Beware the slippery slope. It’s a more common term in US politics than in European circles but the concept behind the “slippery slope” is always the same. To offer just one of countless examples: gun owners who won’t accept even common-sense restrictions, such as background checks for purchases or gun licences, for fear that they will lead to guns being abolished altogether. And we’re all susceptible to it on the issues that we are most passionate and unwavering about: give an inch and we fear that the other side will take a mile.
In an era of nationalism, such slippery-slope arguments seem to be everywhere, which perhaps explains why the latest EU summit in Brussels stretched over a nearly unprecedented four days and has featured some of the most rancorous debate that the 27-member bloc has seen to date. At the time of going to press, the summit looked likely to end, as they (almost) always do, with a watered-down compromise. In an era of “nation first” that would be nothing to sniff at: 27 EU nations have been negotiating an unprecedented rescue package, one that sees member states agree to issue hundreds of billions in common debt for the first time in its history.
Does such an agreement open the door to the EU issuing common debt – with frugal northern nations subsidising seemingly profligate southern ones? That’s the slippery-slope question that nearly torpedoed the entire weekend summit. The answer should really be “not necessarily” – but that shouldn’t have stopped common debt from being issued in this instance. The coronavirus pandemic is a unique crisis that calls for one-time emergency measures. Once it is over, the EU will have plenty of time for more long-winded summits to decide exactly how much of a “union” it really wants to be.