‘Demography is destiny.’ Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon
In 1825 the world’s population reached, for the first time, the figure of 1 billion with a doubling of the population 100 years later and on to 5.3 billion in 1990. It stands today at 7.5 billion.
A demographic transition is taking place worldwide but at different rates. Seven per cent of the world’s population is over 65, and this is unevenly spread, with. Africa has the world’s youngest population, with Europe and Japan harboring the smallest number of children.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to number 9.5 billion, assuming present trends continue, at which time the population of the developing countries will be 6 times larger than that of the developed countries due to higher fertility rates. The increase in the world’s population will be identical to the number of people on the entire planet back in 1950.
In Africa, some countries will see their population triple, requiring the building, each week, of a town of a million inhabitants.
On the other hand, in East Asia, the birth rate is collapsing. China and Japan have among the world’s lowest birth rates – Hong Kong’s is below 1 – and in Japan 14% of the population is over 65 years old. At the present fertility rate of 1.25 child per woman, the country’s population will be of only 60 million in 2100.
China’s population is also forecast to decrease to less than 20% of the world’s population but the country will have 25% of the world’s senior citizens.
A sustained fertility rate of 1.3 means that, over a century, a country would lose 75% of its population.
Europe’s declining birth rates
Over the past three centuries, Europe’s population multiplied fivefold and if you include the population of European origin that immigrated worldwide, we are led into a sevenfold increase.
The main reason for this increase was due to a reduction of mortality. At the beginning, this decline was gradual and ascribed to a more productive agriculture, trade that enriched European nations, the industrial revolution, advances in medical knowledge, better nutrition, a more relaxed lifestyle and better public order. Starting in the nineteenth century, a drastic reduction of mortality of infectious and contagious disease to nearly zero increased life expectancy at birth from 35 years to 70 years.
Other contributing factors for this increase were the decline in female fertility as women entered the professional world in ever larger numbers. They also had easy access to birth control methods.
The number of working-age adults increases and the economy grows as not only the economic contribution of the population increases, but also the social contributions decrease. This is called the ‘demographic dividend’. It is, however, at this stage that the state must undertake productive investments such as in education and health infrastructure in particular to support old age.
Birth rates increased in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, but remained below that of other parts of the world. European population was always constrained by the use of traditional birth control methods, a low number of extra-marital births, a late marriage age and a fairly large percentage of unmarried persons.
Low birth rates are a worldwide trend, and if every woman will only have a single child, the world’s population in 2075 will be of 1.6 billion. Europe, in particular, is suffering, and is forecast to continue to suffer of depopulation. Its present population of 740 million is expected to drop to 707 million by 2050 and of 646 million by 2100.
For a population to remain stable, the total fertility rate – the number of children a woman will have in her lifetime should be of 2.1. In eastern and southern Europe, the figure is presently of 1.3, and in some areas has dwindled to 1. In Germany, nearly 30% of the women born in 1960 have not had any children. Russia is losing half its population every 40 years and its underpopulated large land mass could be seen as an invitation by China.
When birth rates eventually decreased, they brought about a new vision of the family, with women succeeding in roles other than that of wives and mothers and with reduced coital rates. Fertility was increasingly controlled by females rather than males.
Urbanization played a leading role in the drop in birth rates. The smaller family became the reference in Europe first, and then spread to many other countries. Urban couples did not have the social pressure that rural families had, of having children rapidly becoming economic contributors.
In an urban environment, individual success is important and family ties lose their primary role as education, health and employment is ensured by institutions other than the family. Children become a cost rather than an asset.
This led to a demographic transition of low birth rates and long life expectancy which helped the population of Europe and of the world grow.
The transition normally starts with low child mortality; children being the first beneficiaries of increased survival. In Europe, today, nearly all births occur in a hospital environment with a large number of precautions taken including for premature children.
In Europe, the countries that were rich at the end of the Second World War, such as in Scandinavia and North-West Europe, saw the number of traditional families decline as women had satisfying employment opportunities and individualism was on the rise. Everything was postponed, from leaving school to dying. Postponing births eventually results in women being too old to be pregnant.
Professional women tend to cheat more, divorce more often, have fewer children, and more often than non-professional women feel sorry of having married and having had children.
