The EU is an empire in decay
It is Brussels – not Salvini or Orban – that is a threat to peace in Europe.
24th May 2019
Most Europeans believe that the European Union will collapse within 20 years, raising the prospect of new conflicts and wars on the continent. This is the conclusion of the Berlin-based think-tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations, having carried out polls in 14 EU member states. Younger voters, aged 18 to 34, were especially worried about the prospect of war between current EU countries.
The belief that the EU will disintegrate within two decades is an entirely rational one. The union bears many of the hallmarks of an empire in decay: it has over-extended its borders; it is attracting more outsiders than it desires or can accommodate; it has too many leaders; it has emerging nativist movements; and its poor are growing ever-more angry and resentful towards the political establishment.
However, the second belief – that war between former nations will ensue – is unfounded. There is no appetite among EU member states for another European conflict, and no signs of animosity between nation states on the continent, as there clearly were prior to 1914 and 1939. The only hostility evident today is directed against the EU and Germany’s leadership itself.
The First World War was on the cards ever since 1871, with the unification of Germany, a country that was soon going to dominate the continent as France continued its long decline. Ever since the Napoleonic wars, Britain had made it policy that no single nation should ever again dominate Europe, and by the 1900s Britain and Germany were in an open naval arms race. There was also by then a general desire for war among the populaces, as personified by the cult of Nietzsche and, as Robert Wohl wrote in The Generation of 1914 (1980), the belief that European culture was decadent and needed ‘purification’.
The signs were even more obvious in the 1930s, with Nazi Germany’s re-occupation of the Ruhr, the re-militarisation of the Rhineland, and then the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland. By 1936, Orwell observed, it was clear to most that a forthcoming war was inevitable.
There are no comparable signs today. If anything, the case is the opposite. The defining aspect of Europe’s nationalist and populist movements is not that they represent growing animosity between nations, but rather that they embody a pan-European alliance among like-minded nationalists. Last Saturday, Matteo Salvini, the Italian populist deputy prime minister, held a rally in Milan attended by leading members of 10 different parties across the continent. One by one they took to the stage to denounce immigration and to denounce Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and the French president Emmanuel Macron as ‘destroyers of Europe’.
The real prospect of war on the continent comes not with the disintegration of the EU, but with its continued existence. There may not be any tangible appetite among other EU members for seceding from the Union, but there is clearly something wrong with the model. If it is to survive it will have to become more federated or decentralised or two-tier, otherwise the likes of Salvini or Hungary’s Viktor Orbán will flourish and multiply. But the EU’s ideological leaders are so wedded to ever-closer union that it’s hard to see this happening.
The EU made it as difficult as possible for the UK to leave, with the view of setting an example to other members. Any future member that wants to leave, when the decadent and decrepit Union has become more reactionary, centralised and oppressive, and its members even more discontent, may ultimately have to take stronger measures. Remember Yugoslavia.