Wolfgang Streeck offers a very different perspective here, from the earnest political agonizing of firstname.lastname@example.org :
Title: Democracy a challenge to the European project
Headline: The EU is a doomed empire
Sub-headline: European tensions are growing. There is Brexit, a Germany without direction, and nationalist forces that aim to bend the EU to serve their own project.
What is the European Union? The closest concept I can come up with is a liberal empire, or better, a neoliberal one. An empire is a hierarchically structured block of nominally sovereign states held together by a gradient of power from a centre to a periphery.
At the centre of the EU is Germany, trying more or less successfully to hide inside a core Europe (Kerneuropa) formed together with France. Germany doesn’t want to be seen as what the British used to call a continental unifier, even if this is what it is. That it likes to hide behind France is a source of power for France; I’ll say more on this crucial relationship later.
Germany, like other imperial countries, most recently the US, conceives of itself, and wants others to do the same, as a benevolent hegemon spreading common sense and moral virtues to its neighbours, at a cost to itself worth bearing for the sake of humanity (1).
In the German-cum-European case, the values used to legitimise empire are those of political liberalism: liberal democracy, constitutional government and individual liberty. Wrapped within them, to be shown when expedient, are free markets and free competition (that is, economic liberalism and, in the present case, neoliberalism). The hegemonic centre has the prerogative of determining the exact composition and the deeper meaning of the imperial value package, and how it is to be applied in specific situations — so it can extract political seigniorage from its periphery, in return for its benevolence.
Preserving imperial asymmetries among nominally sovereign nations requires complicated political and institutional arrangements. Non-hegemonic peripheral states must be ruled by elites that consider the centre and its structures and values as a model for their own country, or must be willing to organise their internal social, political and economic order to make it compatible with the interests of the centre in holding its empire together. Keeping such elites in power is essential for empire to last; as the US experience teaches us, this may have costs in democratic values, economic resources and even lives.
Mr. Rachman’s final paragraph in steeped in doom: ‘The West’ must contend with its self-created enemies China and Russia! That offers the reader nothing but recycled political paranoia. Except the stark object lesson that the E.U., and not the Enlightenment concept of ‘Europe’, is about a failed attempt at Market driven, rather than a Democracy driven vehicle, for political/economic integration. That is now in a slow-motion collapse. Democracy must lead the way, not the proven bankruptcy of the Market!
The beginnings of a global trade war ensure that this is not an abstract question for the EU. On the contrary, European unity will be tested repeatedly by world events in the coming months and years. Political paralysis and fragmentation is a luxury the EU may not be able to afford.
P.S. The comic notion that Emmanuel Macron represents some sort of alternative is the height of political myopia, as the gilets jaunes have now become an integral part of French political/civic life. Macron is the reincarnation of a Bourbon autocrat!