RealClearWorld Newsletters: Europe Memo

A New Europe, Ready or Not

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In March Bronislaw Komorowski, at the time Poland's president, addressed a crisis to his country's east, telling a crowd of diplomats, journalists, and politicians gathered at Brussels Forum that Ukraine needed its own Marshall Plan. This week Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, addressing a crisis at his country's south, told a similar crowd at London's Chatham House that the Middle East and North Africa needed its own Marshall Plan.

Komorowski's message reflected an existential Polish concern that has become a long-term European challenge. Gentiloni's message reflected a longstanding Italian strategic priority which, turned in on itself, has become Europe's latest, most urgent, and sure to be chronic crisis. Refugees are not arriving in Lampedusa or Lesbos; in their mind, they are arriving in Europe, full stop. There can be no Polish solution. There can be no Italian solution. These are not short-term crises, and there can only be a European solution. Geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan, as sometimes only he can do, put it best in Bloomberg View this week. The very geography of Europe has changed, and with it, the rules:

"The Mediterranean, it turns out, is not the southern border of Europe: Rather, that border lies somewhere in the Sahara Desert from where African migrants coalesce into caravans headed north. And as they have throughout history, the Balkans still form a zone of human migration from the Near East. For decades, the dream of the European Union was to become a post-national paradise of prosperity and the rule of law, and gradually, through various association agreements, extend the bounties of civil society to contiguous regions. Now the process is being reversed: The contiguous regions are exporting their instability into Europe itself. Eurasia, a super-continent of historic exoduses, is starting to reintegrate Europe.

This tumultuous process occurs as the social welfare state -- the moral answer of European elites to the carnage of the 20th century -- has become nearly impossible to sustain at its current level in some countries."

That last point is important in more than just the obvious ways, because the defense of Europe's welfare states was protected when the continent's leaders brought into being what passes for EU migration and asylum policies. As the London School of Economics' Georgia Mavrodi wrote in a recent paper:

"Within the framework of the ‘Fortress Europe' metaphor, new immigration was considered undesirable. At best, member states were supposed to be interested in a minimal harmonisation of their policies on immigrants who had already been present in their territories and considered most likely to remain.

...

In the economic field the EU was considered overly protectionist towards the rest of the world, keen to profit from the movement of goods, capital and services in the internal market, while endorsement of the movement of people was limited to EU citizens and their families only."

In the Europe of yore it was possible to craft an external policy focused on internal movement, shutting the gates to the world and leaving its constituent states to deal alone with manageable numbers of refugees. Those days are gone, and they are not soon to return. Or as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi put it in April, before Rome could convince anyone else to take refugees seriously: "If this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it."

Indeed Europe is open, whether or not it chooses to be. The moats are no longer holding anyone out of the fortress. The Mediterranean is again, for good and for ill, a crossroads of civilizations, and the English Channel, to quote London Mayor Boris Johnson, is just a primeval river that got slightly too big. The realities of social geography demand an answer, and it's not likely to be an answer properly arrived at parliament by parliament. That's a brutal reality to thrust upon a European Union that already suffers democratic deficits both real and perceived, and upon national governments struggling to keep the anger of populists at bay. Just as Europe has paid a steep price for forming a currency union shackled by lack of economic coordination, it is now paying a price for bringing to life a borderless arena that lacks a fully formed common immigration and asylum policy. In the same way, it is collecting the bill for a decade of eastward expansion unaccompanied by an emphasis on strong national and supranational defense policies.

This is a new Europe, reluctantly. It is a Europe that may or may not integrate willingly with itself, but is integrating inevitably into the world around it. In coming newsletters we will explore the theme on a more granular level, starting next week with the Western Balkans and the so-called Visegrad Group.

Around the Continent

Italy is at a turning point. As Renzi pushes forward constitutional reforms in Rome -- reforms on which the young center-left prime minister is willing to stake his leadership -- he is set to perhaps take a harder line against austerity in EU fora, telling his counterparts that his country has done enough, and is recovering. So, is it? Il Sole 24 Ore's Alberto Orioli looks at seven indicators to gauge the health of the employment market, and finds some evidence of positive growth, but it's hard to build an enthusiastic case. Production is up 0.1 percent year-over-year. That may sound a trifle, but as the writer points out, it does follow 20 years of 0 percent or negative growth. Employment in the mezzogiorno, Italy's chronically afflicted south, is up 0.9 percent.

A troubling break of dawn: Greece's Sept. 20 snap election approaches, and the governing far-left Syriza party remains in a tight race with center-right New Democracy for the pole position. But is this the moment when the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party rides a wave of electoral anger to further success? According to The Guardian, Golden Dawn may be the "Europe's most dangerous political force":

"Touring Kos and other Aegean islands most affected by the influx, Golden Dawn MPs brazenly played on locals' fears. ‘Elections are approaching,' Ilias Kasidiaris, the party's swastika-tattooed spokesman, told residents. ‘Kos has a choice. If [inhabitants] choose to vote Syriza it will turn into Pakistan. If they choose Golden Dawn and Golden Dawn governs the land, then Kos will become Greece again. And that is our goal.'"

You be Corbyn's judge: It's been an inauspicious start to the tenure of Labour's new leader. Corbyn has been criticized from his left for failing to include women in top shadow Cabinet posts and from his right for not singing the national anthem, and his well-known foreign policy stances provoke everything from amusement to very real fear. How about we hear from the man himself? Here is Corbyn at his first Prime Minister's Questions, standing as leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition.

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