By Ryan McMaken
In the wake of the Paris attacks, Europe is being pulled in two directions at once. On the one hand is the rise of localist nationalism in the form of border closings, border fences, and Euroskepticism. On the other hand is the rise of renewed militarism as the French state calls for even more aggressive foreign policy from its European allies in the name of security. In some ways, these two trends appear to be at odds, but they are really just different expressions of nationalism.
European Countries Closing Their Borders
Even before the Paris attacks, the European Union faced rising skepticism and opposition over its immigration policies. Writing in the UK Independent, John Lichfield noted that
North vs south; east vs west; Britain vs the rest; German leadership or German dominance. The refugee crisis is like a diabolical stress test devised to expose simultaneously all the moral and political fault lines of the European Union.
As the wealthier (and therefore more politically powerful) nations of western Europe handed down edicts as to how migrants shall be spread around Europe, some of the less powerful nations revolted and began to refuse migrants.
Meanwhile, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Macedonia all began building walls to keep out migrants. Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania have all threatened to do the same.
Late last month, Polish voters elected a new Euroskeptic, anti-immigration government that has pledged to renew opposition to Brussels’ diktats on immigration and national borders.
And then, in the wake of Paris came an even bigger blow to the Europhile plans for a borderless Europe. France, a longtime leader in the European Commission’s efforts to force migrants throughout Europe — called for a suspension of the Schengen Area, the “borderless” zone in Europe through which travelers and migrants may move unimpeded.
In practice, the Schengen Area had shown serious strain even before the Paris attacks occurred. In addition to Eastern European resistance, Sweden introduced border checks in early November. Finland, in response to neighboring Sweden’s policy of accepting large numbers of migrants, began border checks of its own.
In response to France’s request, in an effort to save at least a remnant of Schengen, the Dutch delegation has suggested a “mini-Schengen.” Recognizing that a geographically unified Europe has long been a key component of the plan to build a European megastate, some in Europe are seeing benefits in a reduced version of Schengen, even if it means, as the Daily Mail reports, “kicking out” several members, including Spain, Italy, and Greece. Most of the current Schengen EU members from eastern Europe would be excluded as well, including Poland and Hungary.
Many European elites continue to express confidence in the current expansive version of Schengen, and claim that any changes will be temporary. Clearly, however, any pull back in Schengen is a sign of political weakness on the part of Europhiles, and is a significant step backward in terms of the political unification of Europe. How long before a Mini-Schengen is followed by a “Mini-European Monetary Union” with roughly the same borders?
If Brussels decides that Spain and Italy are not integral to Europe’s core in regards to Schengen, what’s to prevent a similar conversation when the next sovereign debt crisis rears its head in southern Europe?
In fact, any move toward a Mini-Schengen may prove what the smaller countries of eastern Europe have been claiming all along: it’s rich, western Europe versus everybody else.
But rich, western Europe isn’t immune to the localist, nationalist tide either. The Paris attacks have given new voice to nationalist parties in Germany and Europe, and the attacks have further aided France’s nationalist parties and their chief spokeswoman, Marine LePen. Also, dissenters from the Europhile line have been calling for border closings with renewed vigor in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.
A lack of confidence in the European Commission appears to be spreading, and is weakest outside the core of the wealthy west. Even within the “core,” though, political unification of Europe is facing some of the strongest headwinds it has seen in decades.
Western Europe Looks to Increased Militarism
While Europe may be fracturing on domestic affairs, there are few signs of a European willingness to abandon its aggressive military stance in regard to Russia, Africa, the Middle East, and the world in general.
Europhiles have dreamed for years of creating a unified “EU army,” and thanks to the Paris attacks, things are looking up. In the wake of the attacks, according to the UK’s Express, French President Hollande “invoked Article 42.7 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which states that if a member state ‘is the victim of armed aggression on its territory’ then the 27 other member states are obliged to provide aid and assistance ‘by all the means in their power’.”
This is being played up as a turn away from NATO, but that is only partly true. France, especially, has longed for a way to draw upon the military resources of its allies while not having to submit to the NATO bureaucracy.
This goes back at least to the 1960s when de Gaulle failed to get NATO help putting down rebellions in France’s colonies. In response, de Gaulle expelled NATO troops from French soil, built up France’s nuclear stockpiles, and removed France from NATO’s central command structure.
Always committed to aggressively and militarily exploiting its former colonies in Africa and the Middle East, the French state may have finally found the opportunity it needs to create an international military organization that can be dominated by France.
After all, when we’re talking about a possible European military, what we’re really talking about is a French-British-German military, with some token participation from other smaller countries. The UK, France, and Germany are among the world’s biggest spenders on military hardware, and it would be much easier for the French government to wield out-sized influence among only a handful of European governments, than within NATO.
So don’t be fooled. The Telegraph may be claiming that NATO was “shunned” at a recent meeting of European states, but Europe has no intention of abandoning NATO any time soon.
Europe has long freeloaded off the American taxpayer via NATO to ensure the global status quo for European elites, keep the European welfare states humming, and ensure that Europe need not worry about any unwanted diplomatic or military influence from Russia or China.
NATO’s war in Libya, for example, rather conveniently helped reduce Chinese influence which had been rising in North Africa at the expense of French and Italian interests.
Similarly, NATO’s presence helps ensure that European powers (and the Americans) can continue to antagonize the Russians without having to worry about any serious reprisals. In the case of any real conflict, the American taxpayers will pick up most of the tab.
Nevertheless, from the European point of view, a Euro Army offers a chance at renewed international influence for European states. If the Europeans can go their own way in “destroying ISIS,” Europe may be able to carve out its own sphere of influence in the oil-rich region, separate from those of the Americans and Russians.
European Union: Getting Smaller Before it Gets Bigger?
The borders of Europe are indeed being redrawn. But, it would be premature to declare the project of European unity imperiled. Rather than full dissolution, it seems we’re more likely to see the EU retreat to its wealthier core in northern and western Europe. The newly expelled southern and eastern European countries would serve as buffer zones for migrants while allowing more freedom for the former “Great Powers” (i.e., UK, Germany, and France) to re-assert themselves as global players under the pretense of anti-terrorism.