Women concentrating on their careers find the stress of caring for children – which, in today’s society takes an increasing amount of parents’ time as well as a change in the relationship between parents – a burden, particularly if the household work – usually considered as a low-level type of work – is not shared with the male parent. Women have a major decision to make as to whether they pursue a career, marry or build a family. They will select cohabitation as against marriage if they believe that being married will hinder their possibilities of career advancement. Investments in child care infrastructure and a balance between life and work lead to increased birth rates. Women must have the possibility of returning to their jobs after a pregnancy and maternal leave.
Women pursuing careers may study for long periods of time and therefore they will have their first child at an advanced age, thus limiting the number of children they will have. Mothers having their children at a more mature age translates into older grandmothers, if they would still be alive, who may not be able to assist their daughters or grand-daughters. The non-availability of this care may reduce even further the propensity of women to have children.
Increasingly they may not want to mate, preferring to enrich their lives financially and intellectually, or will select low-fertility partners. They may find there is a lack of desirable partners. Pressure put on by media as the looks of women, slim and a canon of beauty, may also lead women to opt for a slimmer look to the detriment of family formation or even partnership and sex with a man.
In the Mediterranean countries where family values were supported by culture and governments, the transition took place later. In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.’
In Central and Eastern Europe where communism collapsed and with it went the allowances and a large number of free services, families hesitate to assume the burden of a child.
As societal pressure is determinant in defining the number of children a couple will have, a smaller family became the social norm. It fulfilled in a minimalistic manner the social pressure to have children.
One of the most important elements in social pressure is religion and all religions encourage a strong birth rate. Hence, in industrial societies, as religiousness wanes, so does the size of families.
A theory suggests that as children survive, there is no need for families to have ‘replacement’ children in case of death and the child become the child-king. Another theory proposes that since children no longer look after their parents, they do not need to bear the cost of bearing them. A third theory proposes than in resource allocation, families today prefer spending their funds on matters other than raising children which they will have only if the benefits outweigh the costs. The benefits are essentially emotional and a response to societal demands including that of creating new networks such as with other school parents and later in time with the in-laws. The costs have their origin in education, the purchase of food and other products, and possible tensions between the parents as the fathers concentrate on their professional activity to create wealth for their family, which often translates in absences from the family.
Job instability has also had a negative impact on the willingness of couples to start a family.
Women’s libido appears to be on the wane and men’s sperm count is decreasing and the spermatozoids are less active probably due to the chemicals absorbed in the diet. Obesity in both men and women also affects their fertility.
The large number of leisure activities easily available and the ideas that freedom and personal development are essential to a happy, productive life are major distractors and inhibitors to starting a family. The ubiquitous nature of erotic and pornographic images leads men to view their companions as exclusively a sex image and not a partner with whom to establish a family. At the other end of the scale an ever increasing number of men have opted out of sex altogether.
Education, in turn, impacts fertility in a number of ways. It allows reaching a better status and material conditions, it improves the ability of women to select the right partner who has the same level of education and may also be reluctant to have a large family, and it leads to better informed women and therefore larger use of contraceptives, and increases the opportunity costs of childbearing.
Financial issues are also a hindrance to starting or expanding a family. Educated couples may also prefer to concentrate their wealth, during their lifetime or through inheritance, on a single child.
Increasingly, in an unstable world, would-be parents, particularly younger couples, are afraid of conceiving children in what could be a very different and dangerous world.
The availability of contraceptives and the legalization of abortion have also been contributing factors. They not only enabled women to postpone pregnancies but also sharply reduced unwanted pregnancies.
In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.
The one population segment that is growing in Europe is the Muslim population that, even though it averages only 5% of the population, with the notable exception of Russia where it reaches 15% and France with 10%, may eventually bring about major changes in society as their culture is essentially very difficult from the permissive and liberal European culture. if Muslims maintain a high fertility rate, we could witness a repeat of what is believed to have taken place with the Christians in the early days of the church in Rome, with a small group rapidly gaining in importance and leading the emperor himself to convert.
However, the fertility of Moslems in Europe is declining rapidly, adjusting itself to that of the native European population, and thus showing that immigration is not a viable alternative to stop population decline. Migration does, however, contribute to replace an ageing workforce.
Nearly 50 million migrants will have to be admitted to the European Union by 2050 for the population to remain stable. For the retirement benefits to be maintained at their present level of 4 active persons per pensioner, the figure for migrants is even higher, reaching 13 million a year. Presently there are 11 million migrants in Europe and an unknown number of illegals.
