Europe on the Cusp of Change

The past few decades have been an experiment in Europe (though not the first one, historically). Now that attempt to realize the dreams of its romantics, utopian philosophers and certain economists and build an ideal common European home has begun to falter. A beautiful house was being built according to blueprints enshrined in numerous agreements and legislative acts, where everything seemed to have been taken care of, all the way down to waste disposal and uniform trash bins. But, as they say, it looked great on paper.

Truth be told, from the outset, the house was planned in a way that made some of its residents more equal than others, with inevitable consequences for relations between the EU member states, even though differences were often papered over. However, they kept building up, and it has now become clear that the "common European home" is covered in large cracks, and isolated petty quarrels are growing into major disagreements. Dividing lines are being drawn across united Europe, with certain areas being shred to pieces and fences and enclosures going up, harkening back to the days of medieval moats and tower walls.

One of the main reasons behind the feverish construction of fences is, of course, the waves of Muslim migrants in Europe who have created enormous problems in addition to already existing ones. These include, primarily, security, maintaining the traditional order and cleanliness in urban and rural areas, as well as everyday practical issues, such as prices, manufacturing jobs, health care, etc. Soon, it became clear that the masses of people who came to the Old World are outside of European culture and profess different values and views, and have a different mentality and code of conduct. For the most part, Muslim immigrants believe in the religious and cultural superiority of Islamic values ​​over European ones, which many of them don’t think are values at all. At the same time, they retain a high degree of loyalty to the homeland they abandoned. Thus, it is now obvious that in order to resolve the emerging problem and help the newly arrived migrants adapt – even if they migrated due to difficult circumstances back home –huge financial investment, expert assessments and many years of work will be required.

Therefore, they opted for a more straightforward solution, and new walls were built in the Old Home.

Hungarians were the first ones to express practical concerns. Brussels sent a memo to the effect that the EU administration plans to resettle 2,000 migrants in Hungary. This number would have no significant effect on the demographic situation in a country of 10 million people, even if at least five relatives join each family in the future. There’s no danger of Islamisation here. However, the Hungarians think differently. When we joined the EU in 2004, they say, we were acting out of the belief that we will live in a Christian and atheist Europe, not a multi-religious Europe. A referendum was held in Hungary on October 2, 2016, in which the majority rejected the right of the EU leadership to send any number of refugees from Muslim countries to that country. Due to low turnout, the results of the referendum were invalid, but they clearly showed the frame of mind citizens are in. So, now Hungary is building a wall along the perimeter to block Muslim migrants arriving via Turkey, Greece and Serbia.

This year, Bulgaria built barbed wire fences along its Turkish border that are twice as tall as the average person. Walls are being built on individual sections of the border in Macedonia, Slovenia and Austria.

I’d be remiss not to mention the widely covered story of the Jungle camp in France outside Calais, where fences are being built to prevent refugees from the Middle East and Africa from hopping on passing trucks in an attempt to make it to the United Kingdom.

That’s not all. According to the German magazine Focus (May 16, 2016), Latvia with its population of just 1.8 million plans to follow the trend and build a fence on the border with Russia and Belarus.

The Europeans have before their eyes a vivid example of this kind of construction in Israel, where the Israelis have built a huge wall along the West Bank to prevent attacks by Palestinian militants.

The desire of Europeans to fence themselves off from Muslim minorities, and sort through them some other way, has long been evident in other European countries. On November 29, 2009, Switzerland held a referendum in which over 75 percent of its citizens voted against the construction of minarets beyond the existing four. Muslims now make up 5 percent of the Swiss population, and there are hundreds of times fewer mosques than churches. The bottom line is that the issue is not about a threat to the status of the majority coming from a minority, but the threat that the minority will cease to be invisible in the public space.

