The foremost job of a functioning government is to protect its citizens. In that regard, the European Union has failed due to decisions made by governing elites that further the liberal, globalist ideology of European elites at the expense of the people they govern. Anis Amri, the 24-year old Tunisian refugee in Germany without a passport who drove a truck through a crowded Berlin Christmas market on Monday evening, fundamentally changed the course of modern Europe with his heinous actions.
The European Union (EU) was founded from the ashes of World War II out of a desire to economically integrate Germany with the rest of Western Europe to the point where Germany could no longer afford the subsequent economic loss resulting from further military aggression in Europe. Germany, the wealthiest and most populous country in Western Europe, was seen by other European nations as the aggressor in World War I and (obviously) World War II. Burdened with the shame of the Holocaust and disenchantment from the East-West partition, West Germany joined the European Coal and Steel Community (the precursor of the EU) in 1951. Since then, the EU has grown to include 27 member countries and boasts a 2015 population of 509.67 million and a 2015 GDP of $16.23 trillion, making the EU as a whole the second largest economy in the world.
However, events of the past decade have set in motion forces that threaten to topple the entire system created by the European Union, because they undermine the very reason for the EU’s existence—to provide economic and personal security to its member states and their populations.
To illustrate, consider the United States. The Founding Fathers established the United States on the principle of individual liberty, and designed American institutions to safeguard that individual liberty. They designed a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” While the Constitution outlines the system of government, the Bill of Rights places checks on the power that government can wield over both states and citizens, such as the First Amendment guaranteeing the right to free expression and religion and the Tenth Amendment reserving power not explicitly granted to the federal government for the states. Furthermore, the system of checks and balances allows three branches of the federal government–the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial–to limit the power of the others in order to strengthen the entire system, and thus protect individual liberty. Few Americans grasp how unique it is for the president to veto a bill passed by Congress without congressmen staging a coup, the Supreme Court to overrule an executive order without the president refusing to comply with the ruling, and government agencies to spend within their allocated budget passed by Congress. Combined, those checks ensure that no one branch should be able to singlehandedly gain enough power to upset the system and threaten individual liberty, the reason for the United States’ existence.
Furthermore, respect for individual liberty, trust in shared American institutions, and a belief that individuals are free to better themselves are three ideals which have bound Americans to a shared national vision for the past two centuries, regardless of political affiliation, class, color, or creed. They are the reason immigrants have flocked to the United States throughout its history, first from Western Europe and the British Isles, then Southern Europe and Asia, and now finally Africa, South, and Central America. A society which holds individual liberty sacred will have a diverse population, strong institutions, and allow citizens to share in its bountiful wealth.
For this reason, this blog argued in a previous post how dangerous the progressive ideology espoused by the Obama administration and Democratic Party over the last eight years has been to American society. Progressives turned revered institutions such as the Justice Department, IRS, and mainstream media into arms of the Democratic Party–preventing them from being a check on the power of government. This has allowed government to expand into the lives of its citizens, ultimately threating individual liberty, lowering Americans’ trust in their institutions to historic levels, and fostering division within American society.
In contrast, the European Union was not founded to protect individual liberty, but rather to protect the security of its citizens and member states through economic and political cooperation, and thus its institutions are structured as such. European institutions such as the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament, and European Central Bank are comprised of elites, and only members of the European Parliament are directly elected by voters (in notoriously low turnout elections). Therefore, while both the governing elite in Washington and Brussels have lately been viewed as out of touch by their citizens, the American people are able to hold their leaders accountable at the ballot box while Europeans do not have the same recourse. The idea behind the EU’s structure as defined in the 1993 Treaty of Maastricht and further refined in the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon is that EU officials, free from the constraints of domestic constituencies and campaigns, could pursue economic and international policies designed to increase European political and economic integration to protect the security of member states and their citizens. To cultured elites, this was a dream, as they could leave pesky, old-fashioned nationalism behind and lead the drive toward a European state. To continue this system, elites offered their domestic populations increased personal and economic security in return.
My 2013 senior thesis validated this view of the European Union. In interviews with friends, fellow students, former professors, and business contacts I had made living in Berlin, Germany, I found Berliners of all ages, incomes, and educational levels to be supportive of German membership in the EU and further integration, as long as it benefited their personal finances. Statistical analysis of semiannual Eurobarometer surveys supported my interview findings, as an individual’s level of support for his or her country’s EU membership was heavily correlated with whether or not he or she viewed that membership as beneficial economically. Countries hit hardest by the Great Recession, such as Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain, displayed the lowest levels of support for EU membership, while small, wealthy countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, pre-recession Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden displayed the highest levels of support. Germany and France always had a strong majority in favor of EU membership, though the size and diversity of their populations prevented overwhelming support.
In the past decade, though, the increased European integration offered by European elites no longer provides security to the member state populations due to the economic crisis and rise of terrorism. The factors have driven popular uprisings clamoring for increased national sovereignty across the European continent.