There are other ways through which this decline could be halted. One of them is through the entrance of candidate countries which, like Turkey, have a growing demography.
As birth rates decline, due to personal choices, both the number of children and the population, over time, shrinks. The working age population decreases and fertility declines even further. Eventually there is the third transition period with all age segments of the population declining.
An ageing society
In the world today, for the first time in human history, old people outnumber the young. In developed countries, 20% of the population is older than 60. Worldwide, 1% of the population is over 80 and, being the fastest growing age group, is due to reach 4% by 2050.
Since the middle of the 19th century, life expectancy has increased by 3 months every year, leading to the forecast that by 2060, it will have reached 100 years and possibly even higher if life-extension drugs or technologies are developed.
Europe has the world’s oldest population, with 22% being over 60, and 1% being older than 80, this last figure is expected to reach 4% by 2050.
Women still have a longer life expectancy than men, but the difference is narrowing and may not be sustainable over the long term. Smoking by women, together with the adoption of social habits that used to be reserved to men, is believed to be the major culprit in allowing this difference to narrow.
While the average sex ratio at birth favors males by approximately 105 boys to 100 girls, the ratio reverses itself with age as women have a longer life expectancy than men. For the population over 60, the figures are of 82 men for 100 women and decreases to 55 men for 100 women at age 80. The ratio at these older ages is even lower in Europe with 69 men per 100 women at the age of 60, and 42 men per 100 women at the age of 80. One of the reasons for the difference between Europe and the rest of the world is the large number of young men who died during the Second World War.
Explanations for the longer life expectancy abound. One of them is that the present generation that is retiring is the first to have known both antibiotics and vaccines. They also received a better nutrition as food prices decreased.
Economic and political issues
All the models indicate that economic growth can only take place if there is demographic growth.
Several countries have introduced pro-natal policies such as the financing of day-care centers, fiscal advantages, payments at birth, etc. Research has shown that these policies incite families to have children earlier, but not to have more children.
Older persons are conservative and risk-averse. Therefore it is more than likely that entrepreneurial actions will decrease. Savings will also be on the decrease and lead to higher interest rates increasing the cost of investments. Inheritances, except for the wealthy, will be paltry, leading the younger generations to have reduced wealth.
Pensions and health care costs will soar as the number of people gainfully employed shrinks compared to the number of elderly retired. The increase in the pension and health care budget for France, for instance, is set to increase by 13% and reach five times what the country spends on defense.
Health care for older people is an expensive undertaking, particularly in the treatment of terminal diseases such as the setting of implants and cancer, both of which are a common occurrence on people over 65. A solution to curb these rising costs is to reduce reimbursements or increase insurance premiums or taxes but there is a limit to the acceptance by the tax payer of new increases. Another option is a strict limit set by the government on prices of medications and hospital equipment as is the case in Japan.
As the workforce will decrease, employment of older people may be encouraged by governments through the removal of social contributions and other social payments from corporations, through investments in lifelong learning and by applying penalties on corporations discriminating on the basis of age.
On the positive side, however, new opportunities for employment and for entrepreneurs will be created by the so-called silver economy. These relate to new products and employment in areas as diverse as health care, assisted domestic living, education, travel, spas, etc.
However, even if a number of these urgent measures are applied, the relative importance of Europe in the world will no doubt diminish.
Another action European governments could take to help slow population decline, is to reduce the number of preventable deaths due to alcoholism, car accidents, suicide and smoking for persons under 65 years of age.
Forecasting not being an exact science, there are several forecasts as to the future population of the world and of Europe.
One suggests that future fertility rates will vary, depending on the country, between 1.35 to 2.35 children per woman, leading to a world population in 2030 of between 7.7 and 10.6 billion.
By 2050, Asia’s population will be of over 5 billion and that of Africa nearly 2 billion. India will be the most populated country with 1.4 billion inhabitants.
The world’s population of over 60 will double to 22% of the total population by 2050 and will be larger than the number of children and in the developed countries will be twice the number of children.
Europe’s population is expected to drop by 7 million between now and 2050 and it will only represent 7% of the world’s population in spite of the fact that the populations of France and Great Britain are expected to continue to grow. The countries with the sharpest growth will be Romania and Croatia.
The European continent appears to be moving to an empty land populated mainly by older persons who will sink into poverty as the number of working people decreases. Should large waves of immigrants or the introduction into the EU of Turkey be allowed replace the existing population, European culture will disappear.
