For those, like me, who are passionate about the fate of Europe, the current troubles of the European Union will be a matter for concern. Since 2004, it has added 13 new members. It now includes 28 countries, with more than 500 million inhabitants. This huge enlargement took place without a corresponding level of structural coherence. An ambitious constitutional blueprint was abandoned in 2005, to be supplemented by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, a compromise of sorts between various visions.
Deep problems now abound: citizen interest is very low in the absence of a European public sphere, decision-making procedures are very complex in day-to-day affairs, and they are replaced by dealings without transparency between EU officials and the leaders of Germany and France in times of crisis.
In 2015-2016, the EU faces many urgent challenges: the Euro zone is still reeling in the aftermath of the financial crisis, questions remain about the status of Greece, the Ukrainian state is still threatened by Russia, the surge of national-populism all over the continent, the overflow of refugees, the inability of Spain to form a new government made more complex by the alienation of Catalunya. And now, to make matters worse, there will be a referendum on June 23 in the United Kingdom about its continued membership in the European Union.
In many ways the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which joined what was then the European Common Market in 1973, represents a distinct society in its own right: with its strong currency it remains outside the Euro zone, fails to participate to the Schengen Area regulating border controls, while enjoying special budgetary rules.
At the recent summit held in Brussels, February 18-19, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, got more concessions confirming the special status of his country: some social benefits for EU citizens living and working in the UK will remain frozen for seven years; the status of London and of its city as an autonomous entity as a financial centre will be protected; adjustments will be made to the family allowances for children of EU citizens working in the UK while their children remain in the country of origin; finally, in the realm of symbols, it is now formally recognized that the UK is not engaged in a dynamics of "ever closer union" with other member states.
"Remain," or "leave," such are the two options that people will have when they will mark their referendum votes. The "remain" option is ahead in the polls, but nothing is decided. Six ministers of the Cameron government have chosen the "leave" option. The charismatic mayor of London, Boris Johnson, seen as a prime candidate to succeed David Cameron at the helm of the Conservatives, will do the same. Scotland, led by the very popular Nicola Sturgeon, is quite pro-Europe. An EU summit, on the difficult question of migrants, will take place in mid-March. On May 5, elections will follow in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The UK and the EU are at a crossroads. Nervousness will mount in the coming weeks. Why should we stay together with other Europeans, many British citizens ask themselves? What should we share with them? Reflections and deliberations have just started.
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