‘It is Europe that will decide the fate of the world’
The future of Europe, it seems, has always been a compelling topic to discuss, amongst the most diverse circles of society. Shifts in political power, the surge in nationalism, EU-skepticism, Donald Trump’s unforeseen win of U.S. presidency – all contribute to a growing disillusionment with the future of a stable and prosperous Europe.
In the wake of the latest hysteria – Trump’s presidency – many have expressed concerns regarding the prospects of the European Union. Citizens’ trust in the EU and its institutions has declined strongly since a peak in 2007. The United Kingdom in a historic referendum even voted to leave the bloc.
The issue of immigration has gained ground significantly in all member states, but the Eurobarometer also points to terrorism, economic situation, unemployment, inflation and the cost of living, as issues that seem to worry Europeans.
The EU is one of the most complex and intergovernmental institutions in the world, established on the ruins of World War II, assembled from weak and beaten down countries, tainted by war. Now, 60 years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community, the EU has developed and evolved into a strong political, social and economic union consisting of 28 member states and attracting others.
The fact that fractions in certain member states have expressed the will to leave the EU and the rise of the far right in some countries don’t necessarily indicate Europe’s capitulation. It’s important to remember that Europe has faced far worse issues and challenges on its own soil and from abroad. France alone has so far endured 11 terrorist attacks with deadly outcomes in the 21st century. Tiny Belgium was bombed just last year, not to speak of the Berlin truck attack last December.
The far right parties have seized these tragic opportunities to attract voters by defying the EU and its policies concerning immigration and European integration. And even though their supporters are numerous, more than six out of ten Europeans consider that they have a “good” quality of life in their country, indicating that the far right is still viewed marginally by the average European. Yes, the concerns about immigration and terrorism rise, but these issues seem confidently small against the backdrop of a devastating European history.
Charles de Gaulle’s famous words resonate amidst the growing apprehension: “Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the fate of the world.”
The founder of the French Fifth Republic and its president until 1969 had plans for creating a strong European Confederation that would overcome any dependence and any need for links with the United States or the Soviet Union, a “Free Europe”.
Unfortunately, at that time Europe was simply not strong enough to be independent militarily and economically. Now, however, it is. Europe favors progressive economic and political ties with countries the U.S. improvidently excludes. Europe opens its borders to refugees and migrants while the U.S. speaks of building walls and puts up a travel ban targeting Muslim countries.
Europe establishes itself more and more as a reliable partner and leader, shakes off its dependence on the U.S., and takes bold initiatives in different matters, from economic to military solutions.
The far right’s hostility towards the EU is, most of the time, misplaced. The shortsightedness of this rhetoric indicates an unusual ignorance and failure to assess EU’s accomplishments since the moment it was established. From a war-torn continent to one of the world’s most influential political and economic blocs, it is not on the brink of collapse, contrary to Eurosceptic belief.
Trump’s victory has encouraged far right and Eurosceptic leaders that their time has come to challenge what they call the political ruling elite of Europe. They believe that his unexpected triumph has launched a political vendetta against everything that is European. Yes, Trump might be Eurosceptic, but quite a lot of the time, he sounds more European than he himself realizes.
He pledges to lower taxes and deregulate businesses. Then he backs ideas beloved by the left when he says that the government should offer health insurance “for everybody”. Is he a liberal or a conservative? Or more importantly, is he a nationalist or a socialist? “Our country is being absolutely devastated by trade deals… So actually I like Bernie,” he said, supporting a fellow protectionist, Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist in the U.S. Senate.
Many of Trump’s ideas do not venture far from European policies. And even though far right leaders such as Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands feel inspired and motivated by his presidential win, the average Trump supporter has a median age of 57, is predominantly white, and doesn’t have a college degree.
The EU, having one of the most advanced and available educational systems that do not require life-long loans from those wishing to obtain a university degree, differentiates in many aspects from the American story. Europeans, with their high minimum wages, good education, open-mindedness, and growing political commitment, are not that easy to fool. Marine Le Pen’s desired victory is being heavily challenged by the progressive candidate Emmanuel Macron, who speaks to the liberal-minded and the educated, and the left as well as the right.
Trump in the White House is not a projection of Europe’s future. He indicates degeneration in American politics; his protectionist views exclude mutual economic cooperation and challenge the global market. At the same time, Europe seals trade deals with other nations and expands its economic influence in the world. 73 years after World War II, Europe does no longer need America to help solve its domestic problems.
Europe is difficult to break. Its complex structure provides stability and security for all its member nations. This union has raised generations and will continue to do so with future generations. These generations will live in an open community that encourages a positive outlook on the world, open-mindedness, tolerance, and democracy. The demolition of a union would lead to an unseen crisis, condemning generations to instability and insecurity. In other words, the stronger a union, the more stability and assistance it can offer to a world in need. And the world has no need in a weak EU.
Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, had a positive view of Europe. He said: “We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and wherever they go in this wide domain will truly feel, ‘Here I am at home.’”
We will never know whether Winston Churchill, were he alive at this moment, would be in support of the United Kingdom retreating from the EU. The situation in the world has changed significantly in the past decades. But one thing is sure: he would not tolerate it to see Europe quiver before Trump’s America.