As Germany Goes, So Goes the European Union
“EU leaders must do more to protect the European Union’s external borders or risk a relapse into nationalism.” – German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renz, in May of 2016
With the most recent round of Wahhābīst violence on display in Nice, France during the annual Bastille Day celebrations, and the recent Brexit vote, one thing should be certain to all observers: the European Union is disintegrating. As I argued both in my interview with Don Kroah as well as in my article on Brexit, the EU has stopped delivering on its economic promises, prompting most European voters to reassess their commitment to the Union. What began primarily as an inspired free trade agreement between (initially) France and Germany in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), rapidly devolved into the sclerotic political union that we know today. Indeed, the real economic powerhouse–particularly now that England disassociated itself from the EU–is Germany. For the last decade or so, German politics have driven the politics of the EU.
During the Greek debt talks, the Germans were understandably intransigent on forgiving the debt loads of the southern European countries. This caused significant strains within the EU. Then, as the Syrian Civil War dragged on, the Germans made an incredibly sympathetic–albeit destabilizing–gesture of agreeing to take on as many of the Syrian refugees as they could. This has yielded mixed results, to say the least. The lax EU immigration policies also led to a wave of understandable fear on the part of several other members, such as the United Kingdom, who worried that they were not only economically suffering, but also on the brink of being consumed by a wave of immigrants who were culturally dissimilar and potentially hostile to their way of life. While the fear may seem overblown to many Americans, the fact is that the Europeans have had a notoriously difficult time assimilating the populations from North Africa and the Middle East into the culture. The addition of many more dispossessed refugees has only compounded these problems. Indeed, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel went from being praised for her compassion to being castigated for her soft-headedness. Rapes and murders have exponentially increased in regions of Germany where the refugees have been resettled. Concern over the same happening throughout the EU, as the human wave of refugees courses through the different countries of Europe, on their way to those states, such as Germany, that have agreed to take them in has exacerbated the disunity and overall disenchantment that has been growing from within the EU.
“For Italians, one of the main gripes about Brussels are the economic austerity policies that the country has had to endure, and a perception that they are being dictated to by fiscally stronger countries, in particular Germany.” – Nick Squires, Reporter for The Telegraph, in his recent article on the ramifications of Brexit for the EU
Between the cost of maintaining the European Union in its present condition economically for most northern European states–especially Germany–coupled with its ongoing political discord, thanks in large part to its lax immigration policy, there seems to be a growing backlash within EU member states. The rise of Right-Wing parties throughout Europe, and their growing electoral successes, should be particularly unnerving to most Europhiles. Germany is not immune to this reactionary phenomenon. Indeed, there is a growing number of Germans who have become disheartened by the EU in its current form, and have started to blame Angela Merkel and her political allies in Germany.
According to the German newspaper, Handelsblatt, 29% of Germans favor leaving the European Union, whereas 54% favor remaining in the EU, with a remaining 17% undecided (which is where most of the movement for or against German disassociation from the EU will emanate, as events unfold). What’s more, a majority of German voters are upset with Angela Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis, believing that she overcommitted the country’s limited resources at the expense of law and order, as well as economic stability. Also, as mentioned above, German frustration with bailing out the rest of Europe’s shattered finances is compounding the German disenchantment with the current EU structure. Indeed, the conservative alternative to Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrat Party (CDU), the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party, is experiencing record-breaking popularity in the face of this growing discord over the migrant crisis in Germany and disenchantment with the inefficiency of the European Union. In fact, a recent BILD report indicates that the AfD, since recently adopting a stringently anti-Islam stance, is polling in at 15% popularity–that makes it the third-most-popular political party in Germany right now. Just for some context, Angela Merkel’s CDU remains in first place with 33% popularity, and the CDU’s parliamentary allies, the center-left Social Democrats, have roughly 20% popularity.
It should be noted, however, that as anti-Islamic sentiment has risen in Germany since the influx of refugees, and the subsequent increases in violent crime, roughly 49% of Germans express skepticism over the efficacy of the AfD’s anti-Islam political platform. And according to the BILD poll, about half of the respondents still believed that individual Muslims who live in Germany are, in fact, German. However, the fact of the matter is that Angela Merkel and her CDU party are under siege and are likely to suffer significant losses during the next election, should trends persist. Given what’s at play in Germany–and throughout most of Europe–it is unlikely that a more moderate-to-center-left political coalition wins any forthcoming election.
Even with the Germans nowhere near as averse to remaining in the EU as the British were, the numbers on Germany’s EU membership, the popularity of the AfD party, as well as the anti-immigration and anti-Islamic movements are all trending upward, as the forces of status quo in Germany are in decline. Plus, despite whatever skepticism that nearly half of the German population polled may have toward a purely anti-Islamic political platform does not mean that a party like the AfP will not gain political momentum and greater power.
