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Selective Grief and Outrage: Ideology, Religion and Political Hypocrisy

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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After the vile assault on Paris the 13th of November 2015, the second in less than ten months, we can now expect demagogues, bigots and extreme right-wing political groups, which have been multiplying in the EU in the last decade, of the ilk of Marine Le Pen, to take advantage of the event as a powerful excuse to blame not only the fascistic extremists who carried it out, but the religion which allegedly supports it.

We will hear the usual comments such as “another attack in the name of religion.” After all, this is quite popular in a Europe that, beginning with the Enlightenment and Voltaire’s “gothic” designations has downgraded religion to the status of obscurantism and barbarism. True to form, that statement has already been uttered by various journalists and pundits who while approving the condemnation of jadist ideologies by the opportunistic politicians chide their failure to condemn Islam as a nefarious religion.

The actual evidence is instructive. It shows that less than two percent of terrorist attacks from 2009 to 2013 in the E.U. were religiously motivated. In 2013, just one percent of the 152 terrorist attacks were religious in nature; in 2012, less than three percent of the 219 terrorist attacks were inspired by religion. The vast majority of terrorist attacks in these years were motivated by ethno-nationalism or separatism. In 2013, 55 percent of terrorist attacks were ethno-nationalist or separatist in nature; in 2012, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of terrorist attacks were inspired by ethno-nationalism or separatism. These facts, nonetheless, have never stopped biased pundits from insisting otherwise and holding on to their bias against religion in general.

On Friday the 13th of November, once again militants massacred at least 127 people in Paris in a series of heinous attacks. There are many layers of hypocrisy in the public reaction to the tragedy that must be sorted through in order to understand the larger context in which these horrific attacks are situated — and, ultimately, to prevent such attacks from happening in the future.

As soon as the news of the attacks broke, even though there was no evidence and practically nothing was known about the attackers yet, a plethora of right-wing pundits immediately latched on to the violence as an opportunity to demonize Muslims and refugees from Muslim-majority countries. In a disgrace to the victims, a shout chorus of reactionary demagogues exploited the horrific attacks to distract from and even deny domestic problems. They flatly told Black Lives Matter activists fighting for basic civil and human rights, fast-food workers seeking livable wages and union rights, and students challenging crippling debts that their problems are insignificant because they are not being held hostage at gunpoint.

More insidiously, when evidence began to suggest that extremists were indeed responsible for the attacks, and when ISIS eventually claimed responsibility, the demagogues implied or even downright insisted that Islam — the religion of 1.6 billion people — was to blame, and that the predominately Muslim refugees entering the West are only going to carry out more of such attacks. In fact, every time Islamic extremists carry out an attack, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are expected to collectively apologize; it has become a cliché at this point. The other cliché is that when an attack occurs one automatically goes to bomb Isis in Syria and pour more gasoline on the fire.

The question arises: when the Nazis, Stalinists, Khmer Rouge, the Shining Path or the Weathermen committed violence, did we lament, “Another attack in the name of ideology”? Did we hear “Ideology is the problem”? That would be about as helpful as going to a doctor with a dreadful illness and, upon asking him what the problem is, his responding “Your state of health.”

Like ideology, religion is a category, not a creed. As with states of health, which occupy a continuum from excellent to awful, they both contain the good, the bad and the ugly. But modern man, not wanting to place an onus on a faith or seem a “religious” chauvinist — which is often contrary to his relativistic ideology — is a bad physician who refuses to name the disease or the cure. So depending on how he is emotionally disposed, we may hear utterances such as “Children need some religion” or “Religion breeds violence” or “religion is the opium of the people.” Ancient Aztec children had “religion,” and they learned well how to sacrifice thousands of innocents a year to Quetzalcoatl on bloody altars. And Amish children have “religion,” and peace and charity define them.

Conservatives exhibit this problem as well. So many will say “Islam is not a religion; it’s a destructive all-encompassing ideology,” or some variation thereof. They treat “religion,” that broad category, as if it’s good by definition. Not that this isn’t understandable. Raised in a relativistic and pluralistic society, they want to get along with their neighbors; so they tacitly accept an unwritten agreement stating “I won’t say my religion is better than yours if you don’t say yours is better than mine!” The trouble is that this solves nothing — and its implications are more dangerous than jihad.

