EU divisions over economic insecurity and new arrivals (both migrants and new member states) have two roots: ineffectiveness on an international level, and the under-discussed problem of local hypocrisy. Modern European states rely on political and economic interconnectivity to function, yet isolationists have touted nationalistic homogeny not only as a way of securing Europe, but also as a means of financially revamping it. Although economic fact seems to suggest the opposite of what these nationalist parties are claiming, this hasn’t stopped their monumental rise over the past few years.
The overwhelming irony of nationalist cries of a failed EU come from the fact that it’s the very commitment to regressively regionalized identities that are at the core of the modern EU’s administrative failures. A lack of unity undermines greater EU efforts, the most recent example being the Dutch refusal to accept EU association with Ukraine. This among a slew of other votes, appeals, and renegotiations from the likes of everyone from Denmark’s border guards to David Cameron’s conservatives are what most witheringly hinder the practical application of EU policy. Division is what most hurts EU institutions, not the economic, social, and political interconnectivity that EU members already have.
A situation that was already testy, to say the least, in the Euro-crisis years as well as during the worst of Ukraine’s political unrest has now only intensified with waves of migration from the Middle East, North Africa, and to some extent continental Europe’s eastern block. But for all the shock and awe that this has caused, mass movements have historically been quite normal for Europe (not that the average citizen cares about historic norms). Whether you look at The Enlightenment, The Industrial Revolution, or as far back as Hellenic Greece, Europe has been a continent of constantly changing borders, demographics, and cultural identities. Groups of people, whatever the continent, have always rearranged themselves in response to the flow of capital and the political institutions that plot its trajectory.
The fundamentally new idea is actually that Europe’s 20th century demographics and political borders would for some reason remain static — something that nationalists are belligerently enthusiastic about ensuring. They would have Trumplike tribalism over engagement with meaningful interstate dealings, on which small European countries are utterly dependent, and have been since the days of mercantilism.
Most right wing parties know very well that their political success depends on a climate of division and a belief that society is in mortal danger. Giving any ground to establishment figures making positive strides in policy undermines the right’s fundamental arguments. On the flipside, overstating threats to European nations, such as the capabilities of terrorist groups, is in their interest. This perverse set of incentives does not bring with them cause to craft meaningful political solutions, but it does allow right wing parties to do one thing that establishment politicians still fear doing — admitting that a very substantial number of Europeans see themselves as nationals first and Europeans second.
The Question of Union
It’s no surprise that with regional distrust comes anger and division, especially when new flows of capital and people in a global world are not analogous to the political borders, cultural assumptions, and regional structures of old. Still, more often than not, it’s regional attitudes and village-level shortcomings, not the EU in general, that is the greatest threat to the European Union at large.
The sad truth, or perhaps just my sad opinion, is that if European countries as a whole truly are indifferent to a world beyond their borders, holding instead a sense of homogenous regionalism above all else, then they shouldn’t be accepting migrants, and they shouldn’t be participating in the European Union. Forced participation is ineffective, and will only validate right-wing claims of institutional failure. An empowered nationalist party in any country is only going to further the divide between various cultural communities, and encourage more substantive amounts ghettoization, regionalism and even violence. Just look at Hungary.
That being said, if Europeans are the rational and more-importantly open-minded people that I have observed them to be, then they will value the world at large. They will want to participate in a society that stretches beyond regional accents and local traditions. Most important of all, Europeans could be, as they still largely are, an example to the world of what can be achieved when petty divisions aren’t simply ignored, but supplanted by higher goals, global priorities, and recognition that we’re all in this tumultuous world together, villages and all.