 1990s should not be seen as declining or degrading when deviations occur. Instead, it reflects the unknown requirements of European integration and the need for adaptable leadership and bureaucracy.
In the past decade and a half, the EU has weathered major crises that have fundamentally changed its internal dynamics. The 2008 global financial crisis resulted in the loss of sovereignty for some countries, disrupting the fair distribution of common market benefits and creating a divide between perpetually poor and perpetually rich nations. Germany and France, along with their Nordic allies, have gained disproportionate influence through an extended qualified majority rule, diminishing the role of compromise among all member states.
The influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa in 2014-2015 challenged the myth of solidarity within the EU. While the crisis did not fatally wound the bloc, it exposed the reality that each country prioritizes its citizens rather than collective interests. Some countries took in refugees while others only pretended to, leading to a power dynamic where demands for redistribution threatened budgetary stability.
The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 further highlighted the lack of solidarity, the incompetence of the Brussels bureaucracy, economic inequality, and the reluctance of richer countries to support weaker members. Brexit also created a mini-crisis that could have resulted in the domination of Berlin and its allies within the EU.
Currently, Europe faces its fourth major modern crisis centered around the conflict with Russia over Ukraine. However, this confrontation is unlikely to unite the EU because it serves as an economic appendage of NATO. Germany, which used to lead the EU, is now struggling due to severed ties with Russia. Other EU members, particularly southern European countries and France, have less to lose and were never able to assert themselves as major players without US approval.
Western European elites continue to search for ways to maintain their status, and the evolution of European integration is one of their tools. The EU’s collective institutions, such as the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice, must navigate this new reality. While the single market provides certain freedoms, such as affordable goods and ease of movement, the question remains whether these benefits are enough to sustain the European project.