19 January 2019

Saturday, 10:33



The Old World to face new challenges in 2018



Participants of the congress of the leaders of right-wing anti-immigrant parties and the members of the European Parliament's Europe of Nations and Freedoms (ENF) political group supporting the interests of extreme right-wing political organizations decided to get done with the EU from the inside. They are confident in the victory of nationalist parties in the forthcoming spring-summer 2018 elections to the European Parliament.

“The EU ends with a breath. We hope that we will destroy this wrong organization from the inside. We must act how the conqueror does," said Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front.

The organizer of the meeting, the main Czech nationalist of Japanese origin Tomio Okamura, believes that at its current state, the EU represents a "totalitarian state" and the future of the European Union is in economic and political decentralization. He also warned against the danger of "Muslim colonization of Europe".

To replace the EU, the rights offer to create a Union of European peoples, "voluntary cooperation of countries based on respect and their political and economic interests," but with national currencies and control over their state borders.

Prague was chosen as the venue for the congress. The Czech Republic, along with some other countries in Eastern Europe, is against the existing refugee quotas and the processes aimed at tight integration of refugees within the EU. The ultra-right party Freedom and Direct Democracy lead by Tomio Okamura won about 10% of the votes in the parliamentary elections held in October. The Czech president Miloš Zeman supported him. The current government is led by the active enemy of the EU, billionaire Andrej Babiš, leader of the party Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, which won a majority in the parliament.

The ultra-right was accompanied by the success of elections recently held in Austria, where the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) became part of the government calling for the dissolution of the European Union, as well as in France, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Austria, and Germany.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the borders of Europe for refugees from Africa and the Middle East in 2015, right-wing populist parties, taking advantage of the fear of Europeans before migrants, quickly began recruiting supporters. For the sake of preserving the coalition with the CSU, Merkel made a compromise this year restricting the annual number of refugees to Germany to 200,000 people in comparison with 2015 (almost 1.1 million refugees).

Brexit seemed to strengthen the positions of Eurosceptics, but the difficult negotiations and the doubts about the chosen path has markedly cooled the ardor of Britons.

Moreover, the British divorce with the EU coupled with the election of Donald Trump and the increasing economic power of China has revived integrationist sentiments in Europe.


From Mazzini and Hugo to Chirac and Fisher

The ideas about equal and voluntary unification of continental countries in Europe date back to the mid-19th century remarkable for national liberation struggle of the European peoples. The most prominent representative of this movement was the Italian writer and revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini, who believed that European nations should and could live in equality and unity within natural boundaries. In 1846, he founded the People's International League and put forward the idea of ​the United States of Europe (USE), which has become widely popularized by the French writer Victor Hugo, who voiced it at the Paris congress of European pacifists in 1849. After the suppression of the Serbian uprising by the Ottoman Empire in 1876, Hugo began to insist that Europe needs "European nationality, united government, great brotherly arbitration, that is democracy under the conditions of peace with itself."

This idea has later found supporters in many countries of Europe, which resulted in the establishment of numerous political alliances promoting interstate cooperation and European integration.

Two world wars of the 20th century have not weakened this desire ultimately leading to the birth of the European Union.

At the beginning of the 21st century, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and French President Jacques Chirac spoke about the idea of ​​reforming the EU into the USE. They believed that the "Europe of Fatherlands" is a form of federation where the peoples of the continent relinquish a part of their state sovereignty to federal authorities to ensure better defense, foreign policy, security, communications, economy, and so on. At the same time, they reserve their national identities including the fatherland, language, culture, and customs.


Not everyone is ready for difficulties

The past decade of economic and political crises has seriously deteriorated the EU throwing it into a survival dilemma. Some have even voiced the fears of no future for the Union. Despite the text of the Berlin Declaration adopted in March 2007 during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the EU, which reads "We, the citizens of the European Union, have united for the better," disagreements among the EU members did not allow to take this statement seriously.

For instance, in December 2007, twenty-eight countries signed the Lisbon Treaty, sort of a light version of the EU Constitution of 2004, which has never come into force, since not all countries have ratified it. The treaty allowed to make the necessary changes to the agreement of 1992 and to carry out long-overdue reforms of the EU governance system.

Swift expansion of the EU towards the East has created a difficult situation when the economically underdeveloped countries began to hamper the development of the EU. This has brought an idea of ​​the "Two-speed Europe", that is, different rates of development and integration. This opportunity has already been put into the Lisbon Treaty. This spring, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker voiced it in the EU White Paper.

Germany supported the idea. "We need to have the courage for some countries to go ahead if not everyone wants to participate. A Europe of different speeds is necessary otherwise we will probably get stuck," said Angela Merkel during the discussion of the White Paper at the spring summit commemorating the 60th anniversary of the EU. As expected, the countries of the eastern bloc opposed this suggestion. Surprisingly, a timely assistance to Merkel in her bid to strengthen the position of the EU came from a country with which Germany has had difficult relations for the past decade.

Emmanuel Macron won the presidential election this summer in France, Europe's second-largest economy (after the retirement of Britain) promising voters to deepen cooperation within the EU in addition to reforms in his own country. He made his first official visit to Berlin, where he underlined the key role of both countries in modern Europe. "We agreed with Chancellor Merkel to draft a phased plan for the future of Europe in order to make the Eurozone stronger," said Macron after the meeting.

But the young ambitious politician is not limited to the role of Germany's passive ally. On the contrary, during his incomplete year as a president, he has voiced many ideas for strengthening the EU - from the establishment of a common budget, including the military, to measures to protect the European economy and to form a unified military doctrine, which in fact means competition for NATO.

Merkel welcomes many of Macron’s proposals despite being entirely busy with the solution of internal problems after unsuccessful negotiations on the establishment of a coalition government.


Schulz surprised everyone

The leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Germany Martin Schultz, whom Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier persuaded to sit at the negotiating table made an unexpected surprise. In December, he submitted Merkel’s proposal to the approval of the congress of his party. One of his conditions for a possible government alliance was a demand for... the transformation of the EU to the United States of Europe!

Schulz, who has led the European Parliament for five years until January 2017, sees Europe's defense against the spreading ultra-right sentiments in the adoption of a general Constitution. Those countries that refuse to ratify it will have to leave the European Union automatically.

"If we do not change course, if we do not strengthen Europe in practical and absolutely concrete deeds, then these forces will prevail," said the SDP leader. Schultz proposed to complete the transformation process by 2025. By that time, it will be 100 years since German Social Democrats have adopted the idea.

According to BBC, the opponents of this idea in the European Parliament insist that the European project is a team project, and not a way to combat the dissenters. Therefore, Schulz's radical demands are hardly appropriate now, when the EU is facing with huge internal problems among the member states, which are shaking the Union. In addition, there are side effects. In Britain, these statements will strengthen the positions of Brexit supporters, who can recall that it is the same European centralization that Britain is trying to avoid.

Yet another landmark event of the passing year was the emergence of social movements in support of the united Europe. Pulse of Europe, Stand Up for Europe, Movement for Democracy in Europe 2025 and other mass European civil initiatives are calling for the unity of pro-European forces in their quest for greater integration.

The congress of the ultra-right in Prague was held amidst protest demonstrations in the city. Right-wing radicals unite but the supporters of the united Europe are expanding their ranks too. Europe will have to go through new and challenging strength tests in 2018.