Will Europe wake up?

Will Europe wake up?

Commenting on the results of the European Parliament elections in the Guardian on May 26, British historian Timothy Garton Ash concluded by declaring: “I have a dreadful feeling in my bones that future historians may write of the May 2014 elections: ‘This was the wake-up call from which Europe failed to wake up.’”

Whether Europe wakes up or not, however, the nightmare appears set to continue. Europe is on a downward spiral, having lost its sense of collective destiny, and its parts are working like cancer cells to eat at the whole.

The anti-EU right-wing continues to gain, though not enough perhaps to tip the balance yet, but the real tragedy today are the “indifferents,” in other words the Europeans who did not come out to vote for the EU in order to oppose those who are against it.

If the turnout was more or less what it always is, this was due to those who cared enough to oppose Brussels and show their atavistic fears of a depersonalizing “United States of Europe,” and loss of cultural identity due to immigration, as well as the impositions of what they see as the global melting pot. 

These fears appear valid on the surface, given that societies behave much the same under certain circumstances. A simple French person, for all the veneer of sophistication and cultural superiority, is afraid today for reasons that may be irrational intellectually, but understandable socially.

It is natural therefore for Marine Le Pen to say, after her xenophobic party came out the big winner in these elections, that these results show that French voters demanded politics “of the French, for the French, with the French.” Such slogans are not new for Europe either, and one need not delve too deep into memory to realize their terrible lineage.

The point, however, and this I believe is what those who think like Timothy Garton Ash are ultimately saying, is this line of thinking has no future in today’s world.

A united Europe is the only way the old and clearly tired continent can go on in an age when new centers of economic, political and military powers are emerging.

It is also crass populism, under these circumstances, aimed at the guts of the simple man and woman on the street – as Le Pen is doing – to call for a vetoing of Turkey’s EU bid. That bid is in the doldrums anyway, not only because of right-wing Europe – of moderate or extreme shades – but also because Turks looking at what Europe has become socially and economically have lost faith in the EU.

For the average Turk, as was the case no doubt for the average Hungarian, Romanian or Bulgarian, the EU represented, in the first instance, a better standard of living. Of course, all the democratic trappings were/are still important, but they remain secondary compared to the material benefits expected.

Besides, one can hardly claim that every country was admitted into the EU only after having fully fulfilled all the necessary democratic criteria

Turks today look at the impoverished Greece, Ireland and Portugal and wonder what the point is for their country to continue on the EU path, especially when faced with a less than welcoming and increasingly xenophobic Europe. Europe’s problem today is not Turkey, but itself. As they say, it is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

What Le Pen and those like her promise only compounds the dilemma. The simple fact for Turkey vis-a-vis the EU under prevailing circumstances is that Europe has to first determine its own future before Turkey sees if it has a place in it or not. The pretense of Turkey’s EU bid is only being maintained today for practical reasons, even though this bid has no real chance of maturing under the present conditions.

But if the day comes when this perspective does fully matures, this will be the result of strategic necessity, regardless of what those like Le Pen, or the simple man or woman on the street in Europe taken over by their atavism may think. This, unfortunately for them, is the way of the world…