Written By: Saad Qamar Iqbal
Are EU’s Days Numbered?
Dramatic changes in the social and political landscape of EU pose serious doubts!
Brexit, and a gradual rise of nationalism in Europe is actively challenging the very idea of a merged European Union. The threat always existed in subtle forms of migration, financial and identity crisis. It has taken a more direct form as far-right, eurosceptic parties are gaining dramatic momentum. Far-right nationalists in Austria and Denmark have won their respective elections. Political entities openly denouncing the idea of European Union are gaining crucial support in Germany, Netherlands and elsewhere. Their progress varies across Europe; but France's Marine Le Pen, presently Europe’s most feared far-right politician is taking a good shot at the presidency, summing up the overall grim situation. With nationalism rearing its “ugly head”, is European Union past its partially-achieved prime?
France and Frexit
France is of particular importance to EU’s integrity. Its historical role in the formation of EU in contrast to Britain’s which always appeared rather disgruntled and the current political might it possesses reinstates how Frexit could put EU in all sorts of jeopardy. What makes this even a possibility? Marine Le Pen, the nationalist leader contesting for presidency has openly attacked the idea of Euro and open borders. In 2015, her party, National Front bagged 6.8 million votes – their highest ever. The presidential elections are to be held in April 2017, and Le Pen is not facing a very convincing opposition. Most polls have rated her chances of success high: IPsos giving her a 14 points lead compared to Nicolas Sarkozy. She is known for anti-immigration policies and has often made headlines with her anti-Muslim remarks. The 48-years old re-established her strength as a politician in 2015 when she expelled the founder of the party, Jean-Marie Le Pen for his controversial statements.
Migration Crisis Forging Strong
Refugee influx is arguably the deepest-seated reason behind the consistent surge of nationalism in Europe. It is linked with other economic and social concerns like unemployment, weak law and order, and identity crisis in Europe. “Open borders” form an active part of rhetoric by the far-right politicians. Germany has been the refugee paradise for long, receiving more than a million refugees in 2015 – courtesy Angela Markel, the German Chancellor and apparently the last flag-bearer of Liberal Europe. The public perception is not equally welcoming. Markel will be seeking 4th term as the Chancellor but her party is losing ground to the opponents promising anti-migration policies.
The refugee crisis is only getting worse with over 60 million people displaced worldwide. Europe is a relatively easy access for Syrians, with Germany being the favourite country. As Syrian crisis has no end in sight, Europe feels pressed to close the borders.
A strong public perception can make or break the government. The rising popularity of nationalistic views among people comes as the most discernible symptom of mounting nationalism in Europe. Interestingly, public sentiments do not always portray the situation on ground. They are often triggered taking little reality in account. Consider France as an example: the common belief is that Frenchmen are worse-off today. An overview of France’s performance suggests otherwise with a stable unemployment rate of 10%, lower than many other European nations. The other economic indicators are not bleak as suggested by the prevailing perception.
Mega Terrorist Attacks
The overall negativity in Europe fueling nationalism is largely augmented by major terrorist attacks since 2014. Charlie Hebdo, Paris; Nice and Brussels attacks reinforced the idea that Europe is gravely vulnerable. It fortifies a thorny opinion that this danger comes from the outsiders and has now seeped deep into the society. Revelations such as the Paris attack terrorists hailed from Brussels, reminded people how open borders are doing more harm than good. Nice attacker was a Tunisian-French, weakening the “multicultural Europe” stance and strengthening the anti-immigration belief now widely-held. Hate-incidents and Burkini bans are contributing to an exceedingly hostile atmosphere. The rising sense of insecurity is cashed-in by the far right political players. Terrorism, however, is not a simple phenomenon. It is a result of decades old policies and wars steering the situation into a vicious cycle. And a social boycott of a certain fraction in society is unlikely to get any favourable outcomes.
The Uncertainty of the Future
As evident from the case of Brexit; leaving EU cannot be an overnight matter. Legal obstacles and economic repercussions make it a lengthy bureaucratic process. Nationalist parties try maneuvering Brexit to their advantage, citing it as an example to follow. However, the subsequent economic crunch and the overall “guilt” sentiment in UK – at least in the short-term – may actually thwart their attempts. Frexit may seem a far-fetched idea, but so did Brexit at one time. Even if Frexit realizes, which is still quite improbable, the EU is likely to hold itself with Germany assuming the sole-leader role. Sub-blocs within EU may spring up and EU could lose its prominence in world politics. That being said, this strong wave of nationalism may recede before a major change is realized. In any case, Europeans remain unconvinced by years-old promises of how globalization will make their daily lives better than before. A rollback was thus imminent.
The writer is a visiting student at EDHEC Business School, France.