Migration: Threats and Resources Anatoly Vishnevsky
In the history of mankind migrations always played a very important role. So it was in ancient times, when a man came out of one part of the world and settled across the globe. So it was in the Middle Ages, when the so-called Voelkerwanderung re-designed the ethnic, linguistic and political map of Europe. So it was in the very recent past, when the intercontinental migrations led to the creation of the United States and other overseas centers inhabited by immigrants from Europe.

The United Kingdom chose its own way of dealing with this issue: 52 percent of the British voted in favor of leaving the EU during the June 23, 2016 referendum. Some role in this decision was played by the fact that the British were under constant threat from Muslim immigration, and were being told that Turkey is about to join the EU, which would result in millions of Syrians and Iraqis flooding in across the Turkish border.

But it is not only about migration, even though terrorist attacks in Europe sow fear, reinforce the inherent disunity of the Europeans, and contribute to spreading pessimism. Most importantly, the European house is now covered with fissures, deep dividing lines between various segments of society and an unprecedented gap in the living standards of the rich and the poor and even the conventional middle class, with inequality reaching glaring proportions over the past 25 years.

(The situation is similar in the United States where the incomes of the majority of US citizens have remained flat for many years, while elite groups are better off than ever before, as Francis Fukuyama wrote in Foreign Affairs No. 4, 2016).

Certain Western analysts believe that the situation deteriorated dramatically following the 2008 banking crisis, when a sharp decline in income levels began in the developed countries. In general, the prevailing view is that the globalization project, as it exists today, is flawed and misguided, as it has deprived European citizens of their right to live in accordance with their traditional notions of values, living standards and national interests. Hence the growth of discontent and distrust of the government, politicians and ruling elites, both in terms of scale and the variety of forms it takes. This can be seen in the rising influence of right-wing political parties almost everywhere. The flywheel does not work to consolidate unity, but to polarize society.

Elections in Austria and the Netherlands will be held in December, and it is quite possible that the right-wing candidates will win. Writing about the referendum on constitutional reform in Italy, the British paper The Times, in its Nov. 14, 2016 issue, clearly hints that it may lead to the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

France is a major focus. The Economist wrote in its Nov. 9, 2016 issue that after Donald Trump’s victory in the United States, the success of the leader of the National Front Marine Le Pen in presidential election in April 2017 does not look so impossible. A seasoned and smart politician, she operates under the motto France for the French and takes advantage of the split between the conservatives and the socialists. As a result, the position of her party has considerably improved. “Marine Le Pen could win the 2017 presidential race,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said speaking recently at an economic forum in Berlin, adding that France is in danger.

The ruling circles of many Western nations do not fully understand the new alignment of forces in the international arena. They are captive to their own virtual ideas, as if not realizing that life is changing at an astounding pace. The Daily Telegraph wrote in its editorial on Nov. 14, 2016 that the European Union has lost touch with reality and is riven with anti-democratic sentiment.

The West has passsed its peak of influence. World politics is increasingly dominated by other civilizations, primarily, China, India, Russia, as well as the Islamic, Latin American and African civilizations.

All this has given rise to some fairly painful but unavoidable soul-searching. Out of habit, many Western political scientists tend to put the blame on Russia and make it responsible for all the misfortunes currently experienced by the West.

Russia is accused of reviving the old Soviet politics, whereas Obama and other Western leaders are blamed for being too slow in recognizing Putin's revanchist policies. Trump, they warn, shouldn’t be allowed to repeat the same mistake.

In this context, The New York Times editorial of Nov.12, 2016 titled “The Danger of Going Soft on Russia” is quite telling. Its authors are aggrieved mostly by the fact that Trump looks like a Putin apologist, and so they dump all troubles on Russia’s doorstep. The real problem, however, is that the European ruling elites lack strategic vision. None of them were able to look beyond the horizon, and sometimes they fell prey to their own propaganda.

European capitals are clearly confused and bracing for more uncertainty. The results of recent elections in Bulgaria and Moldova surprised officials in Brussels. In the first harbingers following Brexit, pro-Russian forces won.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.