In March 2017, the European Union (EU) commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, which laid the foundations of the EU as we know it today. Recently, however, the American journalist James Kirchick published an extensive critique on the current status quo on the European continent. In The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, Kirchick gives a bleak analysis of a continent in crisis and the many challenges the EU faces, including migration, Brexit, the rise of populism, growing Euroscepticism and instability in the Union’s neighbourhood. That the EU finds itself at a crossroads is obvious, though is the end really near? Perhaps there is still hope for the EU. (Featured Image © Amio Cajander)
The title sounds depressing, but Kirchick claims he is not necessarily anticipating the literal collapse of the supranational structure of the EU. He rather hints at the fact that, in the near future, the EU might weaken significantly due to the rise of populism and instability from within and outside of the EU. “We are on the cusp of witnessing the end of Europe as we have known it for the past seven decades: a place of peace, stability, prosperity, cooperation, democracy, and social harmony.”
Kirchick’s work should not be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy, but rather an alarming wake-up call
Kirchick’s work should not be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy, but rather an alarming wake-up call. Regarding the political developments in Russia, Hungary, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine, he describes the many challenges that the EU is facing. Two of his key findings require some critical assessment.
First, he claims that the failure of the political elite is the main cause of the rise of populist and Eurosceptic movements within the EU. Kirchick explains that the so-called elitists fail to acknowledge the impact of immigration. He even went as far as to claim that the arrival of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa region poses an imminent threat to the liberal values of Europe, such as women’s rights. This simple frame seems to be directly copied from the rhetoric of the far-right.
Although it is true that many right-wing populist parties in Europe harbour harsh anti-immigration policies, it is too simple to claim that the ongoing migration crisis is the sole cause of populism. For example, the lingering euro crisis should also be considered. This perfectly explains the rise of anti-establishment parties on both the left and right in a country like Greece.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is currently leading an unlikely coalition between the radical left-wing Syriza party and the right-wing populist Independent Greeks. Both parties were united by their rejection of the bailout program and austerity measures imposed on Greece by the EU. The crisis in the European banking system is, however, an issue that is barely discussed by Kirchick.
It is too simple to claim that the ongoing migration crisis is the sole cause of populism
Second, Kirchick seems to have a firm belief that the outcome of the Brexit referendum is a sign that the EU is breaking apart. “If the UK follows through with Brexit, the domino effect of its departure will exacerbate the emergent balkanization of Europe – beginning with Britain itself.” More than a year has passed since the majority of the British voters said ‘yes’, yet no exit referendum has been announced in any other EU member state. Kirchick’s expectation appears to be far too pessimistic.
On the contrary, calls for a stronger EU have increased since Brexit. Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders, who both ran in their respective elections, were in favour of leaving the EU. Even though Le Pen came in second in the French presidential elections and Wilders’ Freedom Party became the second-biggest party in the Netherlands, both countries now have pro-European governments in place and the influence of the radical parties is extremely limited, if not non-existing.
The Pew Research Centre has also estimated that popular support for the EU has increased drastically since the EU and the UK started the Brexit negotiations. All ten EU member states that were surveyed, saw a sharp increase in favourability of the EU, including the UK itself. A small majority of the British respondents even believe that secession from the EU is a bad thing.
Election results and indications of growing popular support are important signs that there is hope
Election results and indications of growing popular support are important signs that there is hope. Still, Kirchick is absolutely right that the rise of populism and an increasingly unstable neighbourhood should remind us that a strong and effective EU is important. Perhaps the biggest argument in favour of the EU is that the alternative would be a disaster. Kirchick’s account might be too pessimistic, but this main point is crystal clear.
Europe finds itself at a crossroads, but the end is not near. There is still hope, but Kirchick is right about his claim that we should take good care of our European Union.