Goodbye Europeans, Farewell.
An occasion for the EU to reaffirm its standing on Security policies and Human Rights
Vice-President of the EU Commission Margaritis Shinas was a keynote speaker at this summer’s Diplomatic Conference in Vienna organised by the International Institute IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy and their partners. High dignitary of the Commission seized the occasion to express the EU’s take on the 75th anniversary of victory over fascism, unfolding health crisis and to it related pressure on human and labour rights, as well as on the Union’s continued efforts towards remaining a ‘rock’ amid the volatile climate.
It is known by now – and acknowledged by the EU Commission VP – that the COVID-19 crisis has had some severe implications for Human Rights and, to a lesser extent, for cooperation outlooks. In the face of the first wave, countries in Europe and elsewhere have adopted different courses of actions in order to manage the health crisis and attempt at containing its threats. Placed in an unprecedented situation, governments have undoubtedly each reacted in ways they deemed most appropriate at the time.
However, the pandemic itself topped with the varied policies have caused notable restrictions on Human Rights. Most notoriously, the right to life and that to health have been challenged in extreme circumstances where, at the peak of the crisis, health institutions were so overflowed that the provision of maximal care to every single individual was compromised. The effective and equal access to healthcare has therefore quickly become a central preoccupation of many governments, drawing on some dramatic first-hand experiences.
On that, I will say that if the global health crisis has been a synonym for many negative impacts, it has also been a precious opportunity to rethink carefully the existing narrative of programmatic and progressive rights – such as the right to health – needing no immediate attention, nor realisation. This narrative held predominantly by some Western democracies ever since the adoption of the UN International Covenants, has been unduly weakening the universal and indivisible stance of Human Rights. Needless to say, in adhering to that dangerous narrative, planning for and prioritizing health access, resources and system capabilities is undermined. This, in turn, contributes to the difficult and insufficient responses of some governments that have been witnessed. May the victims of inadequate infrastructures due to an obsolete distinction between rights serve as a poignant reminder: social, cultural and economic rights need be readily available to all.
Equally interesting is the toll taken on a whole other range of Human Rights – an international system built up in last 75 years on the legacy of victory of antifascist forces in Europe and elsewhere. Numerous individual freedoms have also suffered limitations, often as a direct result of actions taken to promote and ensure the right to life and the right to health for the most vulnerable. Indeed, people’s freedom of movement, that of religion (external dimension), that of assembly and association, as well as their procedural rights – only to name a few – have all been greatly affected during the crisis.
Of course voices have raised their discontent at those restrictions put in place to mitigate the crisis, considered by many to be too incisive and too manifold when cumulated. But despite an apparent clash between two groups of interests protected by different rights, the resolution which has emerged from the approaches followed by most countries is very telling. In fact, a balancing exercise revealed that protecting the right to health and to life of the minority of people ought simply to be considered predominant in comparison to the other individual freedoms and rights of the majority. This reasoning, grounded in solidarity and the protection of minorities and vulnerable persons, is in fact very encouraging in an era of growing individualism combined with overwhelming challenges which will certainly require peoples to unite against them.
Nevertheless, this does not take away from the fact that the full and optimal enjoyment of Human Rights has generally been seriously affected as many interests have been caught in the crossfire of the fight against Coronavirus’ harmful effects. Moreover, the crisis has also created some divides amongst European countries. This is because the sanitary emergency has caused for precarious contexts of resources shortages and sometimes unfruitful cooperation, even shift in alliances.
This has naturally brought about separate criticisms and questioning of the EU cooperation strategy and security arrangements. In that sense, growing expectations are felt for the EU to uphold and promote its fundamental values including the rule of law, solidarity, non-discrimination and antifascist line.
Vice-PresidentSchinas is well aware of that reality and reiterates the EU’s unalterable commitment to peaceful cooperation, human dignity, liberty, equality and solidarity in these troubled times. He further ensures that the most recent security strategies led by the Union do not – and never will – eat away at the protection of fundamental rights. What is more, whilst the EU’s arrangements can be seen as slightly ‘under attack’ currently, the VP feels that rather than seeing this period as a high-stakes test on EU democracies it should be seen as an opportunity to take a bigger stand than ever for the European common values and call for strengthened multilateralism. This necessities constructive reciprocal and respectful active engagement with the EU Mediterranean and eastern European neighbourhood.
