Europe’s crisis of culture & institutions

By Garima Sharma, in the Statesman,  16 January, 2016

(Note: Immigration and open door policy of European Union seems to be  doing more harm than good recently. Germany has been most generous in accepting immigrants. Other countries were less to least supportive. Some shout out: the principle “you should not bite of more than what you can chew.” The hooliganism and sexual assaults exhibited by some of the rowdy elements, especially from Muslim countries on New year day has cast a bad name Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.37.28 pmon the uncultured behavior from some countries. If immigrants, instead of being grateful to host countries, behave like terrorists how can any one blame for banning all or  introducing strict screening to decide whom to allow entry? Even where borders are fenced off by barbed wires people, both innocent and crooked, are smart enough to break through ordinary fences as the picture above shows.  The whole world admire the cooperation, common currency, common market  and  free mingling of people without visas in the European Union. Some see it as hesitant steps towards  dream of a World government. We hope that frictions created by unruly immigrants may be settled peacefully in everybody’s  interest. James kotgtoor, editor)

Engulfed by the economic and cultural crisis arising out of the consistent inflow of migrants and refugees into the continent, Europe now stands on the brink of an imminent backlash in the aftermath of the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. According to a report released last week, the assailants in the attacks were identified to be “almost exclusively” migrants and asylum-seekers, primarily of North African and Middle Eastern origin. The issue has produced an unprecedented reaction in Germany and across all of Europe.

The ruling Christian Democratic Union government, led by Angela Merkel, is being blamed for failing to stem the inflow of migrants and refugees, having accommodated more than 1 million migrants and refugees in 2015 in Germany alone. Besides the pressure of enforcing strict deportation and anti-migrant policy, Germany has also seen retaliatory attacks on people of Pakistani and North African origin in Cologne since the past few days.

This is completely at odds with the policy of ever-closer political and economic unification with which the European Union started out in the post-Second World War period, in order to contain the competing nationalisms of individual nation-states and provide a counter to what was widely perceived as Soviet-led left-wing extremism of the Cold War. The European project is now staring at a collapse on both counts.

The moral institutional authority of EU is increasingly becoming wobbly, with the rise of Eurosceptic left-wing and right-wing movements and political parties. This expands to both state and non-state actors across major European countries. A common element of both the left-wing and right-wing ideologies and parties is their scepticism towards the idea of Europe, favouring a return to the ultra-nationalism of the public sector, and an anti-immigration position – although in case of left parties, this anti-immigrant position is not explicitly racist, but merely ‘tolerant’ of the other.

In Germany, this politics has taken the form of two formations, namely, a popular right-wing political party, ‘Alternative for Germany (AfD)’, and an anti-Islamist movement, PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident). In the aftermath of Cologne, PEGIDA organized a massive counter-rally which garnered the support of close to 1,700 people. Given that there were more than 550 complaints on the night of the Cologne mass assaults, Germany has been forced to undertake new changes, relaxing the rules for the deportation of migrants accused of crime.

In France, similarly, right-wing political party, National Front (FN), led by Marine Le Pen, secured an astounding 28 per cent of the vote, winning the first round of elections held in early December 2015, on the plank of anti-immigration and Islamic extremism in France. Other major countries like Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden, have also seen the rise of formidable Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant extremism in the form of emerging political parties.

Besides the rise of extremist political formations, a deeper blow to the moral authority of the EU institutions has come in the form of new governments in countries like Poland and Hungary. The outcomes are just a concrete sample of what the future may look like, if electoral victories of extremist parties actually translate into governmental power. The clearest outcome in this regard has been the decision of the new government, formed by Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS), to conduct a night-time raid on a NATO facility and challenge the autonomy of the country’s Constitution and media.

Despite several warnings from Brussels and the EU’s decision to conduct an examination of the Rule of Law in Poland, the Polish government has gone ahead with its agenda, completely challenging the EU’s influencing position. Similarly, Hungary is another country where a right-wing party is currently in power. The result has been the erection of a 110 mile long fence along its border with Serbia in order to restrict the movement of the Germany-bound migrants. The worst part is that despite all this, Hungarians still voted to victory an even more extremist anti-Semitic party, Jobbik, in last year’s by-election.

The EU has clearly failed to address the ultra-nationalisms of the extremist parties in power, which threatens to alter its institutional fabric and moral principles such as multiculturalism on which it is based.

The current crisis of extremism in Europe is mainly an outcome of failure to forge a closer political and economic union. The EU, instead, established a monetary union and in case of mobility, a passport-free Schengen zone. The fallout of this has been the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis –a saga of botched up national accounts, massive credit bubbles and looming bank-runs. With the bail-out packages imposing economic hardships in the form of austerity on indebted nations like Greece, people are losing faith in the Eurozone, and extreme unemployment and strain on welfare resources is fuelling an anti-immigrant mind-set.

This has driven the Greeks to increasingly vote for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, despite the prevailing support for left-wing ruling Syriza party. Even relatively moderate nations like Britain are seriously debating the merits of a ‘Brexit’ – Britain’s exit from Eurozone – given the prevailing anti-Europe attitudes.

Thus, Europe is staring, not at one but multiple, even isolated, crises of culture and institutions, which has shaped it as a new site of both extremism and humanitarian conflict.The writer is a Research Associate at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies.

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