Starting out simply, note that most of the “religions” man has known were more in the nature of the Aztecs’ bloody faith than what we generally embrace today. But many will assert that this is the point: can’t we say all our mainstream faiths are “good,” practically speaking? Can’t we just omit from their category any “religion” not considered good? Well, we can say and do many things, but ideas have consequences. And a civilization with a corrupted philosophical foundation will not long stand.

Another crucial question arises: Who benefits most from such clampdown on Muslims and refugees? Two primary groups: One, Islamic extremist groups themselves, who use the clampdown as “evidence” that there is supposedly no room for Muslims in the secular West that has declared war on Islam; and two, Europe’s growing far-right, who will use the attacks as “evidence” that there is supposedly no room for Muslims in the secular West that should declare war on Islam. President Hollande of France who is no right-winger, before all the evidence is even in, has already declared the attack an act of war.

Although enemies, both groups share a congruence of interests. The far-right wants Muslims and refugees from Muslim-majority countries (even if they are not Muslim) to leave because it sees them as innately violent terrorists. Islamic extremists want Muslim refugees to leave so they can be radicalized and join their caliphate. More specifically, to name names, ISIS and al-Qaeda will benefit from the clampdown on Muslims and refugees, and Europe’s growing far-right movement will continue to recruit new members with anti-Muslim and anti-refugee propaganda.

ISIS has explicitly stated that its goal is to make extinct what it calls the “grayzone” — that is to say, Western acceptance of Muslims. By making ISIS go viral, we are only helping them accomplish their sadistic goals. In the meantime, France’s extreme right-wing National Front party stands to gain in particular. The party — which was founded by a neo-Nazi and is now led by his estranged daughter Marine Le Pen — constantly rails against Muslims, whom it hypocritically characterizes as Nazi occupiers. In 2014, a Paris court ruled that it was fair to call the National Front “fascist.” Before the Paris attacks, Le Pen’s extreme-right movement was France’s second-largest party. Now it may well become the first.

Consider another question: what makes some ideologies better than others? It’s that they espouse different values. But what of “religions”? They also espouse different values. Thus, not all “religions” can be morally equal unless all values are so. This is important to understand. Every time we treat “religions” as if they are all morally equal, every time we spread that idea explicitly or implicitly — no matter how good our intentions — we’re transmitting the notion that all values are equal. And consider the implications: if all values are equal, how can peace be better than jihad? How could respect for life be better than disdain for it? How could Western law be better than Sharia law? Of course, this means all ideologies would have to be equal as well, from Nazism to Marxism to conservatism to liberalism to libertarianism. Upon embracing relativism, you have no sound intellectual foundation from which to critique or combat anything though you can certainly fake one without blinking, as relativism deems deception no worse than sincerity. One may ask, why does this matter? Because this kind of relativism has robbed us of an intellectual argument for defending Western civilization.

It is the philosophical fifth column that has opened the door to destructive, inassimilable foreign elements and it is done via multiculturalism understood not as cultural tolerance but as devaluation of values. But it’s as with “religion” and ideology: since different cultures espouse different values, not all cultures could be morally equal unless all values were so. The distinction between “religious” and “secular” is largely a false one. There is only one distinction that truly matters: the true and the untrue. “Secular” and “religious,” especially in the sense we use them, are relatively modern terms. There was a time when beliefs were not “secular” or “religious” — or even liberal or conservative, or right or left — but simply true or untrue. And this is the only perspective that makes sense. Think about it: if God exists, is it significant that we call recognition of this reality “religious” or that it’s true? If communism is essentially false, is it significant that we call recognition of that reality “secular” or that it’s untrue? There is only Truth and everything else — and everything else, no matter how you dress it up linguistically, is nothing at all.

