The tyre is flat. The EU project has shuddered into crisis. The modernist advance is no more. What’s modern now is the retreat, the longing to get back to the tranquillity of the nation state. It’s not just the right-wing parties driving this forward; it’s almost a consensus. And because the broad undertow of this social mood is entwined with specific problems of the EU, the community project is actually already headed for the rocks. With its announced reintroduction of border controls, Denmark is showing just how it’s done. And many other member states could probably soon follow suit.

Longings to dismantle the EU are plentiful. In Austria today many want the return of the schilling, which would be immune from the problems in Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Many dream of border controls going back up to put a stop to gangs of burglars, beggars, illegal immigrants and drug traffickers coming into the country. They would approve of no more foreign students taking up seats in overcrowded Austrian universities. They would probably agree unhesitatingly that such a move would mean bringing back restrictions on transit traffic. A majority, we know from surveys, would support reintroducing barriers to our labour markets. And many companies and workers would ultimately not only support but even vehemently insist on import restrictions on all those products that are outcompeting their own domestic products. The dismantling ought to begin.

It actually will begin if no one from Austria’s leadership raises his or her voice and clearly commits to the joint European project. It will begin, if the 27 governments continue to shirk their common responsibility. And the divorce will begin, too, if no benefits to the people are made clear – that they do indeed get something out of liberalising the internal market, out of opening up the labour market, out of the common currency.

How is it in relationships that hit the rocks – both private and public? The worst part is the phase of uncertainty, the continual beating around the bush. This is the phase the EU finds itself in.

The Union has to choose between two painful options. The first is that the 27 governments get going on cleaning up the current debt problems of the euro, the turmoil in the financial market and the problems of the waves of migrants from north Africa. In all these matters so far there have been only declarations of intent, but no sufficiently concrete actions, such as a "haircut" for debtor nations, a powerful financial oversight authority or a common immigration policy – including effective border security. It is unpopular to say so openly, but if the EU chooses this option, there will have to be new transfers of competence to common institutions, new democratic challenges and many a painful measure for individual member states.

The other option is for the 27 to actually break up their work-in-progress. That would indeed chime in with the current public mood. But here, too, all must be aware that this retreat would not be limited to the desired areas; all the good things would go, too. An end to the freedom of travel is something we could live with. But taking part in a hard-currency association grouped around Germany would hit the domestic export and tourism industry hard. And somewhere along the line the European single market would also end up on shaky ground. As soon as the tendencies towards dissolution of the EU become evident, French car manufacturers or local farmers will demand import restrictions on products from foreign competitors – and, at some time or other before upcoming elections, they will get them, too.

An exit from the euro and a return to national protectionism would seriously damage the common market, the driving force behind our economic growth. It would create a push towards re-nationalisation, which always hankers for new lines of demarcation and isolation. Do we really want that?