Wed, Dec 19, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Managing the challenges of a Europe in increasing disarray

By Richard Haass

It was not all that long ago — just a few years, as hard as that is to believe — that Europe appeared to be the part of the world most closely resembling the end-of-history idyll depicted by Francis Fukuyama at the end of the Cold War. Democracy, prosperity and peace all seemed firmly entrenched.

Not anymore. Parts of Paris are literally burning. The UK is consumed and divided by Brexit. Italy is led by an unwieldy left-right coalition that is resisting EU budget rules. Germany is contending with a political realignment and in the early phases of a transition to a new leader. Hungary and Poland have embraced the illiberalism seen across much of the world. Spain is confronting Catalan nationalism and Russia is committing new acts of aggression against Ukraine.

In what by historical standards constitutes an instant, the future of democracy, prosperity and peace in Europe has become uncertain. Much of what had been widely assumed to be settled is not. NATO’s rapid demobilization after the Cold War looks premature and precipitous.

There is no single explanation for these developments. What we are seeing in France is populism of the left, the result of people having difficulty making ends meet and rejecting new taxes, whatever the justification for them. This is different from what has fueled the rise of the far right across Europe: cultural defensiveness amid local and global challenges, above all immigration.

The EU, for its part, has gradually lost its hold on the public imagination. It has been too remote, too bureaucratic and too elite-driven for too long.

Meanwhile, renewed Russian aggression might simply reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s judgement that, having realized large political returns on his previous military “investments” in Ukraine and Syria, he had little to fear or lose from further actions.

Europe’s political class deserves its share of responsibility for today’s growing disarray. The EU introduced a common currency without a fiscal or banking union, making it all but impossible to conduct a coherent economic policy. The decision to put the UK’s continued EU membership to a popular vote, while allowing a simple majority to decide the issue and failing to spell out the terms of departure, was misguided.

Likewise, opening Germany’s borders to a flood of refugees, however pure German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s motives, was sure to trigger a backlash.

Most recently, French President Emmanuel Macron did himself no favors by backing down to the “yellow vest” protesters, and offering compromises more likely to fuel additional demonstrations and exacerbate his country’s budget predicament.

We should not assume things will get better. It is only a matter of time before France’s far-right National Rally (formerly the National Front) and political parties across Europe figure out how to combine economic and cultural populism and threaten the post-World War II political order. Italy’s hybrid populist government is a version of just that.

The UK would remain torn over its relationship (or lack thereof) with the EU no matter what comes of Brexit; and it is entirely possible that a post-Brexit UK might come under serious strain itself, given renewed calls for Irish unity and Scottish independence.

There is no formula for dividing power between Brussels and capitals that would be acceptable to both the EU and national governments.

This story has been viewed 1670 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top