Thursday, January 20

Europe’s reputation as a cosmopolitan refuge has been exposed like a mirage | Hans kundnani

When Kabul fell in mid-August, almost the first reaction from European leaders was fear of another wave of refugees arriving on the continent. “We must anticipate and protect ourselves from large irregular migratory flows”, said the french president, Emmanuel Macron. Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic candidate who hopes to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor in elections to be held in two weeks, said there could be no repetition from the 2015 refugee crisis, when Germany received more than a million asylum seekers. At the end of the month, the European Council had agreed “act together to prevent the recurrence of large-scale uncontrolled illegal migratory movements faced in the past ”.

The focus on ‘protecting’ Europe from the influx of asylum seekers reflects a worrying transformation of the European Union over the last decade. There was a time when “pro-Europeans” were confident that the world would almost inevitably remake itself in the image of the EU, as it ceaselessly expanded its rules and exported its model centered on the “social market economy” and the state of wellness. However, since the eurozone debt crisis began in 2010, Europeans have become more defensive and now view the world largely in terms of threats.

In this context, Europe is also increasingly conceived in cultural terms. As the European model has become less credible and convincing, in part because, led by Merkel, Europeans have emptied it in an attempt to become more “competitive”, “pro-Europeans” now speak incessantly of “European values” . Ursula von der Leyen’s “geopolitical” European Commission even includes a commissioner for promoting the European way of life (she was originally “protecting” rather than “promoting”), who is responsible for asylum and immigration matters.

When Macron became French president in 2017, he spoke of a Europe who protects – “That protects”. Initially, it was, above all, to protect the citizens of the market; he hoped to reform the eurozone to create a more redistributive EU. But his plans were blocked, or rather simply ignored, by Merkel. Since then, under pressure from the far right and increasingly imitating it, Macron has reinvented the idea of ​​cultural protection, rather than economic, in particular, of Muslims.

“Pro-European” centrists like Macron increasingly think of international politics in terms of Huntington’s “clash of civilizations”, but while Samuel Huntington viewed the West as a civilization that would find itself in conflict with China and Islam in the post-cold. period of war, they see Europe as a civilization distinct from the United States and one that must also prevail against them.

The civilizational turn of the European project complicates the story of Brexit that we have told ourselves. Those leaving the country have often been portrayed as yearning for a white Britain before mass immigration began in the 1950s. But the reality is more complex. For example, a third of Britain’s black and Asian population voted to leave in 2016. As political scientist Neema Begum has shown, many did so because they saw the I the “white fortress” – and even those who voted to stay tended not to identify as European. Continental Europe generally lags behind the UK in terms of racial equality; For example, Brexit drastically reduced the number of Ethnic minority MEPs in the European Parliament. (There are no exact figures because member states like France and Germany do not collect ethnic data.)

On the continent, “pro-Europeans” believe that they have something in common with other Europeans that separates them from the rest of the world: they think of Europe as what the Germans call a Destiny community, or community of destiny. Few others think this way; many are truly cosmopolitan. The problem is that they often ignore the reality of the EU as much as those who leave the EU and support an imaginary EU instead of the real existing EU. In particular, many on the British left imagine that the EU is much more open and progressive than it really is. Michel Barnier, an EU Brexit negotiator and now a candidate for the Republican nomination in next year’s French presidential election, called last week for the suspension of immigration from outside Europe.

It is particularly strange, when you think about it, that identification with “Europe” should be seen as an expression of cosmopolitanism. Europe is not the world and supporting the EU, or thinking of yourself as a European, does not make you a ‘citizen of the world’, much less a ‘citizen of nowhere’, as Theresa May suggested in 2016. More Well, do you become a citizen of a particular region, one that happens to be the whitest on earth. In fact, historically, “European” and “white” were largely synonymous; Think, for example, of what “European” meant in apartheid South Africa.

It is true that, after the Second World War, a new, more civic European identity emerged, at least among the elites, which centered on what became the EU. But he constantly relied on older European ethnic or cultural ideas for his legitimacy and pathos; for example, the most prestigious award for “pro-Europeans” is awarded in the name of Charlemagne, the embodiment of a medieval European identity synonymous with Christianity. As even the term “pro-European” illustrates, civic, ethnic or cultural ideas of European identity were always being eluded.

Furthermore, while the EU drew on learning the lessons of centuries of conflict within Europe culminating in the Second World War, and gradually also came to incorporate the collective memory of the Holocaust into its narrative, the “pro-Europeans” did not even attempt to learn the lessons of what the Europeans had done to the rest of the world and never had anything to say about the history of colonialism.

The EU has become more embattled over the last decade as the far right emerges across the continent and increasingly sets the agenda for the center-right and even some center-left parties, such as the Danish Social Democrats. This means that the fragile civic identity that emerged during the post-war period appears to be giving way to a more cultural or even ethnic identity, defined, in particular, against Islam. In other words, it is possible that whiteness is becoming more, not less, central to the European project.

Hans Kundnani is a senior fellow at Chatham House and the author of The German Power Paradox.

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