All that is because it is not too difficult to imagine that the aftermath of the C-19 crisis can open several paths of new dynamics in international relations. Yet, as it cannot be stressed enough, an upcoming change in the conception of relations between nations could be decisive for numerous other contemporary challenges – namely: migration crisis, armed conflicts, climate change. While one of the paths could consist in an increase in protectionism and nationalist attitudes, another one would involve, on the contrary, a shift towards reinforced cooperation and enhanced solidarity. The latter outward approach, advocated by the EU Vice-President and believed to be the best hope for the future, is one deeply enshrined in the antifascist legacy and the very raison d’être of the Union.
Above all, at the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day, Excellency Schinas reminds us with much humbleness that the journey for safeguarding Human Rights is one that is perpetually underway.
Metternich: The visionary reconstructor of Europe and champion of conservatism
Klemens Von Metternich early life and orthodox ideas
Klemens Von Metternich was born on May 15, 1773, into the House of Metternich, a German noble family that originates from Rhineland. He was the son of a diplomat that had served at the Imperial court of Treves.
At the age of 15, he started studying law at the University of Strasbourg while getting more familiar with the concept of conservatism. In 1792 he was attending the University of Mainz, again at the faculty of law where his conservative ideas flourished, promoting traditional imperial institutions emphasizing the necessity of prosperity and stability in Europe.
Klemens Von Metternich is considered to be a controversial figure in international affairs due to his ideas of obstructionism, while some critics of him go as far as call him an enemy of freedom. He was a harsh critic of the French Revolution and its consequences and he dreaded the ideas of liberalism and nationalism that emerged after it.
On the other hand, he is praised for his vision of peace in Europe by holding on to the traditional monarchical systems that were the only way to establish peace and prosperity in his view. Thanks to Metternich, Europe established itself as a dominant economic and military power of the 19th century while reviving again the European values of stability and development for its European citizens.
The French Revolution
In 1789, amidst the French Revolution, Klemens Von Metternich expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation in France, calling the revolution a “hateful time” for Europe. His statements came when most of the French nobility was executed in France and there was a huge concern growing among the European powers that the situation would spread to the whole of Europe.
Soon enough, Metternich’s concerns turned out to be true, as France sunk into a period of political turmoil. In 1794, the king of France Louis the XVI was executed spreading chaos among the country. The so-called “Reign of Terror” was established where thousands of French citizens were executed.
The French Revolution brought out views and ideas of liberalism and nationalism that contradicted the traditional systems that ruled Europe. Metternich resented these ideas. He was more focused on the idea of the European Enlightenment. He understood clearly that to provide tranquility and stability in Europe, certain fundamental laws needed to be established for Europe to function properly.
He pointed out that aspects of religion and morality should be the primary necessities to co-govern with natural laws. His ideal system for Europe was a monarchical system that would co-share power with other classes of European society. Metternich’s goal was to prevent any further revolutions and uprisings in Europe, however, his plan was briefly jeopardized by the man that threatened to destroy everything he believed in.
Napoleon Bonaparte: Metternich’s political nemesis
Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s most prestigious general at that time, re-emerged as France’s savior promising to save the French revolution and ending France’s political turmoil. In 1804, Napoleon became the emperor of France. However, he was never recognized by any monarch in Europe.
The Great Powers of Europe, fearing that the effects of the French Revolution will backfire to them, decided to invade France and restore the reign of King Louis XVI. However, this act gave justification to Napoleon to declare war on the European powers by proclaiming that this was just a defensive measure to preserve the French Revolution.
At first, Metternich viewed Napoleon with great interest, mentioning that he was the only one capable of providing discipline to a troubled France. An extraordinary man with practical knowledge about the common life of the citizens. However, his praise came with some precautions about Napoleon. He thought that he was a very practical and strong man but only if he was born in a different age. He did not find his abilities suitable for the age they were in.
Metternich was appointed as the Austrian Ambassador in France in 1806. By that time Napoleon had managed to defeat Spain, Prussia, and Austria making his advances to the Russian Empire. It was at that point that Metternich decided to use his diplomatic skills to keep Austria “breathing” long enough until Napoleon would be dethroned. His plans accelerated when he became Austria’s Foreign Minister in 1809.
At the same year he became a Foreign Minister, Metternich decided to show his diplomatic skills by arranging the marriage of Napoleon with Marie Louise the daughter of the Austrian Emperor, Francis I. With this maneuver, he managed to convince Napoleon that Austria would be a close ally of him, while in reality, he was just buying time for Austria and the remaining great powers to come up with a plan to dethrone Napoleon. He didn’t have to wait long.
