Vladimir Putin and François Hollande celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. (The Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons.)
Vladimir Putin and François Hollande celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. (The Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons.)

By: Harry C. Blaney III

There is nothing more discouraging than to visit Europe and see it struggle bitterly over how best to divide itself, leave its poor behind, and move rightward towards racism, xenophobia, and irrelevance. With courageous leadership, all this could be much different. If they don’t watch out they may emulate some of the dysfunctional politics we face on this side of the pond. For both of us, our dysfunction means a less stable and peaceful world.

The most immediate proof of all of this are the recent European parliamentary elections, the rise of far right parties, Europe’s inability to decide about its unity, and the EU’s ineffective response to Putin’s aggression in Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine. Not least are its mindless battles over its own dismemberment and “regionalism” and concerted efforts to weaken European Unity.

How could all this be different? In one word: leadership. With forward-looking policies, with enlightened economic and financial initiatives rather than its default to harsh austerity, growing ethnic particularism, and sliding towards right wing indifference – that is how it might have avoided its current crisis. European governments could have opted to adapt economic policies that encourage growth, jobs, less inequality, and unity of direction and purpose. They did not.

Now much progress has been lost in the bitter and counterproductive fights over helping the least rich EU states, and in facing the growing bigotry and even fascist parties in many EU regions. By dithering over how strong the European Central Bank should be and taking half measures when robust measures were clearly required early on, the EU missed its moment.

There is not just one cause of this enfeeblement of Europe. Sadly, it has many aspects. But, at its base is the narrowness and dysfunctional politics and economics of almost all of the EU member states and their leaders. Front and center, to be frank, are Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Cameron and his Tory Party’s unbelievably xenophobic, dim-witted, pro-rich, anti-poor, and anti-Europe stances that have weakened Britain’s influence in the EU and brought his country to a point of dismemberment and internal disregard for a majority of its people.

This is compounded by the multiple contradictory acts of policy by President Hollande of France, who inherited an almost impossible set of problems with few good options. His voice seems hardly effective on the Europe stage given the central place France holds in the EU. At the same time, many of the smaller states are seeing divisive, bigoted and Eurosceptic parties rise, which makes the task of keeping European unity more difficult.  

Germany had once been the linchpin for a united and peaceful Europe, and it has shown a greedy face of indifference to the crisis of its poorer neighbors. But the hope is it will soon perhaps see the real costs of self-centered policies that smack of punitive actions and beggar their neighbors. These judgements sound harsh but any examination of the cost of what Merkel and other conservative parties have produced in Europe by way of the degradation of millions without jobs, growth of human despair and loss of productivity over the last five years deserves such designations.    

In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. All of this taking place as the world is on “fire” and as it plunges into even more upheavals, religious wars, dangerous rogue states like North Korea, the rise of foreign and domestic terrorism, climate change disasters, a territorial Russia under Putin, and a rising China that seems to grow more aggressive. Moreover, France wants to sell large modern assault warships to Russia and Britain wants the money of the oligarchies associated with Putin rather than take serious measures to deny Russia funding for making war. Germany was, for a time, lagging and then participating in an immediate EU plan of energy diversification in Europe, which has American backing. Some nations in Europe still seem bent on making nice with Putin who, appears still directing the killing of Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian government forces trying to reestablish their control over their own nation.

Sadly, it seems that these misbegotten leaders can’t, even in the EU, agree on concerted united action on ANY of these crucial issues. So, Europe looks inward and divides itself. Not least, in Great Britain is the senseless possible separation after centuries of unity of Scotland from the UK, and plans to vote on withdrawal from the EU. And, we see the divisiveness in Belgium, the separatists active in Spain, along with wide calls for the weakening (rather than strengthening) of the EU.

This will be played out when the far-right parties, who now make up about one-third of the EU Parliament, sees the EU as an enemy rather than uniting force, and will try to undo the work of the post-war fathers who envisioned an Europe united and forever at peace with one another.

The difficulty is that there is no large vision of a cooperative, strong and constructive Europe that can and should play a positive global role. This a great shame since its GDP is equal to that of the United States, and its population is larger and its level of modernity high. But, it acts more like a wounded tiger without direction or caring for the larger environment or even its own citizens.  

It all reminds me of Shakespeare’s famous verse in “Measure for Measure”:

But man, proud man,

Dressed in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As makes the angels weep

Act 2, scene 2, lines 146-151

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