In a way, pusillanimous moderns are much like pious Muslims. Muslim theology entertains the curious notion of “dual truth,” the idea that what may be true “religiously” may not be true in nature. This silliness was rejected by Aquinas and other Western thinkers in the Middle Ages; now, however, something smacking of it has been embraced by their descendants, who may say things such as “A little ‘religion’ is okay, as long as you don’t go overboard.” Or they may compartmentalize faith, thinking it must be left outside the government-building door or even relegate it to one hour a week of “worship services,” as if it’s mere recreation or an unhealthful indulgence only to be taken in moderation. But if your faith is the Truth — if it reflects the will of the Creator of the Universe — you have an obligation to govern yourself, and infuse your every institution, with it. And if it be a lie, it belongs nowhere but the bowels of Hell.

Of course, if, like most Westerners, we believe everything is relative, then none of this matters. Then tolerance and intolerance, multiculturalism and cultural chauvinism, charity and barbarity, the “religious” and the “secular” are all equal. And then those darkly clad men with AK-47s in Paris on Wednesday couldn’t really have been “wrong.” They just had a different perspective.

If we don’t really believe this, then it’s time to grow up. It’s time to understand that if everything is relative, then what we say is relative, too, and thus meaningless. So let’s talk about what is meaningful. We can start by accepting that culture isn’t bad, but there are better and worse cultures. “Religion” isn’t bad, but there is bad “religion.” And tolerance, correctly defined as the abiding of perceived negatives, isn’t bad — except when those perceived negatives are objectively negative and, instead of just being tolerated, could actually be wiped out. Willful tolerance of evil is evil itself.

The Muslims have bad “religion.” We have bad philosophy. Both our civilizations believe in things that are untrue. It’s the “tolerant” meeting the intolerable, a match made in Hell — and poised to create exactly that on Earth.

There are hundreds of terrorist attacks in Europe every year. The ones that immediately fill the headlines of every news outlet, however, are the ones carried out by Muslims — not the ones carried out by ethno-nationalists or far-right extremists, which happen to be much more frequent. Yet it is not just right-wing pundits and the media that give much more attention to attacks like those in Paris; heads of state frequently do so as well. Notable was the official silence surrounding another horrific terrorist attack that took place only the day before. Two ISIS suicide bombers killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 230 in attacks on a heavily Shia Muslim community in Beirut on November 12. President Obama did not address the world and condemn the bombings, which comprised the worst attack in Beirut in years.

In fact, the opposite happened; the victims of the ISIS attacks were characterized in the U.S. media as Hezbollah human shields and blamed for their own deaths based on the unfortunate coincidence of their geographical location. Some right-wing pundits even went so far as to justify the ISIS attacks because they were assumed to be aimed at Hezbollah.

Nor did the White House interrupt every news broadcast to publicly condemn the ISIS massacre in Turkey in October that left approximately 128 people dead and 500 injured at a peaceful rally for a pro-Kurdish political party. More strikingly, where were the heads of state when the Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition bombed a Yemeni wedding on September 28, killing 131 civilians, including 80 women? That massacre didn’t go viral, and Obama and Hollande did not apologize, barely acknowledging the tragedy. Mere days before the January Paris attacks, the global community largely glossed over another horrific tragedy: the slaughter of more than 2,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram. The African victims didn’t get a march; only the Western victims of Islamic extremism did. Do French lives matter more than Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, Yemeni or African ones? Were these not, too, “heinous, evil, vile acts”?

A little-discussed yet crucial fact is that the vast majority of the victims of Islamic extremism are themselves Muslim, and live in Muslim-majority countries. A 2012 U.S. National Counterterrorism Center report found that between 82 and 97 percent of the victims of religiously motivated terrorist attacks over the previous five years were Muslims. The West frequently acts as though it is the principal victim, but the exact contrary is true. Never interrogated is why exactly are so many refugees fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. It is not like millions of people want to leave their homes and families; they are fleeing violence and chaos — violence and chaos that happens to almost always be the result of Western military intervention.