In 1812, Napoleon marched towards Russia. Certain for his victory, a naive Napoleon did not see how big of an obstacle Russia would be. While advancing to Moscow he captured an empty city that was set on fire, while the Russians retreated to the east. With his lines of supply being cut off and a devastating Russian winter approaching them, Napoleon decided to retreat, looking for gold at the surrender of Russia but receiving only copper.
In the meantime, Metternich put his plan on the motion. With Napoleon’s army retreating and being chased by the Russians, he convinced the remaining Great Powers to give a devastating blow to Napoleon. In 1813, Napoleon was defeated in Leipzig by the armies of Russia, England, Prussia, and Austria. Napoleon was imprisoned at the island of Elbe in the Mediterranean Sea. However, he managed to escape and rallied up soldiers that were loyal to him but again he was defeated for a second time in 1815, in the famous battle of Waterloo in Belgium. Metternich was crowded as a hereditary Prince of the Austrian Empire. The only man that stood against his ideal formation of Europe was defeated.
The Vienna Congress
The year 1815, saw Metternich at the peak of his power. He had become a key figure in the plan to dethrone Napoleon, with his excellent diplomatic skills and his determination to steer Europe into the path of stability where Kings governed and people were governed. At the Congress, he made his points very clear for the beginning. He believed that the only way to ensure peace in the continent was to bring the Great powers together so that they could prevent any large European War to escalate again.
Metternich’s policies were based on two principles. One being the protection of historical traditional institutes such as the Church, the dynastic monarchies, and the essence of aristocratic privilege and the second was the establishment of a new vision of international balance in the continent of Europe. Instead of punishing France for the Napoleonic wars, he suggested including them in the table. With that move Metternich showed his true European face, putting the future of his continent above any nationalist notions.
The success of the Congress was inevitable. While including France at the Council of the Great Powers, Europe started to become more stable. The Council that included England, Russia, France, Austria, and Prussia agreed to prevent any further revolutions and political uprising in Europe. All the disputes between the powers were resolved with diplomacy which gave them all leverage to re-organize Central Europe in a more simple way to avoid any internal intense rivalries.
Contributions to Europe and modern diplomacy
Klemens Von Metternich was viewed by many people as a great man and a true European citizen who managed to sustain a united European front for almost 100 years. Despite some minor uprising after the Vienna Congress, Metternich was a solid diplomat whose vision about Europe became a reality.
However, he is also viewed as an oppressor of freedom. His despise for liberal and nationalist movements made him an “enemy” of the common people. What Metternich was more afraid of about these movements was the potential disruption inside the Austrian Empire that was made up by a multinational coalition of 11 nations. He did not want to see the Empire being torn apart. He went as far as suppressing any suspicious uprisings in Germany where there was a lot of revolutionary activity, by censoring books and newspapers and installing secret police spies that would infiltrate universities to arrest any suspected revolutionaries.
On one hand, he has been a symbol of oppression but that is not a judgment that represents him. He was a great man and a man with a vision for Europe. Numerous times he mentioned that he felt more European than Austrian, putting the needs of Europe above the nation. In his memoirs, he wrote about the unfair judgment that he received but also mentioned how wrong those people were. “Old Europe is at the beginning of the end and new Europe has not yet begun its existence, and between the end and the beginning, there will be chaos. In a hundred years, historians will judge me quite differently than do all those who pass judgment on me today.”
Indeed, 100 years later historians acknowledged the wisdom and the vision of Klemens Von Metternich. After the devastating consequences of WWI and WWII, his diplomatic ideas that kept Europe at peace were missed and Europe realized that the failed liberal system will open the door to a nationalist and fascist system that will doom the whole continent.
History tends to repeat itself and while our world is more connected now and more liberal the shadows of nationalist far-right movements lure Europe. This aspect, combined with failed liberal policies result in dissatisfaction of the masses and without order, chaos would erupt as it did hundreds of years ago. Metternich’s contributions to modern diplomacy and the history of Europe are remarkable. His ideas flourished after WWII with the creation of the European Union, a system that might not share the same conservative ideas as he did, but surely contributed to the prosperity of the continent.