The Great Recession devastated all Western economies, but especially so in southern Europe. Countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal saw unemployment levels and national debt skyrocket, while the free trade zone within Europe ensured that their trade deficits would continue to grow, as products manufactured in wealthier counties were cheaper than domestically manufactured products. A friend who studied abroad in Greece in 2008 at the height of the recession told me that in local grocery stores, the cheapest cookie was an Oreo, followed by a German cookie, and that cookies made in Greece were the most expensive. In order to secure a bailout from the European Central Bank, these countries, most notably Greece, had austerity measures imposed upon them—austerity measures viewed by their populations as direct affronts to their national sovereignty by unelected bureaucrats that dramatically affected their personal economic well-being. EU popularity has plummeted in southern Europe over the past decade, leading to an increase in power for populist, anti-European parties.
Popular uprisings have not been only confined to countries seen as the economic losers of European integration, though. Even in wealthier countries, European integration has increasingly become associated with a loss in national sovereignty without the guarantee of personal and economic security. This past summer, the United Kingdom, the second largest economy in the European Union, voted to leave the EU, citing a desire to restore national sovereignty and no longer be burdened by fiats imposed by a distant unelected government. Brexit delivered a stunning rebuke to the shared vision of Europe shared by political and cultural elites (perhaps nowhere more than in London), and has emboldened growing populist movements in the Netherlands, led by Geert Wilders, France, led by Marine Le Pen, and Italy, where voters rejected former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s reforms, prompting his resignation.
These popular uprisings are not only driven by a growing gap between economic winners and losers in Europe, but also by the decision made by the EU and national governments to throw open the doors of Europe to millions of Middle Eastern refugees and grant them the same freedom of movement as EU citizens. It is deeply concerning to many Europeans that Amri, the Berlin attacker, was eventually killed in Italy, meaning that despite being the most wanted man on the continent, he was able to elude the police and cross two national borders with ease. Because there is no shared national vision of Europe that binds its citizens like in the United States (despite the best attempts of European elites), immigrants, especially those from the Middle East, have existed for decades in parallel societies—attending school, worshiping, and shopping with fellow immigrants and failing to integrate into mainstream culture. This phenomenon has become even more pronounced in Western Europe during the past decade due to the influx of Middle Eastern refugees (rather than guest workers) who in their transitory state, struggle to integrate into European society. The failure of EU member states to integrate these Middle Eastern immigrants into mainstream culture has made these parallel societies breeding grounds for radical Islam, which has culminated in 23 Islamic terrorist attacks since 2015. These attacks include,
- Paris shootings on November 13, 2015, in which ISIS killed 137 and wounded 368.
- A suicide bombing by ISIS at the Brussels airport on March 22, 2016, which killed 35 and wounded 330.
- A truck driven by a Tunisian immigrant who pledged allegiance to ISIS and plowed through a crowed boardwalk in Nice, France, killing 86 and wounded 434. On a personal note, my parents were on that boardwalk in Nice five minutes prior to the truck, and they watched the carnage from their hotel window in disbelief.
- The most recent truck attack, in which Anis Amri, also a Tunisian immigrant who pledged allegiance to ISIS, drove a truck through a crowded Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 and wounding 48.
What makes the Berlin attack different is that while each attack has increased the populist undercurrent against the EU policy on taking Middle Eastern refugees without proper vetting, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and most powerful politician in Europe, has continued to stand against the populist wave. Earlier this year, she proclaimed that Germany could take one million refugees in 2016. The recent spate of 2016 terrorist attacks in Germany, from sexual assaults and a stabbing in Cologne and explosions in Essen, to a stabbing in Würzburg, suicide bombing in Ansbach, and finally in the last week, a failed bombing at a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen (by a 12-year-old!) and the tragic truck attack in Berlin. The Berlin attack, which strikes at the heart of wealth and power in Germany, and by extension the EU, has shaken public confidence in Merkel, leaving her more vulnerable now than at any previous time in her long reign. Even before the attack, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party was the fastest growing political party in the country, and some have speculated that the Social Democrats could unseat Merkel in next year’s election by forming a government with the Greens and Die Linke (the Left). Merkel, ever astute, will be forced to pivot away from European integration to remain in power, because her citizens no longer trust that European integration is in their own self-interest. Given its size, population, and economic might, as Germany goes, so goes the rest of Europe.
Because of the events of the last decade, European integration no longer offers the promise of greater personal and economic security. With no shared national vision to bind the diverse populations of Europe together, and institutions that have failed to provide personal and economic security—the very reason for their existence—Europeans will demand increased national sovereignty.
In the near future, this blog predicts that national governments will take back much of the political and economic power they ceded to the EU, and if Euroskeptic parties and politicians continue to gain power like they have in France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Italy, and to an extent, Germany, more countries could hold a referendum on EU membership (especially given the fact that the UK economy did not collapse, which many predicted). The benefits of economic integration will be too much for wealthier states to lose, a realistic outcome is one in which the wealthy Northern European countries form an economic community without the burdens of political integration and the requirement to support their poorer Southern European neighbors.