Western countries, particularly the U.S., are directly responsible for the violence and destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen, from which millions of refugees are fleeing. Syria is a bit more complicated. Many refugees in the country, which has been torn apart by almost five years of bitter war, are fleeing the brutal repression of the Assad government. Western countries and their allies, however, share some of the blame. Allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey have greatly inflamed the conflict by supporting extremist groups like al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra. And it should go without saying that millions of Syrian refugees are fleeing the very same terror at the hands of ISIS that the group allegedly unleashed upon Paris. By suppressing Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing the ruthlessly violent extremist group, France and other Western countries will only be further adding to the already shocking number of its victims.

The imperialist West always try to dislocate the blame. It’s always the foreigner’s, the non-Westerner’s, the Other’s fault; it’s never the fault of the enlightened West which considers itself modern and therefore disdainful of religion. Islam is the new scapegoat. Western imperial policies of ravaging entire nations, propping up repressive dictators, and supporting extremist groups are conveniently forgotten. The West, incapable of addressing its own imperial violence, points its blood-stained finger accusingly at the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and tells them they are the inherently violent ones.

The horrific and unjustifiable yet rare terrorist attacks we in the West experience are the quotidian reality endured by those living in the region our governments brutalize. This does not mean we should not mourn the Paris attacks; they are abominable, and the victims should and must be mourned. But we should likewise ensure that the victims of our governments’ crimes are mourned as well. If we truly believe that all lives are equally valuable, if we truly believe that French lives matter no more than any others, we must mourn all deaths equally. The West, in its addiction to militarism, played into the hands of the extremists, and today we see the rotten fruit borne of that rotten addiction: ISIS is the Frankenstein’s monster of Western imperialism.

The far-right will continue to grow. Neo-fascism, the most dangerous development in the world today, will continue to gain traction. The incidence of attacks inspired by ethno-nationalism or far-right extremism, already the leading cause of European and American terror, will increase even further. The pundits will boost anti-Muslim bigotry and feed the anti-refugee fervor. In doing so, they will only make matters worse. Those who promote militarist policies and anti-Muslim and anti-refugee bigotries in response to the Paris attacks are only going to further propagate violence and hatred. Things may have to get worse before they get better. Time will eventually tell. Meanwhile, let those who have ears, let them hear.

Note: The above article has appeared in Ovi magazine on the 9th of November 2015.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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The Rise of Far Right Populism in Europe Ahead of EU Elections

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Eshan Jayawardane*

Populism in Europe as a civilizational legacy has a deeply rooted history which dates back to Greco Roman antiquity and as it has been recorded by classical historians like Livy, the overarching political structure of Roman republic nailed by populism that arose as a result of the loopholes of the system. The role of Publius Cloudius against Roman nobility during the late republic was a reflection of how populist discourse functioned in classical world. Nevertheless the principles emerged after the post second world war Europe such as social welfare system, social democracy and cultural integration reduced the gravity of populist discourse as a powerful political tool. Moreover the mass migration of political refugees from Eastern Europe to Western Europe during cold war was a phenomenal factor that encouraged west and its citizens to accept refugees or asylum seekers more dearly and it was rather a display of European values. But  as all good things come to an end this wave of immigrations from Non-European countries to Western Europe gradually conceived the seeds of socio economic and political turmoil in the continent that finally paved the path for a greater revival of populist politics in Europe.  Especially the political trajectory created with the Syrian refugee crisis since 2015 in Europe has compelled the people to look for Right wing politics as an alternative. Recent discussion held in Warsaw, Poland between Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and Jaroslaw Kaczynsi shows the spark of far right populist coalition in European Union against its center right more socio democratic leadership of Germany and France. The significance of this meeting lies in the fact that how EU politics has been changed in the recent years before its troubled policies over the illegal immigration and refugee crisis and this Polish Italian axis seems to create a decisive impacts upon the upcoming elections to EU parliament.

