Map of 28 EU countries as of October 2013

Photo: BBC

London Dateline

Harry C. Blaney III

Opening the European papers these days is a bit like living with a daily taste of defeat, greed, folly, and drift in the face of major challenges. There is even a taste of despair moral fatigue in the air. The EU has a GDP and population larger than the United States, member countries with comparatively higher standard of living than most of the world, and a long history of ‘high” culture. Yet, in the face of multiple challenges, the EU seems adrift.

Europe has a major immigration and humanitarian crisis which Europe has been unable to address the fundamental causes of the crisis or even have an effective humanitarian response. This in not for a lack of good proposals, but rather reluctance to take on added costs and burdens that will save thousands of lives especially those who make dangerous voyages in the Mediterranean Sea largely to Italy but also out of places of conflict in Africa and Asia.

After years of legal and illegal immigration and  tens of thousands of migrant deaths on the seas, the Europeans still have no good answers. Europeans are now trying to apportion immigrants between the 28 member countries – an effort that likely will not be carried out or permitted in some countries. Some 103,000 illegal immigrants have arrived on European shores since the start of the year. Today, 450 immigrants arrived in Sicily and the Italian government has threatened to give illegal immigrants visas so they can travel to other EU countries unless the other countries take their share of new arrivals.

Further East is an aggressive Russia run by an authoritarian Putin who continues to cause conflict and brutality in Eastern Ukraine. Russia has already annexed a part of Ukraine Crimea by force of arms. Due to the disarray among European nations to agree to strong sanctions, we are now seeing new agreements and large investments by European (UK included) oil companies with Russia despite continued Russian aggression. Weak EU sanctions are proof Europe will try to accommodate whatever brutality Putin will undertake thus  possibly encouraging further aggression.  All of this undermines the concept of unified support for the security of EU nations. One needs to ask what this means for overall NATO credibility for the security in Europe?

The other challenge to European unity and progress is the undercurrent of inequality, racism, and dominance of the very rich and hyper conservative forces over political power in many EU states. 

In the UK, the gap between those that live or work in the “City” as it is called, which is the banking and financial firms in London, verses those in the North of England and in Scotland that have been neglected by the Tory government and that clearly cares nothing for the very poor in their nation by their now public budget cuts.  

There is a clear marginalized immigrant and also an angry native poor population in the UK and in many European nations. This has caused a tear in the fabric of society and has imperiled a key cohesiveness needed in any country to advance progress, productivity, and provide a sense of fairness and upward mobility and integration. 

What are the results of some of these conditions and other forces of alienation within the European landscape?

One result has been the inability of many European countries to effectively address their major problems both internal and external.

The other revelation is the disinterest and poverty overall of European leadership to show any willingness to truly solve the hard problems. Indeed most of the recent decisions have been aimed at destroying the social fabric, and the social compact within society, and by whole national governments and in the EU. One result has been the growth in unpopularity of the EU and of the whole “European Project.” The sad growth of nasty, narrow nationalistic right wing parties like the National Front in France and the UK Independent party in Britain are also a result.

If there is an example of the disunity and myopia of Europe, it is the current Greek crisis. The European Central Bank, is essentially run by and for the very rich EU countries mostly Germany. The ECB together with the IMF and World Bank are demanding now added austerity on Greece, which past requirements of austerity has already impoverish in that country.  These demands for austerity are creating a humanitarian crisis creating among the highest unemployment and poverty levels in the EU ever seen in recent times.

These institutions and countries want the burden to fall on the poor and on the old via further cuts in pensions beyond those already taken. Major economists have stated time and time again that these demands have only created hardships and the bet here today is that these actions will force a default and an exit from the euro. I hope not! There is room for compromise on both sides, but only a major reduction in Greek debt will solve the problem.

Germany, above all, has lost its way as the leader of European unity and cooperation. This reinforces the reality that in these times of crisis the whole of European political leadership are tied to the worst trends in their countries and have the narrowest agendas.

The most important likely result of this outcome is furthering the future of the euro, undermining the EU, and most important the core elements of a united cooperative and effective Europe.  For America these outcomes, along with their fundamental causes, weakens Europe’s capacity to solve region wide and global problems or to act effectively on a global basis.  This means that the U.S.’s key partner in trying to solve critical global problems is becoming an undependable shadow of what it can and should be. While we have a  desirable “pivot” to Asia. it seems we need again to do a deep rethink about strengthening Europe and working hard for a more outward looking enlightened Europe before it is too late.

More on these European issues in another post!

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