His ideas of European stability and control of power are more relevant now with the new crisis that the EU is facingand soon enough the European Union will have to rethink Metternich’s ideas for the neo-liberal system to survive, otherwise, there will be only room for nationalistic far-right movements that threaten the dream of the EU by returning to failed protectionism measures and policies.
Democratic Backsliding in the Visegrad Four: Examining the Illiberal Turn
The initial years of the post-communist era reflected a promising beginning of the consolidation of democracy in the Visegrad Four countries. Slovakia, the only exception to this regional trend of democratic consolidation under Mečiarism, also showed signs of successful transition with the revival of democracy after the 1998 elections. However, in the last few years, with the rise of eurosceptics, ultra-nationalists and populists, the democratic model has been facing grave challenges in these countries. Besides attacking the opposition, students’ organisations and NGOs, the conservative leadership in these countries, have also passed regressive reforms in media, constitution, as well as the judiciary. These attacks and reforms are aimed at strengthening the power of eurosceptic populist leaders, and thereby reducing any chances of Eurocentric opposition in the future. But why, despite initial years of promising success, democratic consolidation failed in the V4 countries? This essay argues that the challenges to the democratic consolidation in these post-communist countries have been a result of myriad local, national and international factors at economic, political and social levels.
Primarily, the membership in the EU, which was a major foreign policy objective of the new political elite post-1989, had raised numerous expectations among the citizens in these countries. But after the EU membership in May 2004, when those expectations still seemed a distant dream for the citizens in these countries, the disappointment with the EU membership’s promises rose throughout the region. This disappointment soon became a fertile ground on which the conservative section of the political elite mobilised their support, which became evident with the victory of nationalistic and eurosceptic parties throughout the region.
This discontentment with the Western European model was made further worse by the economic crises of 2008-9 and the subsequent Euro debt crisis of 2011. Contrary to expectations that the EU membership will be a guarantor of economic prosperity and improved standards of living, the V4 countries had to suffer immensely as a result of these crises which primarily resulted because of the loopholes in other countries. Furthermore, the subsequent burden of reforms with adoption of EU’s austerity policies aimed at stabilising the European économies post-crises, also proved costly for these countries, and hence furthered their apathy towards the integrationist model of Brussels.
Post 2015, the Refugee Crisis, resulting due to the massive influx of illegal migrants into Europe from politically unstable areas of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, further fuelled the simmering anti-EU attitudes among the V4 countries. Though only Hungary was directly affected by the wave of these migrants, all V4 countries reflected a response which was reminiscent of classical xenophobia and exclusive nationalism. Despite these countries officially voting against Brussels’ proposal of obligatory refugee quotas, and opposing the financial aid given to Turkey following EU-Turkey deal to stop refugees from entering the EU, the conservative media and politicians in these countries left no stone unturned to show a face of refugees that immediately mobilised the people to vote populist demagogues to power at the cost of ruling out the Eurocentric federalists.
Finally, another important, and often overlooked reason for the failed democratic consolidation in the V4 countries has been their lack of historical experience with democracy. As a result of this lacked democratic experience, people in these countries failed to develop a democratic culture in a few decades post-1989, and instead found it easy to turn back to their familiar models.
However, despite all the gloomy prospects of democratic consolidation in the V4 countries, the region is not the only aberration. The rise of Euroscepticism, nationalism, and populism has been on the rise throughout the continent, which became evident with Brexit and the rise of conservative parties, like National Front and Alternative for Germany, among others. Therefore, it is imperative for the EU that these occasional setbacks in few countries must not hinder its vision of greater European integration. Because, any void created by declining role of Brussels in the Visegrad region will immediately be filled by Russia, which is craving to regain its influence in its ‘near-abroad.’
Moreover, the recent experiences from Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria and elsewhere, also made it clear that the quick imposition of the democratic model is not the universal solution for discrete problems across the world. The fact that the evolution of democracy took centuries of deliberate transformations, and occasional violent conflicts, in England, France, USA and elsewhere, must be kept in mind while assessing the democratic consolidation in any part of the world. Expecting successful transition and consolidation of democracy in the V4 countries, without keeping in mind that it has been only a few decades since these countries embarked on this painful transition, is in itself problematic.
Nonetheless, the post-1989 transition has also successfully contributed to transforming a considerable section of the population in these countries, who now show major disliking towards any non-democratic model. Therefore, even if the current situation of the V4is not a pleasant one, the big picture coming post-1989 is a reflection of a successful break with the ‘Other’ past.
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