As a matter of fact in the past, it never really mattered much if the Euro election was carried by the left or the right: the result was the same anyway. The parliament has always been keeper of the federalist flame, but the unorthodox political upheavals Europe envisaged for past two years have such as BREXIT in 2016 and Trump’s victory in US presidential elections have upset the center right liberal orthodoxy in EU. Moreover it is a fact not be ignored that how national politics in European countries have taken a populist bend as a consoling since most of the common people in Europe are gutted by the refugee crisis and economic deprivation.  Especially being the undisputed forerunner in EU Germany has faced severe social issues since 2015 as Angela Merkel  decided to not to close Germany’s borders resulting in the arrival of more than one million of people.  Last August in Italy the Migrants mainly coming from former Italian colony Eretria had been stranded at a port in Sicily before Italian deputy premier Salvini finally allowed them to disembarked after Ireland and Catholic Church in Italy agreed to take most of them in. Apart from Italy most of European states have been exposed to the wave of populism mixed up with far right ideological elements. For an example elections held in Sweden in 2018 September dragged the country into a political limbo as the results of the elections did not leave either main parliamentary block with a majority and its far right anti-immigrant party Sweden democrats won 17.6% of the votes. Being a country that has resisted populist politics and far right wing ideology since the end of its notorious dictator Farco’s era, Spain too has witnessed the new wave of populism in its national level politics. The dazzling impact created by Santiago Abascal’s Vox party at the election held in Andalusia by gaining 10.97 % of the votes and 12 out of 109 cannot be ignored despite the fact that his party is still in its infancy stage.

Populist discourse spreading across Europe has not been emerged out of the blue as it is imbued with how common people in Europe perceive the socio economic and political circumstances currently. It was a misconception that many analysts believed that rise populism sprang from the financial collapse and unemployment, because it is evident that the rise of populism has not been solely attributed to the economic crisis. If economic growth had been decisive in Poland, which enjoyed the faster growth rate in Europe between 1989 and 2015, the populist Law and Justice Party would never have become the country’s dominant political force. The bitter truth portraying from the rise populism is non-other than Europe antipathy over mass immigration and their concern for preserving common European values. This aptly shows from how Hungarians have rallied around Mr. Victor Orban as he triumphantly calls himself the defender of Christian Europe. On the other hand such xenophobic notions like cultural preservation, growth of Islam have been clearly captured by populist parties as drawbacks created by the apathy of European Union and its center right liberal democracy. Perhaps the influence coming from Putin’s Russia can be taken as one pivotal factor that has intensified the populist discourse, because president Putin’s knack on ethno nationalism and religious traditionalism seem to have allured the populist movements in Europe.

It is a fact beyond dispute that the rises of populist political parties under its far right ideologies in the backdrop of European Union parliamentary elections have destabilized the continuation of European integration under liberal center right outlook. The populist plan to expand their numbers in EU parliament in 2019 May elections have begun to upset the ostensible stability of EU and its French German leadership or perhaps this year Europe will face the arch encounter between newly emerged far right populism and the social democracy that has been the ruling slogan in Europe since 1968 in an open space.

*Eshan Jayawardne holds BA in Sociology from Delhi University and MA in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is currently serving as a guest lecturer at Sri Lanka Open University. He can be reached at eshan.jayawardane[at]gmail.com

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Europe-US: Results of 2018 and prospects for 2019

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Speaking at a December 4 news conference in Brussels following a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that the rule-based multilateral world order that for many decades has served the collective interests of the Western nations is no longer working. He backed up this claim by citing the weakness and incapacity of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the African Union and some other international organizations.

Much to the Europeans’ surprise, while holding up the NATO alliance as an “indispensable” institution, Pompeo also put the European Union on the list of outdated and unviable ones. These “shocking” comments wrapped up the past 12-month period, probably the most tense in trans-Atlantic relations since 1945.

By the start of 2018, relations between the US and the EU were characterized by a great deal of uncertainty. On the one hand, in the US National Security Doctrine published in mid-December 2017, Trump finally reiterated Washington’s commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic (Washington) Treaty, which is something Europeans had been waiting for. He also promised to support America’s European allies against the imaginary “threat” from Russia and China, which he described as “revisionist countries” out to change the existing world order.

