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October 29, 2020

Europe 2016: A year of challenges (I)

The start of the year naturally multiplied analysts’ evaluations referring to the future of Europe. On one hand, it is the fact the difficult moments Europe has gone through in the last year(s) has brought her in a situation where many people wonder whether the continental integration – the European Union – will resist to accumulated dissolution factors. On the other hand, there are many other challenges of this sort appearing at the horizon, that can contribute to the blocking of the actual trend leading to integration or even employing a fast process of decay.

The end of the year 2015 creates the opportunity of a balance that is far from optimistic concerning the fate of the EU. The organisation had to deal with three grand crises during this year, that subjected it to a great process of reconsidering institutional acquisitions, considered as consolidated and suddenly proven to be fragile, or, even more, inconvenient to some of the members. The financial crisis of Greece, based on the poor management of national finances in the last few years and the absence of reforms that would rush the economical restoration and take-off determined the emphasis of two vectors that the EU has to measure from now on as well, therefore in this year also.

On one hand, it was clearly a massive political confrontation between economical austerity (accompanied by painful reforms that generated unemployment and the decrease of living standards for a period) and what it called “quantitative easing”, which is whipping the economy by financial stimulants with the purpose to initiate economical increase and absorb the devastating social impact of the rigour promoted by the Frankfurt Bank and the exigences of the Tax Treaty of the EU. This political confrontation has emphasised some of the demons of the continental past, that seemed to be definitively murdered, and among them, the fear of the hegemony of a grand power, such as Germany, has gained strong visibility. On the other hand, the same crisis has profiled an unattractive future for the EU, more precisely the appearance of a North – South division, between a Northern portion including states that are both rich and capable to respond to the exigences of the tax treaty and southern states, scarce on economical increase and tax discipline, destined therefore to permanently undergo saving bail-outs. Or, this political confrontation had important repercussions on the European political landscape, emphasising the electoral consolidation and appearance of extremist, nationalist parties, with maximum demands in the social field and adversaries of values that already gained consistency in the liberal registry at continental echelon. In Eastern Europe, by example, there is a Liberal trend gaining contour and popularity among the electorate, showing anti-globalisation tendencies under the mask of anti-corporatism and isolationism trends under the formula of defending national traditions.
That this financial crisis in Greece, its determinants and evolution also included and still includes a component that jeopardizes the future of the organization is a fact proved by the fact that international media called it Grexit. The acronym referred to Athens’ possible exclusion from the continental block, an unprecedented and unforeseen fact in the founding treaties of the organization, but publicly presented as a possible option even by officials of EU states.

The second massive crisis to affect Europe in the year that has recently ended was the one that reached a maximum in 2014 – the occupation of Crimea by Russia and its military intervention in Eastern Ukraine – but continued in 2015 through the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and the careful surveillance on Moscow’s implementation of the stipulations of the Minsk-2 Agreement (on February 2015 ) regarding the stopping of the foreign military intervention. These sanctions against Russia were prolonged in December 2014 for six more months precisely because of the fact that the stipulations of Minsk-2 were fully completed, although a progress has been registered. The Ukrainian crisis was conjugated in the plan of defiances adressed to Europe with the evolution of the situation in Syria, where, at the end of September 2015, Russia had a military intervention against the so-called Islamic Caliphate (ISIS or Daesh).

Suspected by observers as a strategic move by Moscow to make the Ukrainian file pass on a secondary field and to gain the cancellation of the European economical sanctions, Russia’s military intervention in the civil war with Syria has certainly hurried a synergy of the forces against ISIS – from Grand Occidental powers to Arab states that established a coalition of their own – translated in the adoption by the UNO of a roadmap of peace on December 18, 2015.

But, also, it emphasised another line of fracture in Europe, between the East and the South – West, more precisely between the states that consider the present crisis of the Near East – Syria, as well as Libya and Yemen – tips the balane compared to the evolutions in Ukraine and that an agreement is needed with Russia on one hand, and with the countries that see in the aggressive assertiveness shown by this country to its Western border neighbours the main threat to the continent, on the other hand.

Finally, the third crisis, in close connection with the previous one, is the unprecedented flow of immigrants from the conflict areas of the Middle East to Europe, which has challenged to a great extent the capacity of absorption of targeted countries and also the ensemble unity of the European Union.

Germany, the main target of the flow of immigrants, was overwhelmed with the burden of over one million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other states, last year, especially after August. This actual peaceful invasion without precedent – initially welcomed by German authorities – has determined, especially as a result of recent events that prove sexual assaults over women in public locations (see Cologne, on New Year’s Eve), by organized groups of immigrants, a genuine internal political crisis.

An analysis completed recently by the newspaper NYT showed that, now, measures would be needed that seemed inconceivable no more than two or three months ago: “That means closing Germany’s borders to new arrivals for the time being. It means beginning an orderly deportation process for able-bodied young men. It means giving up the fond illusion that Germany’s past sins can be absolved with a reckless humanitarianism in the present. It means that Angela Merkel must go ― so that her country, and the continent it bestrides, can avoid paying too high a price for her high-minded folly.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/germany-on-the-brink.html?_r=2 ).

Besides these evaluations circumscribed at the level of a country – which is indeed the strongest, economically, from the EU – one may easily notice a certain process of decay of the interrogating block, where Schengen prescriptions started to be ignored and actual (wire) fences started to be built among members, causing a separation.

And there is more than this. It is possible that this flow of refugees would continue in the forthcoming year, as well, so that the mentioned process would be deepened and the separation lines in Europe consolidated and multiplied. In a recently published article (Mass migration into Europe is unstoppable, Finacial Times, January 11, 2016 ), analyst Gideon Rachman pointed out that the wave of immigrants in Europe will not cease to increase, based on both demographic and economical motivations. And the great question for the next decades is for how long Liberal values – the ones the European Union is based on and the ones that give contour to the continental integration – will resist in front of immigrants.

Already, the analyst declared, there is an engaged political battle between Liberals and Nativists (people opposing the acceptance of immigrants) which grants a shape to the continental political landscape.

“In the long run – Rachman concludes – I expect the Nativists to lose, not because their demands are unpopular but because they are unenforceable. It may be possible for island nations surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, such as Japan or Australia, to maintain strict controls on immigration. It will be all but impossible for an EU that is part of a Eurasian landmass and is separated from Africa only by narrow stretches of the Mediterranean.”

The consequences of these three grand crises were not absorbed at all; on the contrary, they keep going on forcefully at the present moment. It is doubtless that they will be experienced this year, too. But, outside of them, what other challenges is Europe facing in the year that has recently started?

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