THE OBSERVER

Europe against itself

While London and Brussels are yet to engage in Brexit talks and do not seem in any hurry to discuss Britain’s breakaway, Europe’s political map might change soon in Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany

Europe seems to be hopelessly infatuated by suicide. The statement is categorical enough for me to hope that it will turn out to be but an exaggerated provocation. Still, we will not be able to fully gauge the extent of the self-destructive pulse exhibited by our wealthy —and often unenthusiastic— welfare societies until Austria and Italy have gone to the polls. The time has come for Europe to look inwardly and manage to identify and argue courageously for the values that it is built upon and have turned it into a successful model of growth, social cohesion and protection, unmatched worldwide. The alternative to taking a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror is even darker.

America has seen the victory of a populist candidate who is threatening to turn US foreign policy into a game of Russian roulette. Donald Trump’s administration will be an unpredictable one, to judge by the recent appointments he has made, mostly hawkish protectionists who have shown little regard for minorities and are better connected with Russia than with old Europe. Trump’s first diplomatic steps, such as the Taiwan phone call, are either foolhardy or a show of boldness prompted by ignorance.

Europe must not expect a blissful relationship with its partner across the Atlantic, one that might help to further trade and defence agreements, in the same vein as in recent years. Without the ever-so-convenient hand-holding by the US —and stuck with a directionless project—, Europe must fall back to garner strength and carry out a realistic assessment of the losses endured by the dream of European construction. De Gasperi’s Europe is dead and Delors’ is in its death throes. While London and Brussels are yet to engage in Brexit talks and do not seem in any hurry to discuss Britain’s breakaway, Europe’s political map might change soon in Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

France

François Hollande has rendered one last service to the Republic’s values by facing the harsh reality so as to avoid a greater evil, one that cannot be ruled out entirely: the rise of the far-right in France. Hollande will be the only president of the Fifth Republic not to run for reelection and he has made way for the struggle between the two realities that barely coexist within the left and that are at odds with one another inside the French socialist party. The likely presidential candidate, Manuel Valls, has openly spoken about “the death of the left, unless it reinvents itself”. The fact is that the economic crisis has split the political response between those who have chosen to boost supply by aiding companies with tax cuts to boost their competitiveness, and those who have sought to respond to globalisation with protectionist policies, fostering demand and freezing a social model which is fast becoming less affordable and sustainable.

With the crisis of traditional ideological recipes arising from the economic, technological and cultural changes brought by globalisation, the behaviour of voters —whose support shifts from one party to another depending on a candidate’s personality and platform— will lead us to the success of classic, magic-based populism or, at best, to pragmatism and consensus.

We ought to refrain from discussing ideology and, instead, we should talk about bespoke solutions and forget about moral or, rather, moralising superiority.

Germany

In a context of disorientation, can we turn to Germany in search for a renewed European commitment? Merkel does not wish to lead Europe, but Germany’s economic heft inevitably means that its budgetary and economic model spreads to its European partners. Germany is too small to be the European leader, but too successful not to condition us. Likewise, Germany exports its budgetary stability without taking on any of the costs of a single currency which affords it hegemony. Germany imposes austerity without mutualising the debt, but at some point this vast mountain of debt that is choking the south will have to be renegotiated. Germany’s past makes its presence felt in Europe, for good and bad: its fiscal stance on deficit does not allow for expansive policies, while its courageous decision to take on the influx of refugees led to setting realistic, viable quotas which propagandists undermined.

The future is not smiling on the foundational values of the EU. We can only hope for a better future by strengthening Europe’s single-currency core, improving the cohesion of its fiscal policy and defending our democratic values, diversity and equal opportunities for everyone, including gender equality. Europe may strengthen the euro and the political cohesion of its core; it may show determination on its demands of democracy and human rights. If necessary, it may leave Eastern Europe behind, as it leaps forward, and drop Turkey altogether. Europe must stay true to its foundational principles and set refugee quotas, like Germany and Canada have done. The alternative future has a ring of demagoguery, populism and xenophobia.