What does Europe truly want to be when it grows up?

November 4, 2015
Slovenian police officers observe migrants arriving by train at a makeshift train station in the village of Sentilj

Slovenian police officers observe migrants arriving by train at a makeshift station close to the Austrian border town of Spielfeld in the village of Sentilj, Slovenia, November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The liberal consensus in Europe is now fraying. It has, over the past half century, produced laws legalizing divorce, abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage (to some extent) and, crucially, underpinned and approved multiculturalism. These were not easy victories for the left. Many of these innovations — divorce, abortion and gay rights, especially — were shocking to a majority for centuries, particularly in devoutly Catholic countries like Italy, Ireland, Poland and Spain. 

Yet today, it’s multiculturalism that’s sticking in the European craw. The term has positive connotations, yet it also covers a lot of ground. In its most nefarious form, it gives countries cover to ignore practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation, which are embraced by other cultures.

In recent decades, the official position in most states was that multiculturalism, integration and diversity are good — indeed, the more diverse the better.

Yet that is no longer the position of many — by some measures most — Europeans. The migrant crisis has washed away many of the fondest self-serving views the European elites had of themselves, and of the house they and their forebears built. Europe is going through a wrenching time, which will not end soon because it is composed of so many different elements.

Of the three major achievements that EU leaders used to like to enumerate — the single market in goods and services, the creation of the euro currency, and the Schengen agreement allowing for free movement among most participating states — only the first remains relatively trouble-free.

The euro has not emerged from its crisis, and will not until Greece stabilizes. Movement among states is certainly not free; customs barriers in many states are higher than they have ever been. Add to these the Russians taking two chunks out of Ukraine, the coming British referendum on EU membership and the loss of support for the Union itself. The EU is a palace built on ideals that has, in fact, sunk into marshy ground.

Ivan Krastev, the Bulgarian political scientist who chairs the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, told a seminar in Berlin (in which I took part) that “before five years ago, the question in Europe was ‘How do we manage globalization?’ The question now is: ‘How do we manage the backlash against globalization?’”

Globalization, as it’s increasingly interpreted by those hostile to its supposed effects, is charged with the destruction of communities and traditions — including those “traditions” created in Soviet times. Poles have just elected the right-wing Law and Justice Party, whose members think globalization is a destructive force. Switzerland, still something of an idyll of order and beauty, also swung right on fears of being swamped by migrants, few of whom it has allowed across its borders.

The simultaneous collapse of countries in the Middle East and Africa and the creation, by the desperate refugees and the vultures who transport them across the Mediterranean, of a “migrant railway” that now pumps thousands into Europe every month, has changed Europe. It has been a gift to the far-right parties, which have soared to leadership in the polls in several countries. This includes even liberal Sweden, where anti-migrant hostility has reached alarming heights. Several temporary shelters for migrants have been burned, and a 21-year-old dressed as Darth Vader took a sword into a school that many migrants attend and killed a teacher and a student, wounding several others.

In Italy, the Northern League has become the main party of the right, prompting its leader, Matteo Salvini, to tell Pope Francis that he’s wrong to say that Europe should welcome the migrants. This marked a lèse-majesté unthinkable for any Italian party leader to indulge in even a year ago.

The liberal heroine of the times is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said: come one, come all — Germany will accommodate you! She’s been forced to roll back on that sentiment, which had prompted hushed dissent from her European neighbors who feared her generosity would result in a greater flood of migrants into the region.

At home, Germany will also be faced with a very large problem of integration. Should evidence emerge of extreme Islamist sympathies or criminal behavior among the migrants, this challenge could flare into a crisis.

The migrant crisis has forced Europe to examine its own virtue and decency. The EU must now realize its responsibility to create a sustainable plan for the refugees, while juggling the interests of its independent member states.

Europe’s native populations will not tolerate endless immigration. The long-haul approach would be to win the cooperation of the migrants’ home countries, while making it clear that mass immigration is now over. At its best, such a strategy will bind the rich world into a long-term humanitarian contract with the impoverished one. Sooner or later, that needs to happen.

9 comments

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EU is just a fetus on its way to Planned Parenthood.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

A difficult quandary, for economic globalization is positive, creating efficiency and greater worldwide productivity, which has raised millions out of poverty. And some degree of multiculturalism is inevitable, given the growing connectivity of the globe through transport and travel combined with footloose populations and the movement of workers worldwide. Capital and labor are footloose. But at the same time one hopes that the long standing cultures and traditions of the Italians, Swedes, Spaniards, British and others are not swept away by excessive immigration and foreign born populations, which often bring insular and illiberal values into the mix.

Posted by Cassiopian | Report as abusive

There is no “Europe.” Look at a map. It’s just a cold part of Asia where the people grew isolated and pale for a few thousand years. Good luck with a mission statement on that mess.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

When will USA grow up and stop interfering in other countries governments which resulted in destabilisation of much of Middle East? US is the problem, and americans should take care of the refugees streams they have created. Please, send GW Bush and Dick Cheney to Hague for war crime trial!

Posted by YngveF | Report as abusive

I think the reason populist parties are gaining traction is the monumental failure of the politicians to deliver jobs and opportunity. The standard of living is regressing and the politicians speak about responsibility, but do nothing. What we see now is democracy in action, Europe is shredding its stagnated political establishment. Many voters are quite aware the populistic parties will not be able to deliver in the long run, but at least they will bring change.

I think a good start would be to ditch the euro and have a long hard look at what John Maynard Keynes wrote. It is a strange world for me when the only sane voice in the room is the IMF.

Posted by AndreasJ | Report as abusive

A very complex problem with all sorts of dimensions. Most of the migration pressure is from nations where the only social security is the extended family and lots of children, women are treated as breeding machines, populations explode as agriculture and fisheries are degraded, and religious/ethnic divisions become mass murder and civil war.
One factor is that many nations would like to rid themselves of minorities by forced migration/expulsion rather than genocide. Many Singhalese would like to drive all Tamils out of Sri Lanka to India, Indonesia, Australia. Many Hindus would like to continue partition and force Muslims to Pakistan or Bangladesh. Many Turks would like to push the Kurdish minority into Europe. Etc. Ad nauseum.
So even though I am often “centre-left”, I agree with the “right-wing” policy of the Australian government to stop the uncontrolled migration and people smugglers, but accept refugees from UNHCR camps. And those selected should not prefer Christians or the saddest war injuries and orphans, but those with education/skills/trades that are most able to economically integrate and prosper.

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

at 65.5 yrs i’ll stick with kenneth tynan

when i grow up i want to be couth kempt and shevelled

nice & straightforward

Posted by EdMartin | Report as abusive

Surviving islamification should be their first priority.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

ref GetReel’s comment on 5/11

surviving ‘isms’ might be more diplomatic language than targeting just one of them

this in its general form may have been part of the reasoning for the EC’s foundation – – europe having just undergone its second 30 year war – for what? and at what cost? the young must wonder

uk hadn’t suffered the 20th century modern ‘isms’ to the same extent as the continent – but here we are all facing another insidious destructive excuse for enslavement

some ‘isms’ just don’t allow the expression yet alone manifestation of anything with which they don’t agree and don’t accept that life and freedom are the only things that can be argued to be sacred

can there be peaceful co-existence with such creeds?
do the rest of us need to feel guilt if the ‘ismists’ decide to take offence? should we buy then off with the sacrifice of our own freedom?

NO

Posted by EdMartin | Report as abusive