The last decade has been a difficult one for the European Union. In the wake of the 2009 debt crisis, much debate has arisen around its nature, its powers, its governance and its policies.
The situation got only worse when the migrant inflow boomed in 2015, triggering a EU-level crisis.
In this strained socio-economic context, diverging views on the EU as a polity have emerged at the political level both inside the single member states and inside the organization’s institutions.
Recently, two events have revived once more the debate. The first is the re-election of Viktor Orbán, a prominent conservative and Eurosceptic politician, as Prime Minister of Hungary.
The second is the statement by France’s President Emmanuel Macron that the EU is facing a “civil war” on its fundamental values resulting from different opinions between its Western and Central-Eastern members.
This affirmation seems exaggerated, at least at a first glance. But in such a turbulent political context, it raises a legitimate question: is the EU on the edge of a civil war?
The Conditions of a Civil War
To answer this question, the first thing to do is determining in which conditions a civil war does start. Essentially, this happens when two or more socio-political groups belonging to the same political entity disagree on the existing and/or future institutional order; and, being unable or unwilling to peacefully find a compromise through the existing institutional mechanisms, opt for armed conflict to impose their view and determine who will (re)shape the existing order by the use of coercion. Usually, a civil war opposes one group fighting to preserve the standing institutional framework (along with the prerogatives it enjoys thanks to it) and another group who wants to dismantle it (and set up a new order more favourable to its interests).
That said, history is full of examples of civil wars; from those which paved the way to the end of the Roman Republic centuries ago to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. But one is particularly significant due to its similarities with the situation the EU is facing today: the American Civil War.
The American Civil War
The US Civil War, also known as War of Secession, was an armed conflict that split the United States between 1861 and 1865.
The contenders where two: one was the Union (the North), formed by states that remained loyal to the government of the United States;
and the other was the Confederacy (the South), made up of states which seceded from the US and form a separate political entity known as the Confederate States of America (CSA).
Usually, this war is portrayed as a fight over the issue of slavery, with the Union supporting its abolishment and the Confederacy favourable to its preservation.
But even though slavery was indeed a central issue in sparking the conflict, the situation was far more complex than a clear-cut black-vs-white clash between conservative and progressist ideals. As a matter of fact, there were also major political, juridical-institutional and …