THE countdown to the June referendum has begun: yawn, yawn. I trust I am not the only one profoundly bored by the pantomime discussions held in Brussels last week? The script was too obvious: pretend brinkmanship followed by a vague agreement with the other member states that allowed David Cameron to claim victory over his Tory Party Eurosceptics and justify doing what he was always going to do – call for a vote to stay in the EU.

Now for the real news. While I support Scotland staying a member of the EU (regardless of how the English vote) I am mindful that the European express train we’ve known since the Second World War is coming to a shuddering halt. It is difficult to predict exactly what Europe – as a political entity – will look like a generation hence. But one thing is certain: it will look very different from the “ever closer union” or Franco-German hegemony of the past half century.

For the record, I’m not advocating a breakup of the EU. Actually, I fear the consequences. My point is that in the face of existential cracks appearing in the European Union, Cameron’s contrived referendum is a complete distraction. This is a spat internal to the British ruling elite. Meanwhile, Europe is burning and the fire is going to singe us all.

Start with the eurozone. It was designed to tie continental Europe, including the new members from the east, into a fixed exchange rate system with German manufacturing. With her continental trading partners unable to devalue, Germany’s cost base was protected from local competition – meaning she was free to sell premium engineering products to China and Asia and pile up a vast trade surplus.

Now this Germanic economic model is imploding. Unable to devalue, a swathe of eurozone members have been forced to adopt ruinous austerity measures to try and make their economies competitive. Result: growing popular disenchantment with EU membership. Meanwhile, China is switching its economic model from manufacturing exports to domestic services, and no longer needs those expensive German machine tools.

A quick look at the German economy reveals a host of warning lights flashing. Last week RWE, the big energy firm, shocked the German middle class by cancelling dividend payments. This leaves Germany with the option of reviving the domestic EU market or exporting more to Russia. The former plan might work but requires an end to austerity; i.e. boosting credit. The conservative German central bank, the Bundesbank, is coming round to this way of thinking – but only on the condition that tougher rules are introduced to make Europe’s lending banks safer.

The problem is that the new safety rules being proposed by the Bundesbank require the owners of European banks to bear more of a liability if a bank gets into trouble. That is spooking the markets – the price of most European bank shares has plummeted. It has also revived quiet talk in some countries that it is time to scrap the euro; e.g. Italy and Portugal. My bet is that the single currency is far from secure and with it the single market. That will prompt Germany to demand the UK conforms to any new banking rules inside the EU, regardless of the flimsy deal agreed in Brussels last week. In these rocky circumstances, it is certainly not in the interests of an independent Scotland to join the eurozone.

The other crisis facing the EU is geopolitical. Simply put, the EU lacks a common foreign and defence posture just as the world is becoming much more dangerous – especially in Europe’s neighbourhood. While EU leaders were having their pretend negotiations with David Cameron last week, the numbers of refugees flooding into Europe started to pick up again after the winter hiatus. Despite the German-brokered deal to share 160,000 refugees, most EU states are looking the other way. Berlin and Vienna have fallen out big time after Chancellor Merkel effectively accused Austria of flouting the Geneva Convention on asylum seekers.

With no end in sight to the de facto religious wars ravaging North Africa and the Middle East, it is difficult to see any neat end to the refugee problem. That spells doom for the Schengen Agreement on free movement of people within the EU. There is no possibility of getting the smaller EU states to take more refugees. German will have to accept this or face the end of the EU. But that implies something giving on the international front.

Historically, German’s traditional geopolitical response has been to look eastwards to Russia rather than westwards to Paris. It could happen again. Recently, Harald Kujat, former chief of staff of the German army, caused ripples in the local media when he praised Moscow for intervening decisively in Syria. His point was that neither the EU nor America had the guts to end a stalemate in Syria that was ultimately benefiting Daesh-Islamic State. Personally, I get nervous when German generals start talking politics. But I cite Herr Kujat as proof that a Berlin-Moscow axis is being discussed again in Berlin.

Why is that news? The present EU model stems from a historic rapprochement between France and Germany. That meant that my generation did not need to done a uniform like our fathers and grandfathers before us. But Europe is no longer such a dynamic industrial or entrepreneurial force in the world, meaning the economic glue that sticks the EU together is drying out. And two generations on from the Second World War, Germany no longer needs to subordinate its national interests to those of a much weaker France – especially a France with its own growing band of Eurosceptics. Conclusion: if the European project is to move forward, it needs a new rationale.

That is perfectly possible. Europe has more to gain – economically and politically – from being united than from splitting. But I suspect the model of Europe that emerges in the next few decades will be looser that the current one and more like General de Gaulle’s idea of a “Europe of the Nations” rather than a federal system. That is where dynamic, small European members like Scotland can play a positive role. The European project needs reanimation around positive goals.

For instance, Europe needs an integrated energy policy based on renewables. Presently, national European energy markets remain fragmented while the continent lacks sufficient electricity transmission and storage facilities. Building that infrastructure would make a perfect investment project to reboot European economic growth.

A Europe of the Nations, based on pooling national effort rather than pooling sovereignty, allows a basis for creating an effective European foreign and defence policy that is independent of the United States – surely a necessity if we face the possibility of somebody like Donald Trump occupying the White House.

On the currency question, the fiscal inflexibility of the eurozone is too obvious to debate. Trying to “fix” the euro will only mire Europe deeper in deflation and austerity, while undermining bank stability. An organised retreat from the euro straightjacket beckons but it needs the sensible, smaller European states to argue for it. On that score, not only does Scotland need Europe but Europe badly needs an independent Scotland.