After all, the British electorate was deeply divided over their decision to exit the European Union. Despite this, the decision went the way of the Leave crowd, who had generated considerable momentum, in light of the ongoing immigration crisis and economic downturn. Remember, in most democracies the world over, pivotal electoral decisions are rarely made overwhelmingly in one direction or the other. It routinely falls to whichever side has enough galvanized supporters to generate a modest cleavage of independent, or undecided, voters toward their cause. Under these circumstances, current events coupled with long-standing fears routinely play into the decision-making process of most voters. Hence, the Brexit vote.
And, I believe that the Brexit vote was just the beginning.
Even if the Germans do not fully disassociate from the EU in the way that Great Britain did (or in the way that the Greeks desire to do), the above Pew Research Center poll indicates that a large number of Germans–43%–insist upon a reordering of their relationship with the European Union (with an additional 25% seeking no change at all, and just 21% in favor of greater centralization with Brussels). Yet, growing dissatisfaction over the economic situation, coupled with cultural antipathy over the lax immigration policies, and growing discontentment with the all-encompassing political union of the EU, all led to Brexit. I believe similar trends may be afoot within the German electorate.
And, before anyone starts to argue this point, the numbers above indicate that you cannot deny the fact that almost half of Germans desire to renegotiate the level of power that the central EU government has over the member states. This is exactly what outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron wanted last year, when he broached the subject of opening up renegotiations for British membership to the European Union. While many British conservatives favored a Brexit, Mr. Cameron, no friend of the “Leave” movement, sought to at once secure his political support whilst keeping Britain in the EU, but in a more favorable position for the UK. Unfortunately for Cameron, he miscalculated the intransigence of the EU (further demonstrating the wholly undemocratic nature of the European Union), in particular the unwillingness of European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker, who has subsequently been blamed as the chief cause on the European side for Brexit by the other members of the European Union. Since these accusations were made at Juncker, he has resisted calls to step down from his position. Indeed, there is little evidence that he has taken into account his responsibility for the recent Brexit vote. As such, should the German government decide to appease the growing number of Eurosceptics within its electorate (which Merkel might have to do, in order to have a shot at staying in power) by opening a renegotiation of EU powers over Germany, the issue could get away from the CDU coalition, and the vote could go the way of Brexit.
There can be little doubt that significant and lasting changes are underway within the German electorate and their views on the European Union. Whether there will be a serious movement to Gerexit will remain in question. However, as stated above, should the trends continue in favor of Germany renegotiating its level of sovereignty within the EU, as Britain initially sought to do, it is likely that they will be pushed farther away from the EU, should Juncker retain his inflexible view on members renegotiating their sovereignty status. Yet, it should be noted that the British are on the extreme end regarding their dim views of European integration. This is likely due to historical, cultural, and geographical reasons, as I noted in my previous article on Brexit.
Germany, on the other hand, has always had a far more favorable of the European Union than the British. As a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the Free Trade Agreement that preceded the European Union during the Cold War, West Germany (as well as France) found that it had increased power and economic opportunity, due to its integration in to the nascent European market. After the Cold War ended, and Germany was reunited, the Germans favored increased integration into the European common market. They were a leading proponent of the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which created the modern economic-politico incarnation of the European Union that we know today.
But, the numbers that I exhibited above do not lie and the trend lines are moving in the wrong direction, if you are a German favoring increased–or even maintaining the current–levels of integration with the EU. As the migration crisis worsens (and it will, since it appears that the Turkish coup failed, meaning that the Islamist Erdogan government will remain in power, and will continue to allow untrammeled immigration to and from the Middle East through their territory), expect to see greater levels of instability within the EU, which will likely prompt Germany to seek a renegotiation on the level of sovereignty that they enjoy within the EU. Once that occurs, expect other states that have long flirted with leaving the EU to become emboldened to also renegotiate their status en masse.
Toward an Altered European Union
Even still, it is unlikely that the European Union will simply collapse overnight. What is more likely to occur is that the EU will fundamentally shift away from a political union, first, and an economic Free Trade Agreement, second, back to its original form as a Free Trade Agreement. As this occurs, there will continue to be shifts and changes, as the Union slowly fragments. During the Greek Debt Crisis, there was serious talks of regional trading blocs being formed within the EU Free Trade Area, divided between Northern and Southern Europe, in order to mitigate the negative effects of the debt-laden southern European states whilst maintaining the prosperity of the northern European states. This idea was ultimately nixed. However, I could foresee a shift toward this direction.
I do not believe that most Germans favor a total exit from the EU, but they do favor increasing their ability to control their borders. This is something that they cannot do under their current status as an EU member. It requires the EU as a whole to enhance its border security, and this is something that the EU has been unwilling–or unable–to do. So, a renegotiation of their sovereignty status within the EU could eventuate in the inevitable regionalization of trading blocs, in an attempt to save the concept of the EU. This was something that several analysts suggested during the darkest days of the Greek Debt Crisis. The logic here would be to not only mitigate the ongoing political fallout in Germany regarding Chancellor Merkel’s handling of the ill-fated Greek bailout, but also give greater authority to those northern European states most threatened by the influx of refugees. But, with the Syrian Civil War persisting, and the current instability throughout the Islamic World getting worst, it is unlikely that even this will stop the slide toward disunion.
