It is the worst of times and the best of times for the European Union (EU). Support for European integration is at an all-time low. The continent’s economic recovery has been tepid at best. An entire generation in southern Europe has been scarred by youth unemployment rates ranging from 30 to 50 percent. Far-right and anti-EU parties are enjoying unprecedented levels of support in France, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Internationally, the EU has proved powerless to prevent Russian aggression in Ukraine. Internally, the EU has seemed equally incapable of arresting Hungary’s slide toward autocracy or halting the United Kingdom’s discussions about a possible exit. In short, the EU has rarely seemed feebler or less popular.
At the same time, however, the EU has managed to steer its way through the euro crisis, the greatest test in its six-decade history, while preserving the common currency and stabilizing the continent’s financial sector. Far from tearing the EU apart, as many had predicted, the crisis has enhanced Brussels’ authority over national economies in ways that would have been unimaginable five years ago. Internationally, Brussels has been leading ongoing negotiations with the United States over a remarkably ambitious trade deal. And demonstrators in Kiev’s Euromaidan reminded the world of the continued allure of EU membership. Finally, despite recent decreases in public support for the EU, the most recent Eurobarometer survey shows that a majority -- 53 percent -- of European citizens remain confident about its future.
These narratives may appear contradictory. In truth, they represent two sides of the same coin. The lesson in this tale of two Europes is that greater power creates greater expectations. Over the past several years, EU member states have entrusted ever more policy responsibilities to the EU -- from managing their currency to monitoring their budgets, from ensuring the stability of their neighborhoods to protecting the fundamental rights of European citizens. Consequently, the European public expects more from the EU -- and holds it
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