Europe's disunity and lack of trust imperil the continent's future

Many believe Ursula von der Leyen, second from right, rather than acting as guardian of the EU's treaties, is acting in the interests of the governments of the 27 EU nations.

(CNN)Anyone who has followed the internal politics of the European Union over the past few years will know that the bloc, which relies on unity and mutual appreciation of rules, has struggled to stay on the same page on several important issues.

Petty spats between the leaders of the EU's political institutions have led to critics saying that those at the top of the Brussels food chain are prioritizing their own careers and personal power over the lives of European citizens.
As the Covid-19 pandemic approaches something resembling its end, and geopolitical challenges -- such as the fallout from the crisis in Afghanistan -- take hold, this open disunity presents the bloc with a series of fundamental problems to which there are no obvious solutions.
    First things first: The Union itself is not facing extinction. The EU has remarkable staying power and the self-interest of its member states means there is no real chance of it falling apart any time soon.
      What is in question, however, is the Union's long-term purpose and legitimacy.
      Last week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote to the president of the EU Parliament, David Sassoli, declining to act on a resolution that had been passed by a huge majority in the EU's legislative and only publicly elected body.
      The Parliament believes that two member states, Hungary and Poland, have violated the EU's rule of law and as such should have central funding halted. The offenses on which this is based range from violating the independence of the judiciary to discriminating against LGBT communities -- both assaults on fundamental cornerstones of EU membership.
        Participants gather near the Parliament building in Budapest on June 14, during a demonstration against the Hungarian government's draft bill seeking to ban the "promotion" of homosexuality.
        Parliament says that the Commission must now apply a regulation that was agreed last year, as the EU negotiated its long-term budget alongside Covid recovery funds. At the time, the regulation -- which ties EU money to obeying the rule of law -- was a priority. The tools at the EU's disposal for punishing member states had proven inadequate.
        However, when push came to shove and the two delinquent nations threatened to exercise their veto rights, the regulation was watered down to such an extent that it would require iron-clad evidence that EU funds were being used to violate the rule of law, rather than a broader interpretation of violations occurring in general.
        "It's fair to say that after the regulation was agreed, the parties most keen on taking action against Hungary and Poland hoped the Commission would take the political decision to take a broad interpretation," says Ronan McCrea, professor of European law at University College London. "This could be the first sign it will take a more cautious approach."
        In the letter, von der Leyen said that Sassoli's letter was not "sufficiently clear and precise" on exactly what violations had taken place, resting on the narrow nature of the "complex assessments" required to enact the regulation.
        Parliamentarians who have spent the past few years highlighting abuses are spitting blood at what they see as von der Leyen's complicity with violations.
        "It is literally written into the treaties that the Commission is accountable to the Parliament," says Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch liberal MEP.
        Protesters deploy a giant Polish national flag and shout slogans during a demonstration against a judicial reform pushed through by the right-wing government but criticised by the EU as a threat to judicial independence on July 24, 2018, in front of the Senate Building in the capital Warsaw. <