Europe in despair

… the European project is imploding – Published on Al-Ahram, by Manal Lotfi from London, July 21, 2016.

Events are moving forward at a dramatic pace and while at first glance they may seem like a series of isolated tragedies they are not. French-Tunisian Mohamed Bouhlel, who photographed himself smiling amid children and their families in Nice hours before he ran over hundreds of people in an explosives-laden truck; a Turkish soldier attempts to hide under an armoured vehicle while another Turk kicks him and a second whips him with a belt following the failed coup attempt in Turkey; a Polish waiter who works at a Soho restaurant sits shaking after Brits vote to leave the EU, an Afghan refugee attacking passengers on a train in southern Germany with an axe — all of these are related, facets of interconnected crises that feed one another … //

… The images that came out of Turkey over 48 dramatic hours showed the absence of Turkish civil society. Instead our screens were filled with army commanders and soldiers facing police, Presidential Guards and Erdogan’s supporters, the vast majority of them men. Women, unions, Kurds, civic organisations, all were absent, a sharp contrast to images of the Taksim demonstrations in Istanbul in 2013. The fact that 15,000-20,000 people took to the streets of Istanbul, a city of 14 million, in response to Erdogan’s appeal holds a clear message. Neither the Kemalist project nor the Erdogan project — both imposed from above — is acceptable to the majority of Turks … //

… The West faces a predicament in dealing with Erdogan. The West needs him for well-known strategic reasons — to stop hundreds of thousands of refugees from washing up on European shores, to fight ISIS, to find a political solution in Syria, to contribute to international security arrangements through NATO. But Erdogan has become an embarrassment. The European right feeds on Turkophobia. While European capitals are reluctant to preclude the possibility of Ankara joining the EU “one day”, far-right nationalist parties are strengthening their base with their rejection of the idea of bringing 75 million Muslims — Turkey’s population — into the EU.

The marginalisation felt by society in Turkey as factions of the state battle it out among themselves is the same marginalisation felt by large swathes of Europeans, including minorities and second- and third-generation immigrants, who feel they no longer have a voice. Austerity policies in the wake of the financial crises of 2008 have changed the mood in Europe creating false enemies, immigrants first and foremost. But the real cause of many of Europe’s problems is the economy of the one per cent, the people who control politics and the media, to whom all the gains of economic growth accrue. The economy of the one per cent has pushed the populace in two directions — towards either religious extremism and violence or right-wing nationalist parties … //

… The rise of the right is a danger to the entire European project. After the biggest wave of mass migration since World War II due to turmoil in the Middle East and Africa right-wing populism has been revived and become a key player on the political scene.

The UK voted to leave the EU in response to its problems. In the wake of the massacre in Nice and the attempted coup in Turkey some in Britain argued the country left just in time, though others seem to be waking up to the grim, after-party reality. The models of post-Brexit relations with the EU will all entail obligations for the UK. Membership of the common European market, for example, will require Britain to contribute to the EU budget and accept freedom of movement, meaning immigrants from Eastern Europe. If the UK decides that barring immigration is more important than the common market it will almost certainly experience a recession. Faced with this dilemma some have said the UK is in a lose-lose situation. It has lost its membership, seat and vote in an economic, political, and military union that it helped to shape over the last 40 years in order to bar hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

Discontent with the European project, in the UK and many other states, goes beyond immigration to the identity of Europe itself. The European project and the status of the individual in it have undergone major shifts. The democratic, emancipatory, enlightened European project has gradually given way to a neoliberalism that sees the individual as a commodity.

Global capitalism has reengineered Europe as a neoliberal outpost. The welfare state and social justice have been eroded amid unprecedented class disparities that promise to have severe consequences.

Whenever an economic crisis looms the most common solution is austerity: cutting social spending, privatising state assets, opening markets to international capital and doing away with labour protection laws.

Faced with all this Europeans have a choice: yield to the neoliberal project that only envisions Europe as an open economic market that must be ready to compete with other economic markets regardless of the human cost, or turn to the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam nationalist far right which wants to close the doors and declare the death of an open, diverse, pluralistic Europe.

(full text).


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… and this:

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