It’s time to mourn the demise of old Europe. The rot is too far gone, the decline too pronounced, the welfarism, decadence, pacifism and self-hatred too ingrained, the doom-loop unstoppable. Once the world’s richest, most advanced continent, Europe is finished, its humiliating fall all too obvious to the rest of the world, if not to deluded Europeans, writes Allister Heath, a British business journalist, author and commentator, the editor of ‘The Sunday Telegraph’.
Its self-inflicted pathologies – catastrophic economic failure, near-total geopolitical irrelevance, a migration and integration crisis, and a gaping democratic deficit – have now metastasised. They have become too complex, too daunting for Europe’s third-rate elites even to consider tackling, and especially for the selfish, demagogic politicians who have presided with such insouciance over its social disintegration, “degrowth”, Potemkin militaries and appalling demographics. Germany, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere are on the brink of social explosion, with farmers the latest to have become radicalised.
In the 248-year intra-Western contest between the US and Europe, there has been only one winner. America is also sick, as witnessed by its own social decay, the rise of the woke ideology and the preposterous rematch of the geriatrics between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Yet unlike in Paris, Berlin, Rome or Brussels, enough remains of its capitalist spirit, its dynamism, its entrepreneurialism, its love of science, meritocracy and technology, to see it through its current troubles.
Europe’s greatest legacies to the world – capitalism, individual liberty, the rule of law and the “Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic” (or “weird”) values so brilliantly described by Joseph Henrich of Harvard University – will live on in the US. But there is no way back for a European continent that has embraced nihilism, post-Christian paganism, illiberalism and the politics of envy, that believes that saving the planet requires shutting down successful industries and impoverishing its people, that cannot face down Islamist extremism and anti-Semitism, and that won’t reform its welfare state.
Even Brexit, the ultimate warning signal, failed to change anything. Europe’s ruling class dismissed the UK’s departure as an aberration, an own goal by self-harming British eccentrics, and doubled-down on its failed policies. It refused to listen to voters; no wonder their rage is becoming ever more combustible, inchoate and unfocused.
The EU population will peak at 453.3 million in two years’ time, then slump to 419.5 million by 2100, despite massive immigration, Eurostat predicts. The population will age drastically, driven by a collapse in the birth rate. Welfare states will implode, with taxes rocketing on the young to pay for healthcare and pensions for the old. The Euro-elites’ only answer, even more migration, will empower potentially dangerous extremists. In France, Germany, Belgium and elsewhere, the failure to integrate many recent migrants, and the ruling class’s answer – to lie that all is well – is paving the way for a cataclysm. The rise of Germany’s AfD should worry us all. The European elections will see gains for populists.
The continent’s high-tax, high regulation model has caused decades of under-performance, and now Emmanuel Macron, the EU and the Dutch and German governments are deliberately shutting down swathes of their agriculture to meet net-zero targets. The Germans are destroying their car industry, and Europe will import Chinese electric vehicles instead. Decades of “industrial strategy” and subsidies have failed to create a world-class European tech industry. The continent’s economic suicide is already triggering an exodus of the best and brightest.
Europe’s geopolitical irrelevance is equally striking. Its defence is being shouldered by long-suffering US taxpayers. The French are nowhere to be seen in the fight against the Houthis; its army is a shadow of its former self, and wouldn’t last long in a real war. The Poles and a few others are trying their best, but the German military is a joke, and all the great promises to rebuild European armies made in 2022 have meant nothing. The continent is almost completely demilitarised, lacks personnel and hardware, doesn’t have the capacity to produce more of the latter, has zero long-term answers to contain Putin and has done nothing to prepare for the possibility of a second Trump victory. It’s a disgrace.
It beggars belief that so many of the middle-class British Remainers and Rejoiners, who will help propel Labour to victory this year, are still so unfathomably ignorant about the true state of Europe’s economy and society. Blinded by anti-Tory hatred, obsessed by shiny TGVs and the memories of their pleasant holidays in southern Europe, they assume that things must – just must – be better in Europe.
Almost all Labour MPs privately believe that the solution to our own lack of growth is to rejoin the single market or customs union, even though these have failed to save Europe’s own economies.
How can further increasing our ties with a zero-growth continent or a shrinking German economy do anything for Britain? It can’t. And how will the British Left respond to the rise of the far-Right in Europe? Will it still love Germany if the AfD is part of its government? Will it still love statist France if Marine le Pen is in the Elysee?
Britain is in an appalling state, but so is Europe. The Brexiteers’ Euro-pessimism has been vindicated; the problem is that the establishment refused to use Brexit to break with Brussels’ regulatory philosophy and to reorient our economy away from stagnant EU markets. Britain is therefore increasingly suffering from the same pathologies as Europe, and facing a similar terminal decline. This isn’t an argument for more EU, but one for even less, as well as radical domestic change. Europe’s gradual eclipse is accelerating, and it would be absurd for any British government to consider realigning the country with it.