Harry C. Blaney III

cameron merkel obama

Department of State Secretary John Kerry told the Yale audience at Graduation on May 18th:

“Today, the felt needs are growing at a faster pace than ever before, piling up on top of each other, while the response in legislatures or foreign capitals seems nonexistent or frozen…It’s not that the needs aren’t felt. It’s that people around the world seem to have grown used to seeing systems or institutions failing to respond… Right before our eyes, difficult decisions are deferred or avoided altogether. Some people even give up before they try because they just don’t believe that they can make a difference. And the sum total of all this inaction is stealing the future from all of us.”

The European Parliament elections starting on May 22nd and ending on May 25th are a bellwether for the direction of the so called “European Project” that aims for an ever closer union of European nations. Yet this election is just a single event, and there will be many more actions and events which will determine whether the Europe of today will veer towards greater union and co-operation or towards disunity and at least partial breakup, as some have predicted. For American interests, a united and outward-looking Europe is key to maintaining a powerful partner in solving the most difficult challenges our world faces now and in the future.

I visited Britain earlier this year and found a profound degree of cynicism about Europe. In many quarters I even noticed hostility towards the EU that was exacerbated by the growth of far right (indeed, even fascist) groups and parties. These have focused on the EU as the source of their invective and have played on the growing discontentment about the economic downturn. The alienation they have bred and the rise in immigration have supported their xenophobic and racist claims. 

Part of the blame for this must lie with the European conservative governments. With few exceptions, these have instituted harsh austerity policies that have ground down their middle classes and impoverished many working class and marginal middle class people. In the meantime, their policies keep the rich still rich and the financial sphere even richer. The growth in inequality and the indifference on the part of conservative governments to address this problem has only contributed to the malaise throughout Europe. Many Europeans feel that their own governments – and, increasingly, the EU as a whole – have been indifferent and have even increased citizens’ precarious situations. Anger towards the “establishment” has grown, and many now favor the extreme parties to the traditional ones, who seem not to care about the growing unrest.

For me, the most disturbing element is the far right’s rise to power with all its racist, anti-migration, anti-EU sentiment, its frequent resort to violence against those that do not look like them (as in Greece and parts of Germany), and its adoption of Nazi slogans and ideology. This is seen in Britain in the growth of support for the UK Independent Party (UKIP), in Greece with New Dawn (now Golden Dawn), in Hungary with the Jobbik Party, in France with the Le Pen National Front Party, in Belgium with the Vlaams Belang, and in Holland with the Party for Freedom (PVV). Sadly, such parties exist in more countries than these six.
The deplorable part is that these political gains by the far right have pushed some of the traditionally conservative and even more liberal parties towards xenophobic and anti-EU policies. The case in point includes Prime Minister Cameron’s Tory party, which is filled with highly Eurosceptic MPs and which has agreed to a vote on leaving the EU if it does not get its way in “reform” of the EU that is favorable to the UK. Fortunately, the UK’s political leaders have defended immigrants and deplored acts against them in the past. But, too often members of the Tory party have made anti-immigrant stands. This story of indifference has been repeated in other ER member countries and, as a result, the fascist parties in some places have seen a rise in voter support.

What does all this mean for American interests and desires for close cooperation with Europe on major global challenges like climate change, trade, terrorism nuclear proliferation, catastrophe response, genocide and other upheavals around the world? What does disintegration and inward turning of Europe mean for NATO as a guarantor for mutual security, Atlantic political dialogue, and crisis prevention mechanism? Have we already seen some of these effects in Europe’s response to the takeover of Crimea and other efforts to destabilize Eastern and even all of Ukraine?

The outcome of the EU Parliamentary election, and also of the national elections that will follow, will either empower and unite or undermine the possibility of a strong, growing, and just democratic community of nations that can address our most severe problems. The courage, or lack thereof, of the existing and future leaders towards supporting such a united and democratic Europe plays an similarly important role. It is both the enlightened citizens and outward-looking leaders that can set the stage to take action against economic justice, and can effectively address security threats and human rights abuses at home and abroad.

If there is a move towards caring for the “least among us” who have paid a high price from the myopic austerity policies in Europe (which have neglected to provide real help to suffering citizens who have lost jobs due to the criminal actions of those in the financial sector), there are then paths towards “redemption” at home and abroad. This requires a new effort at economic stimulus, a well as actions and projects which can renew the effectiveness of the EU and the European Central Bank and seek a wider growth trajectory in cooperation with North America. This approach will allow us to address our common societal and global problems and defeat not only Putin’s aggression but, also, the forces of bigotry and intolerance.

The quote by Secretary Kerry at the start of this post seemed to me very apt for not only the dilemma of which direction Europe might go but, also, for all of us worrying about the actions we and others can take to right injustice and make for more peace in a troubled world.


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