Dante Disparte / Jul 2016
As the tug-o-war pulling apart Europe’s political, social and economic cohesion plays out on the fringes – with the improbable Brexit vote on one side and the failed coup in Turkey on the other – forced solidarity is being called into question by an increasing number of once loyal countries. The once minuscule cracks in the European edifice are becoming chasms of national sentiment auguring a right-wing resurgence sweeping across the continent.
Nonetheless, with Brexit now a done deal and Turkey’s prospects of becoming a fully-fledged EU member diminishing, a leaner, right-sized EU can emerge. Financial centres like Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt are at the centre of this transformation, as they jockey to respond to economic uncertainty in the City of London and among global financial institutions. The central countries of France and Germany are ever more important to Europe’s continued integration. Critically, the ability of Europe’s political leaders to offer their citizens a vision beyond status quo is key in this debate.
The Brits, not unlike the Scandinavians to the north, have always had a degree of ‘separate but equal’ in terms of popular attitudes towards Europe’s core, as well as tepid adoption of the EU’s strictures. Proving that values matter most when they are least convenient, Europe’s fragmentation began in earnest with the onset of the global financial crisis, whereby spendthrift countries like Greece exhausted financial goodwill in Brussels giving rise to deep national sentiments. The migration crisis, which has been exacerbated by Europe’s inability to mount a principled and coherent response to its humanitarian obligations, shows the depth of these challenges. Denmark, for example, has passed a controversial law seizing migrant’s valuable articles to help finance their stay in the country. Denmark went as far as running ad campaigns in the Levant warning would be migrants that Denmark was no paradise. Whether this has been enforced matters less than the signal it sends to Europe’s already vilified Muslim populations and its neighboring countries in the Middle East and Levant. Indeed, this type of law and the lack of cohesion in the EU’s response to the migration crisis reveals dangerous fissures in pan-European security.
Indeed, real and perceived threats to public safety are a top most concern for law enforcement and security professionals fueling further tendencies for disintegration. Set against a background of increasingly audacious terror attacks, like the November 13 Bataclan massacre in Paris, the airport bombings in Brussels and Ankara and, most recently, the tragic attacks in Nice and Munich, it would appear Europe is in the cross-hairs of homegrown sleeper cells, disaffected citizens and trans-national terror. Motivated by a vile ideology of hate promulgated by ISIS and its social media strategy, proves that 21st century threats do not recognize borders. The EU is also falling prey to more traditional geopolitical threats from an increasingly belligerent Russia. Emboldened by its successful annexation of Crimea, Moscow exerts its hard and soft power over the region through its steadfast backing of Assad’s regime in Syria to its ‘paycheck persuasion’ as a chief energy supplier, Europe is very much feeling the frostbite of a low-grade Cold War.
All the while the deterrent force behind NATO, Europe’s pax guarantor, is showing perilous signs of amnesia and inefficacy in the face of unprecedented man-made risks. Indeed, across the Atlantic in a much less United States’ roiled by its own internal strife, Trump’s latest campaign promise to have the U.S. leave NATO is perhaps his most ominous yet. When political figures reveal who they are, we must believe them the first time and these dangerous campaign pledges would be a profound setback to global security and integration. As more and more countries question the value of integration, Europe’s political will to quite literally hold it together and its people’s ability to abide by social change may once again set an example for the world. This phase need not be a tale of winners and losers, but rather a tale of the EU’s right-sizing and improved alignment to the vision and values of the EU charter. Selling this bill of goods to an increasingly skeptical public requires offering a vision beyond status quo of what it means to be European, what long range social cohesion looks like and which cities will emerge as global economic centres.