While the rhetoric is of unity, clear divisions are apparent.
The latest alliance to flex its muscles has been the group of seven “Southern EU Countries”, which met recently in El Pardo Palace in Madrid, Spain.
Comprised of the Iberian countries, France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta – the group, meeting for the third time ever, set out its demands saying Brussels nations had to sort out “shared responsibility and solidarity” over migration policy – effectively calling for the northern countries to pull their weight in terms of both providing the finance necessary and taking their share of the migrants arriving in the bloc.
The EU is riddled with internal divisions
Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy said a common migration policy was one of the top priorities for the group, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni declared the seven Southern European countries share “common geopolitical interests,” especially in terms of “migrant flows.”
Spain’s secretary of state for the EU Jorge Toledo said: “We’re the countries that spend the most resources… in border protection and we’re protecting the border of the whole EU, also that of the Northern European countries.”
That will put the group on collision course with East European countries in the bloc, especially the Visegrád countries – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – who are far more Eurosceptic, more negative towards mass immigration into the EU and against a centralised EU.
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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said in the past: “We have to return to the thesis that the member states and not EU institutions form the basis of the EU.
“The democratic features of the EU can only be strengthened through member states.”
He has also stated he will not participate in the proposed idea of sharing out equally the migrants that arrive across the EU countries.
Members of the Southern EU Countries meet in Madrid
Just some of the internal divisions with the European Union
In turn, the Visegrád group has also been at loggerheads with those countries advocating a more integrationist and centralist direction of the EU.
Brussels’ Brexit negotiator and the former prime minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt has called for a strong European federation to replace the “weak, incapacitated confederation of member states we have today”.
Germany has expressed similar views with finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble calling for centralised fiscal control over national budgets.
Those advocating a close integration want a single European budget, a European treasury, a common foreign policy and a single defence force and security organisations.
Members of the Visegrad Group meet at conference in February 2016
The two main EU leaders: Donald Tusk (L) and Jean-Claude Juncker (R)
Southern EU countries, in turn, want to deregulate the EU borrowing rules and allow great flexibility, which especially appeals to the beleaguered countries of Italy and Greece.
Whilst he was the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi said: “More growth and more investment, less austerity and less bureaucracy, this is the line we have proposed for two years.”
In between the two are countries like the Netherlands whose prime minister Mark Rutte has advocated a middle way, stating in the past: This is not a time to resort to extremist thinking or to get bogged down in ideological discussions about a superstate versus nation states.
“Our focus should be on practical co-operation that will lead to a stronger and better Europe.”
Theresa May with Donald Tusk earlier this month
To complicate things further there are divisions within divisions and infighting within infighting.
The financially crippled Greece has been tottering around on its last legs for some time as the left-wing prime minister Alexis Tsipras seemingly willing to accept EU financial handouts but unwilling to play by their rules.
During December last year he handed out a Christmas bonus to Greek low-income pensioners putting Athens on a collision course with both the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Mr Schäuble stated Greece could be kicked out of the eurozone if it did not stick to the rules and implement the imposed reforms to the economy.
Even within countries there is no collective agreement with right-wing parties such as France’s Front National and Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), let alone the likes of the Dutch Party for Freedom and Italy’s 5 Star Movement – collectively seen as populist parties – who want to keep the EU at arms length, invariably leaving the bloc altogether.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán
Similarly, the UK has rarely been in full accord with its continental neighbours and most famously went to war with what was then the EEC over the way the the bloc was funded, in particular payments over the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which led to the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher gaining a rebate on the fees the country paid as a member.
The move by Mrs Thatcher effectively drew the ire of just about every other member, especially from the poorer nations who saw the rich UK getting a discount as well as France which benefitted the most from the CAP due to a large agricultural sectors.
With those divisions in evidence, the UK in its Brexit referendum decided it was better off outside the bloc of countries which are constantly at loggerheads.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Jayne Adye, Director of cross-party Eurosceptic campaign group Get Britain Out, said: “It has been clear for some time the EU is divided about almost everything. Divided about the Euro, divided about the EU’s direction of travel and divided about immigration. Some want more EU, most want less, and Britain wants no EU at all.
“The Visegrad countries don’t want to accept any more refugees, while Southern Europe is demanding it.
“The Germans want the Greeks to pay back their debt in full, but the IMF believes there should be a reduction in Greek debt. Greece is refusing to settle as they are completely fed up with austerity – so there will be a summer of discontent.
“These are only a few of the problems.
“A critical flaw within the EU is the pretence all EU countries are exactly the same. In the absurd belief all EU countries have the same culture, history and political views. But they are not – and they do not!
“Since the turn of this century the EU has enlarged at a rate of knots, including countries which have totally different ideological views than the original members. As a result, the EU has split into different factions, constantly arguing about the EU and its future.
“It is clear, however, the EU currently does far too much. Perhaps if it abandoned its plans for a European ‘superstate’ and transformed to a simple trading relationship, the countries of Europe would get along far better in the future.”