October 19, 2022 - 3:30pm

In early October, the so-called “European Political Community” (EPC) had its first summit in Prague. 44 countries — 27 EU member states plus 17 additional ones, including Turkey, the UK, and Serbia — came together as part of a “platform, an organisation for European leaders to discuss the main issues of the day, like the war in Ukraine, climate change and economics”, according to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

While Europe might be running short on energy, it is not running short on platforms. In addition to the EU, there is the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council) with 46 participating states. Then there is the Union for the Mediterranean with 42 members, an organisation that was created to support the already existing Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

Beyond that, Europeans are financing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) with €80bn, which is part of the “Global Europe” programme and supposedly the EU’s “main instrument for international partnerships on sustainable development, climate change, democracy, governance, human rights, peace and security in EU neighbouring countries and beyond.” Presumably, with the plethora of platforms, instruments, cooperations (anybody ever heard of the Central European Defence Cooperation?), groups (e.g. the Visegrád Group), and initiatives (like the Three Seas Initiative), it does not matter if one adds another bureaucratic body.

There is a popular argument in the liberal press, from Time magazine to the Financial Times, that with every crisis European integration becomes stronger, and that this is somehow symbolised by this increasing number of organisations. But what about the reality on the ground? Most Europeans have never heard of these platforms and institutions. And while in the US most people know what the EPA or the CDC is, try and find a citizen of an EU member state who knows what NDICI stands for, or who can explain the difference between the Council of Europe and the European Council.

Even more troublesome is the fact that all these bureaucracies cannot conceal how Europe is fraying. The truth is that the multiplicity of newly created institutions is the modern medium of inter-European nation state competition. Macron wants to use the EPC as a tool of French influence, while Germany pushes for an expansion of the EU in order to change the rule of unanimous approval for major decisions by the bloc and replace it with majority decisions. Poland wants to increase its own power through leading an alliance of Eastern European states within the Union, ideally including Ukraine, with its population of 44 million.

Despite the talk of unity, the EU higher command is itself currently in an escalating conflict with Poland and Hungary, accusing the latter of violating European standards of liberal democracy. Meanwhile, Warsaw officially demands €1.3 trillion of World War II reparations from Germany, demonstrating how old wounds still run deep in new Europe.

An honest assessment of the current situation would come to the conclusion that we are not moving closer to the United States of Europe, but instead the opposite: a growing reassertion of the nation state. The EU bureaucracy will remain as a final career destination for weary politicians, but this is not going to alter reemergence of an increasingly divided — and fractious —European order.