On the other hand,the US National Security Council’s view of the countries’ competition in the world conforms to Hobbes’ “all against all” principle. In other words, it rejects the idea of multilateralism, which is a fundamental principle the countries of “old” Europe stick to. Moreover, the entire world order that the US helped establish after 1945, is described as the source of a flurry of serious challenges to America. The Strategy section, devoted to the “world of universal competition,” makes no mention whatsoever of America’s “allies,” while the repeated mention of the obligatory “mutual benefit” of allied relations looks like an undisguised desire to “monetize” friendship.

Washington’s practical steps made in 2017 left Europeans wondering about the price (in the financial sense of the word) Trump would expect them to pay for honoring America’s trans-Atlantic obligations. As a result, Europe was torn between the desire by a sizeable part of its establishment to retain the US leadership , even at the cost of far-going concessions, and a growing disillusionment with the policy of its overseas partner.

The past year confirmed the Europeans’ worst fears: the world, according to Donald Trump, is a world without global rules, a world where the strongest always comes out on top. The White House acted as if it viewed the European Union not so much an ally, as a competitor to fight with. In the spring, Trump suggested to the French President Emmanuel Macron that he pull France out of the European Union in return for a lucrative bilateral trade deal with the US.

Trump supported the UK’s exit from the EU, and even threatened the British Prime Minister Theresa May with economic “measures” in the event of a “softer” Brexit. On June 1, Trump imposed duties on steel and aluminum imports from Europe and threatened to slap new ones – this time on imported European autos.

During the G7 summit in Canada in June, President Trump tried to drive a wedge between the Europeans. Finally, during the NATO summit in July, Trump made it clear that if Europeans refused to “cooperate,” Washington could roll back its military support and even withdraw the US military contingent from Germany. Washington has also made it clear that he considers any further EU foot-dragging on defense spending hikes as a deliberate policy by Europeans, who view the United States as an unfailing guarantor of their security.

During the first half of 2018, the Europeans openly pushed back against Trump’s insistence that his G7 or NATO partners accept the dramatic change in Washington’s approach to these pillars of the Western world, their goals and objectives.

The emergence of Donald Trump has exposed the “royal nudity” of the European Union, which has not yet outlined a common foreign policy on major tracks, or come up with anything in terms of strengthening its power in order to be able to stand up to Washington’s demands.

On the other hand, the heavy-handed and self-serving US policy is too inconsistent as it tries to win over only the partners it can rely on in its fight against Chinese and Russian “revisionism.”

And still, watching the growing signs of US hostility, Europeans start asking themselves a virtually existential question, and that is where the current US Administration is going? Is this the beginning of a long-term trend, a fundamental change in US strategy, or a tactical zigzag meant to achieve some short-term goals? If it is the latter, just like it happened before, then will it be enough to just “wait it out”? If it is the former, will the EU opt for strategic autonomy as part of an increasingly amorphous, but civilizationally homogeneous West, or will it have to solve the colossal task  of creating a full-fledged European “power center” that would interact with the US, mainly, if not exclusively, on the principles of “Realpolitik”?

At the same time, a “wait-and-see” tactic could backfire against Europeans. On the other hand, the “all-strops-out” trade war between the US and China, which broke out last year, is forcing the EU to perform a balancing act, maneuvering its way between the world’s two largest economies. This necessitates an independent geo-economic policy in the face of a looming global economic recession. The long-term challenge to Europe is to build a new, previously unknown, system of international architecture: “economic bipolarity between the United States and China and strategic bipolarity between the United States and Russia.”

Experts believe that if Europeans want to push back against Washington’s plans and avoid the EU’s fragmentation, they should start thinking about making Europe stronger, and do it now.

By mid-2018, more and more European politicians had realized that, in the wake of the Cold War, Washington’s policy in Europe was aimed at undermining Europe’s global competitiveness. The question is, however, to what extent the American establishment as a whole shares Trump’s stated goal of maintaining or increasing America’s dominance, even at the cost of economically destroying the “allies,” who are now being perceived by Washington as competitors.

Trump’s initiatives are clearly aimed against the very idea of European unity, which fuels European suspicions about his desire to implement the classic “divide and rule policy” in Europe.

