Eric Reguly and Mark MacKinnon report on the fragile status of the European Union, focusing on five key threats that they say could unravel the 28-country organisation.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Question to Explore:

  • What are the current threats to the stability of the European Union?

New Terminology:

Geopolitical, exacerbated, maelstrom, euroskeptic, populists, Schengen, precipice, periphery, existential

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Students will be aware of reports on the tragic bombings in Paris and in Brussels over the past few months. As well, they will have witnessed the largest refugee crisis since WWII that continues to bring millions of desperate people from the Middle East and Africa to relative safety in Europe. Once they arrive in any country of the EU, refugees have been free to travel to any other country in the EU. This has generated significant challenges for receiving countries, adding to their already serious economic woes.

As a result, calls for withdrawing from the EU have arisen within some countries, especially the United Kingdom, which will be holding a referendum on the issue soon. Some member states want the Schengen open borders agreement rescinded, so they can control who comes into their country. Others want their own currencies back in place of the euro.

Working in five groups on the five different sections of the attached article, students will summarize and explain each of these threats to the EU in an oral report at the end of the lesson, which could be completed in as little as a half-hour in total.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Start by discovering what your students already know about Europe. These questions can serve to focus the discussion (the first is more for fun, although it is useful in helping to create a context):

  • What is Osterreich? How about Sverige? Suomi? Norge? (these are the names the following countries call themselves, as opposed to our English names for them: Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway. Note that there is no country called “Germany,” but there is a country called “Deutschland”)
  • If students are from Europe or have been to Europe, ask them to name some of the countries they visited and what currencies they used.
  • See how many European countries students can name from memory. (There are 50 internationally recognized countries within what is the common understanding of Europe, of which 28 are members of the EU).
  • What is the second most valued currency in the world after the United States dollar? (the euro)
  • How much is a euro worth? (approximately $1.50 CDN)
  • What currency does Great Britain use? (the pound, currently worth about $1.85 CDN)
  • What are the main reasons has Europe been in the news over the past year? (The bombings in Paris and Brussels as well as the refugee crisis)

Next, provide students with a copy of the article and have a volunteer read the introductory section aloud to class. Tell them that they will be using this to inform the class on the current threats to the European Union. This will set up the lesson, below.

Organize your class into four groups. Provide them with the following worksheet and assign each group one set of the four sets of tasks.


Group 1: You will report on “Security Failures” and “Refugees and integration.”  Read these sections with your group.

  • What recent events provide examples of security threats?
  • How many people have been killed and injured in terrorist events in Europe over the past year? (Use the Internet)
  • Why is Brussels the current centre of attention?
  • How many of the 10 men involved in the Paris attacks were refugees?
  • Why is this an important fact, do you think?
  • What is significant about the claim that “the actors are among us”?
  • How might stripping suspected terrorists of their nationality play into the hands of Daesh (also called ISIS or ISIL)?
  • Do you agree that it would be more constructive if ISIS were called an organization of criminal assassins rather than a nation waging war? Give reasons.

Summarize your answers for an oral report. Then read the balance of the article.

Group 2: Read “Devolving politics.” You will report on this section with your group.

  • What is meant by Brexit?
  • How do the attacks in Brussels and Paris serve to support the argument in favour of Britain leaving the EU?
  • What would be the likely results of Britain leaving the EU? Why might it cause the EU to collapse?
  • How might a British exit produce something called a domino effect? Describe this.
  • What is Poland’s current position on refugees? What does right wing French opposition leader, Marie Le Pen, recommend France do in response to the influx of refugees?
  • What is the significance of religion to right-wing politicians’ views on refugees in Europe?

Summarize your answers for an oral report. Then read the balance of the article.

Group 3: Read “The end of Schengen.” You will report on this section with your group.

  • What is meant by Schengen?
  • What was travelling in Europe like before Schengen and how did Schengen change that?
  • How many refugees arrived in Europe over the past year? How did Schengen play a part in the process?
  • What is meant by saying that Schengen is being used as a scapegoat?
  • What is different between the way refugees arrive in Europe and the way they arrive in Canada?

Summarize your answers for an oral report. Then read the balance of the article.

Group 4: Read “Economic uncertainty.” You will report on this section with your group.

  • Has Greece left the EU? (Use Internet if necessary)
  • What is deflation and why is it dangerous to an economy?
  • When was the euro adopted as a currency for most of the members of the EU? (Use Internet)
  • What is meant by the claim that the EU is facing an existential crisis?
  • What is Italy’s position on the union, as of today?

Summarize your answers for an oral report. Then read the balance of the article.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Have groups provide oral reports to the class. Discuss as needed and ask for a show of hands: How many of you believe the European Union will survive this crisis? How many feel that the dangers are overblown?
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe the current tensions that are threatening to undo the European Union.

Confirming Activity:

  • Consider asking students to report on news items about the European Union. Consider asking students who are from Europe or who have travelled to Europe to report their experiences to class, especially as they involved crossing borders between countries.