Europe’s political and social scene is undergoing significant changes lately, most of which seem to work towards derailing the dream of unity and full-scale cooperation known as the European Union. However, that is hardly something new. A glance at the history of the Old Continent shows a balance of power that rarely kept itself in equilibrium for more than a couple of decades. Centuries of war left behind scar tissue sensible to sharp piercing topics like immigration, free movement of labor, or the relation with Russia.
Cut away from mainland Europe by a 21 mile wide channel, the United Kingdom can be viewed as a child prodigy with severe problems adapting to adult life. While probing for the best business opportunities and not hesitating to intervene against hegemonic attempts successively made by Spain, Napoleonic France, or Nazi Germany, the British always kept one foot in and one foot out. Insularity also gave this nation a particular sense of pride and a strong reluctance in accepting policies dictated by others. In this light, the 51.9% vote in favor of the “Leave” ticket should not have come as a surprise. Brexit was a clear sign that the UK wanted back full control over immigration and its borders. Expected to materialize in 2019, the move created a dangerous precedent that might inspire other discontent nations to board the same train.
At the opposite side of the spectrum sits Germany, arguably the most faithful supporter of the European project. With Chancellor Angela Merkel at its helm since 2005, EU’s biggest economy had a pivotal role in approving Greece’s bailout and the current agreement on the immigration quota. However, such policies created increased dissatisfaction among the German people, a situation that was best reflected at the poles. A surprise 8% swing in votes suggests Germany is in for a radical political change in 2021 when the next federal elections are set to take place.
Across the Alps, another G8 member already reached what seems to be the point of no return. Luigi Di Maio, the political leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, is the new Prime Minister of Italy. His troublesome agenda includes a renegotiation with Brussels and the crackdown on immigration that rallied such massive popular support. Meanwhile, thousands of Africans continue to risk their lives crossing the 90 mile wide Strait of Sicily, only to be rerouted by the authorities. Statistics are clear to show the number of those who arrive in Italy by sea has dropped to half, compared to 2017.
Austria is another European country where immigration offered an critical campaign topic. Yet again, the people entered the boots lured by politicians promising to curb the number of foreigners fleeing poverty and conflicts in Africa and Asia. More than 20% of Austrians gave their country a dangerous lean towards the far right by voting for Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in 2017. The message couldn’t be more precise – like most other Europeans, they plan to conserve their culture, religion, and identity at all cost, slamming the doors on liberalism.
Sweden is another country that faces political and social changes at the hands of immigration. If reports are accurate, crime rates, especially violent ones, seem to go hand in hand with the inflow of refugees. Still, Sweden is far from deserving a nickname like the one given by Brexit mastermind Nigel Farage – “the rape capital of Europe.”
Immigration is not the only problem currently haunting the European Union. The self-proclaimed illiberal democracies of Poland and Hungary won popular support waving anti-EU policies. Controversial reforms put them in misalignment with the laws agreed upon in Brussels. In open conflict with their western allies and partners, the two countries appeared to have placed themselves on an orbit of Russian interests.
For the pessimists, the European Union will have, keeping the proportions, the same destiny as the Roman Empire. Bureaucracy and the inability to promote the same core beliefs and values across its vast but fragmented territory is doubled by another assault of the “Barbarians.” Will history repeats itself with the EU? Will the European countries learn to finally treat the cause rather than the symptoms?