Having all these factors in mind, the EU’s overarching task was to work out measures to resist Trump’s four-pronged “geopolitical attack” in trade, defense, on Iran and migration policy. On June 6, the European Commission approved €2.8 billion worth of import duties on US-made goods. Following the July visit to Washington by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the Europeans achieved at least a semblance of a “truce” in their trade relations with the US. Surprisingly to many, the reconciliation had a demonstrative, even flashy character. After meeting Juncker, Trump said that the US was putting on hold the planned introduction of new tariffs on imported European goods, and would work to settle existing trade disputes in order to avoid a full-scale trade war.

According to experts, Europeans have no wish at all to share with the US the burden of a new economic slump, which Trump’s “reckless” protectionism may entail. Therefore, the EU could best respond to Trump’s policy by assuming the role of the leader of countries committed to preserving the rules of liberalism in international trade. The EU’s economic potential matches that of the United States and its economy is almost the only area of international relations where the bloc can act on a par with, or even independently, from Washington.

However, even though unable to compete economically with the US on a one-to-one basis, EU members remain divided on many issues. Fully aware of this, Donald Trump uses every opportunity available to try to pit them against one another.

So, capitalizing on Europeans’ discord over migration, Trump has banked on unraveling the traditional European political parties by mixing all the trends. Newly-appointed US ambassadors openly support far-right populist parties in Italy, Germany, Britain, and in Central Europe.

Meanwhile, the traditional European parties are preparing to challenge Eurosceptics in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, set for May 2019. Internationally, the EU responds by ramping up diplomacy aimed at cobbling together coalitions without the US in a bid to preserve the existing world order. In July 2018, the EU and Japan agreed to set up a free trade zone; Brussels has likewise been intensifying efforts to establish a free trade area also with MERCOSUR, Australia and New Zealand, and is actively engaged in informal efforts aimed at promoting liberal values and institutions.

The EU’s stance concerning the US sanctions on Iran, has been equally firm, prohibiting companies and individuals located on the territory of the EU from following American sanctions against Iran. According to the new EU rules, European firms hurt by US sanctions will be able to demand compensation. Brussels also reiterated its commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and is actively looking for ways to circumvent US financial hegemony and sanctions. The EU is mulling an independent system of financial settlements, the European Monetary Fund – an analogue of the IMF – as well as financial instruments that would be “completely independent” from Washington. However, ensuring even a simple majority of “yes” votes by individual EU members on these issues will not be easy.

The biggest hurdle here is security, because without the United States, NATO as a military organization becomes virtually ineffective  making Europe hostage to America when it comes to security. This effectively weakens the EU’s hand even on the continent, let alone the world. The European NATO members face the hard choice of either playing the role of US-led partners, which may imply their agreement to weaken European unity to benefit Washington’s new foreign policy interests, or stay the course of greater independence, including in matters of collective defense (European army), which, however, is fraught with a great deal of uncertainty.

With the onset of autumn, the issue of “European sovereignty” sprang to the top of the EU leaders’ agenda. At the end of August 2018, the French President Macron and the German Foreign Minister Maas went on record emphasizing the need for Europe to play a new role and “strengthen” its position in the global alignment of forcesemerging in the world. In early November, Macron and the German Chancellor Merkel reiterated their call for a “European army,” “real pan-European armed forces.” Moreover, the US was named among the threats Europe needs to defend against.

During the past year, Europe was making mainly tactical steps aimed at making up for the damage caused by US sanctions. Simultaneously, it was actively looking for a future strategy of trans-Atlantic relations, as well as ways for institutionalizing its independent identity, both in foreign policy and defense.

There is little doubt that all of Europe will not turn its back on America, even though most of the countries of “old” Western Europe have been seeking greater “strategic autonomy” for the EU and a system that could function without relying on the hegemonic might of the United States. By contrast, many Central and East European states are making every effort to strengthen ties, above all military, with Washington, so Europe is still wondering how it can possibly to preserve the “old order.”

