Dražen Šimić

Difficult times call for clarity and unity. This is plainly true of the European Union. The global economic crisis, huge influx of refugees, Brexit and the arrival of Donald Trump are all formidable challenges.

The European economy is in fact doing reasonably well, which must be a source of some relief for governments throughout the bloc. What needs to happen, and with some urgency, is for the relatively good economic news to mean something concrete to ordinary people – in terms of jobs and wages. Even if the economy were stagnant, there should be a cycle of investment which would address palpable popular discontent with things as they are, which can – and does – convert itself into support for all sorts of populist charlatans.

The question of refugees is highly sensitive. Angela Merkel acted honorably when she agreed to take in one million refugees, but she may pay a heavy price at the next general elections in Germany. Other EU states are far less willing to accept people fleeing unspeakable tragedy of Syria, which is quite shameful, but given the genuine terrorist threat perhaps not entirely unexpected.

Brexit is yet another important challenge. The British government has finally revealed a plan for future of the relationship with the EU. It seems unlikely that they will secure all they want and Britain may revert to the WTO rules on trade. It hopefully won’t come to that because both the EU and Britain would suffer consequences. However, in the aftermath of Brexit, Britain stands to lose much more than the EU in terms of economy, its standing in the world and its reputation as a free, open and tolerant society.

Donald Trump will become president of the United States shortly. What everyone believes by now is that he is utterly unpredictable, but he will have to be judged by what he does rather than what he says. If Mr. Trump means what he said in an interview for The Times and Bild, he is an enemy of Europe, of common sense, common security and common decency. Not to mention that he is not the world’s best diplomat.

What should the EU and its member states do then? It is encouraging that some European leaders reacted strongly to Trump’s barbs and called for greater unity. Europe must stand together in these difficult times. It would be great folly to do anything else, which Britain may eventually and unfortunately find out.

What does it mean to stand together? The EU should stand up to Trump whenever necessary. It should continue to engage with Russia but maintain sanctions until a significant change in Russia’s foreign policies occurs. What may help regarding the refugee crisis is European leaders making it clear that the current situation is temporary and that the vast majority of refugees will eventually return to Syria.

At the same time, EU should work on improving its economy and on reforming itself into a more streamlined, less bureaucratic entity. These are big challenges, but everything mentioned here can be done. Let us hope that it does.

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