The rapid rise of new anti-establishment forces, nationalist movements and euroscepticism is wiping over the European continent. The biggest peace project in the history of the world is facing bigger challenges than perhaps ever before as rapid changes reshape the European societies.
The people who experienced the rise of extremist nationalism and fascism in the 1920s and 1930s throughout world are now gone. Many do remember the Second World War itself, but most of the people who experienced the changing tides of both national and international politics of the 1920s and 1930s from an adult perspective are no longer with us. While most of us understand that war is something horrendous, catastrophic and devastating, the new generations of both politicians and citizens seem not to recognise the risks of the tightening atmosphere that almost a century ago led the world to a global military conflict. There is simply no one left around to share with us their first-hand experiences of how neighbours then turned into enemies, borders into war zones and national economies into warfare industries.
The roots of the European Union stretch down to the post-World War II Europe, where the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established in 1951 mainly to tie together the French and German production of coal and steel. This was done to keep the countries from equipping themselves towards a new war. As decades passed, the European countries saw it fit to tighten their cooperation and interdependence. In terms of political theory, Ernest B. Haas first dictated this in 1958 in his theory of neofunctionalism and especially the spillover theory associated with the former. In a nutshell, the neofunctionalist theory indicates that cooperation in one field usually spills over to a form of cooperation in another, and in the case of the EU what was first conducted as rather simple, economic decisions in uniting the production of French and German coal and steel, has led to multiple forms of political unity in terms of monetary policies, inner markets and free movement of goods and people, just to name a few. The talks about common European defence politics can thus be seen as a natural continuity to the other forms of integration, a development that was first put forward to prevent further violence.
In the light of these historical aspects, the rise of euroscepticism, the new right, and political phenomena such as Brexit might first strike one with astonishment. Why would the biggest peace project in world history face such protest, distrust and neglect? Multiple new right parties across the continent are expressing their willingness to exit the union, tighten their immigration policies and safeguard their national identities from ‘external threats’, not to mention their distrust against the European Monetary Union (EMU) and the Euro. It is also obvious that these parties, such as the Finns Party in Finland, Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) in France and Geert Wilder’s Party For Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, have risen to power through a democratic process of free elections.
The ‘civic zeitgeist’ is said to be the prevailing trend in modern day politics. This means that democratic and liberal civic values are so widespread and generally accepted that parties which decide to follow the footsteps of traditional fascist parties in opposing to those values will only exclude themselves from the core of political decision making. A Norwegian scholar, Elisabeth Ivarsflaten, further emphasizes this phenomenon by her notion of ‘reputational shields’, by which she indicates that a party, which does not have a reputation of supporting the democratic, civic aspects of modern politics by being openly fascist of racist, will not gain general support from the public. Therefore, the new right has successfully reformed its political agenda to suit this development. Immigrants are no longer bad just because they are different, but because they form a threat to ‘’our values’’ these parties are so eager to safeguard. It is therefore ironic that the very components of democratic politics are turned to oppose the core ideology those components are traditionally used to shield; inclusiveness, equality, and fundamental human rights.
As the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis swept over the world, it was obvious that the general distrust against governments and established institutions would not leave the EU untouched. The rapid changes of the new decade caused by increasing globalisation resulted in big, political changes such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States. The EU faced, and is still facing bigger challenges and questions than perhaps ever before. The fragmentation of the European societies across the continent presents a serious threat to the unity the EU has been building throughout the decades.
As globalisation and modernisation change the traditional structures of societies, the populist new right often provides the easy, even simplistic answers to the new complex challenges. The EU, immigration, free movement of people, and the Euro are quick and easy to blame, where as in reality many of the changes would have taken place nevertheless. Take Finland for example: the country has, for decades, been using its vast forests to fuel the paper industry. After the IT revolution took place, the need for paper fell dramatically, and consequently the paper industry left many people unemployed and in search for new sources of income. As the rapid changes in the society cause surges in unemployment and insecurity, the political platform risks becoming fragmented between the ones who benefit from these changes and the others that do not. In reality, the fragmentation does not benefit anyone but rather precludes the possibilities for cooperation that is needed to take the society forward as a whole.
The European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its consistent work for European peace in 2012. The then president of the Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, emphasized the way the EU had successfully turned a ‘’continent of war’’ to a ‘’continent of peace’’. ‘’That should not be taken for granted – we have to struggle for it every day,’’ Jagland said. Therefore, it is so vitally important that all political parties, national governments, organisations and citizens of the EU recognise the quest for peace regardless of their different opinions, standpoints and political agendas. The greatest enemy to peaceful democracy is we, the very same people who should be safeguarding the peace.
TEXT Ella Kivisaari
PHOTO Wikimedia Commons
Kirjoittaja on kauppa- ja valtiotieteen ylioppilas, joka suorittaa opintojaan Aberdeenin yliopistossa Skotlannissa, ja kevääksi 2018 hän suuntaa Erasmus-vaihtoon ScienesPo Rennesiin Ranskaan. Erityisen kiinnostunut Kivisaari on kansainvälisistä suhteista, ihmisoikeuksista, maailmantaloudesta, Skotlannin ja muun Britannian tulevasta suhteesta EU:hun sekä kansallismielisen äärioikeiston noususta Euroopan eri kansallisvaltioissa.