The outcome of the November 2018 mid-term elections in the US showed  that American voters were losing faith in Donald Trump’s way of handling the country’s foreign policy and foreign trade. With Democrats regaining control of the lower chamber of Congress – the House of Representatives – Trump may need a positive foreign policy agenda, and what better way to achieve this than to restore constructive relations with traditional allies and negotiate with the Europeans? Including on joint measures to “contain” Russia.

Simultaneously, the notion, whereby the EU project is on the brink of collapse and so the US needs to present NATO as a new unifier of Europe is getting increasingly popular in the United States. This is the idea that was pitched late last year by none other than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

This could pull the rug from under the feet of not only those who seek Europe’s strategic autonomy, but even the advocates of a more centralized EU. Therefore, the question of whether the leading European countries will go beyond pacifying voters with talk about the creation of an “independent center of power” remains open. And further moves by the EU in relations with the United States, at least until the May elections to the European Parliament and the change of leadership of the European Commission, will largely depend on Washington’s policy towards its European allies.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Europe

A clear signal for the German chancellor

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It’s a difficult time for the Chancellor of Germany. She had to pass the power inside the Christian Democrat Party to her rival, Kramp-Karenbauer. In a conference, Karenbauer rejected claims that she was the “mini Merkel”.

“People consider me a ‘mini,’ a copy, a simple ‘more of the same,’ but I can tell you that I stand here as my own person, just as life has shaped me and of that I am proud,” she said.

Angela Merkel has announced that she will step down of power in 2021, but the polls conducted in Germany has intensively worried her. The results of these polls indicate that the total popularity of the two traditional German parties, the coalition of the Christian and Social Democrats, have fallen below 50%. This suggests the unpopularity of the coalition government among the German citizens. Merkel now has to run the weak coalition government until 2021!

Many analysts of Europe’s affairs believe that Merkel’s power is actually over. The Chancellor of Germany is no longer the symbol of power in the united Europe. She has lost the power of managing the power equations in her country. In other words, Merkel has become a “passive player” in Berlin, the European Union and the Eurozone.

This is while Merkel had previously said that she hoped her planned departure would end bitter fighting in her weak and fractious right-left coalition, confessing that “the picture the government is sending out is unacceptable”.

According to an Infratest dimap survey, the Alternative for Germany (AFD), the Green Party and Liberal Democrats are now increasing their relative popularity to challenge the two ruling parties (Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) and to end the domination of the two traditional German parties on the power equations in Berlin.

Undoubtedly, Merkel can’t be now regarded as a successful politician at the head of the political and administrative equations of Germany. At the beginning of the German coalition government, many analysts believed that the presence of Social-Democrats alongside the Christian Democrats was a big mistake.

The anti-EU and anti-immigration party of “Alternative for Germany” has become the main opposition party in the German parliament. On the other hand, as the current trend continues and the popularity of the two traditional German ruling parties drops in the polls, they will lose more votes in the upcoming German elections in 2021.

What is happening today in Germany is a big catastrophe for Merkel, the Christian Democrat and, subsequently, the Social-Democratic Party. It’s not possible to restore the political power of these two parties in the near future, that is, as long as they are working together in the coalition government of Germany. On the other hand, the political equations in Germany are so complex that none of the traditional German parties will be able to win the majority of seats in the parliament.

As a result, a large part of the German authorities’ time and energy will be consumed by forming a coalition government (which will be a weak one). This will undermine the position of Germany’s leadership in the United Europe. In this sophisticated game, the Alternative for Germany (which the other German parties are unwilling to join) have been struggling to broaden its political and social popularity.

This extremist party hopes that other right-wingers, including French national leader Marin Le Pen, will be able to win good results in the elections and other political platforms in their country, and that their victory will influence Germany.

Merkel is no longer the symbol of Christian Democrats’ power in Germany’s and Europe’s equations. Political history of the German Chancellor as the EU leader has come an end at a time when her substitute (in the event of a relative and fragile victory in the country’s next general elections), should devote her power to attempts for the formation of a coalition or minimal government in Berlin. Without a doubt, Angela Merkel never imagined that she would have to permanently withdraw from power in Europe by 2021, as an incapable chancellor.

First published in our partner MNA

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