Indeed, in the face of the recent spate of attacks by the Islamic State within Europe–notably in France and Belgium, but also the mass sexual assaults in Germany–it seems that the internal contradictions of the EU are becoming more and more pronounced. These contradictions are becoming exacerbated by the severe demographic shifts that have been underway in Europe for almost two decades and are now worsening, due to the unmitigated influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Fertility levels among native-born Germans have remained well below the societal replacement level, or the level of fertility that most analysts believe is necessary to maintain and perpetuate a state’s economy and culture. As fertility levels go below the baseline societal replacement level of 2.1 children per women, and the longer these numbers remain below the 2.1 threshold, and as immigration increases–and as those immigrants’ fertility rates remain above the 2.1 threshold–the less likely that the indigenous culture will remain the dominant one. Germany’s fertility rate has been in steady decline since 1966, at 1.38 children per women.
Now, I am not here to cast a judgement on whether this is a good thing or not, but to say the least, the ontological disruptions that such a shift away from a purely postmodern Western cultural narrative being dominant in Germany and toward something else, will cause fundamental disruptions across all of Germany. These contradictions will only play into Germany’s potentially impending disassociation from the EU. Indeed, many analysts have remarked how Europe seems to be undergoing a civil war. This, many claim, is due to the massive dislocations caused by the seismic political shifts of the native-born European populations slowly being displaced by far greater numbers of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants, who are not being assimilated into the various European states that they are emigrating to.
This is not to entirely because the immigrant populations are opposed to becoming fully European. In most cases, when the immigrants come into Europe seeking a better life, they are shunned, abused, and prevented from achieving their full economic potential due to the fact that most European states, despite their governments being champions of very liberal immigration policies, are not adept at assimilating these populations. In some cases, it is simply a case of overt racism on the part of the Europeans. But, in many other cases, it is cynical outlook on the immigrants. The Europeans, for the most part, are keenly aware that their native-born populations are both getting too old to continue working, and their native-born young are not numerous enough to enter into the workforce and sustain the current cradle-to-grave entitlement system that pervades most European states (particularly northern and western European states). With more elderly going on more benefits than there are young people to pay into that system, the European governments encourage immigration in order to increase their tax rolls, however, this causes the resentment of many people because they fear that immigrants will either a) compete for the limited entitlement benefits, thereby reducing how much the native-born populations receive, or b) threaten the job opportunities of native-born workers.
These demographic trends are not going to abate. Even if the Germans were to reverse their native-born fertility rates, the fact remains that the immigrants (most of whom are from Muslim countries and many of whom favor Sharia law) in Germany outnumber the native-born Germans. Plus, the immigrants tend to be on the younger side whereas the native-born Germans are mostly older. While I do not want to come out fully in favor of the “Eurabia” thesis, it does seem that, with the continual influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, coupled with the insufficient fertility rates of the native-born Germans, as well as what many native-born Germans deem to be as the unacceptable cultural changes that the Syrian refugees have brought with them, means that there are serious changes at hand in Germany’s politics.
To Disintegrate or Not? That Is the Question German Voters Face
“Fernand Braudel, the great environmentalist and geographer in France in the middle and early part of the 20th century, wrote that Europe’s real border is not the Mediterranean. Its real southern border is the Sahara Desert, and that North Africa — thinking back historically over millennia — is integrated into Europe. It’s only been in recent decades that it hasn’t been.” – Robert D. Kaplan
No one believed (other than me) that Brexit was going to happen. Even when they claimed that it was going to happen, they decried it as “foolish” and “self-destructive.” I have never seen such irresponsible commentating by otherwise well-informed people. Likewise, there is a movement afoot in Germany that, like the Brexit vote, is seeking to shore up Germany’s distressed borders. This movement has become increasingly incensed over Chancellor Merkel’s handling of the immigrant crisis, as well as what they perceive to be Merkel’s insufficient handling of the ongoing economic crisis. As the situation worsens, and as the demographic realities begin to set in, the Germans are at the very least going to seek a renegotiation of their sovereignty status within the European Union. If the EU is open to this renegotiation, then things might be less caustic for the Union. However, should the EU take a similar position to what it took when British Prime Minister Cameron brought it up in February 2016, then I suspect that tensions will mount in Germany’s political structure, and an inevitable backlash will occur that could be as serious as another major member exiting the Union.
And, despite the fact that the United Kingdom was indeed a significant economic contributor to the EU (it is the sixth largest economy in the world, after all), it could never have the kind of impact on European unity that Germany has enjoyed for years. When the debt crises consumed the EU, it was mostly the Germans who led the EU response. Germany’s significant leadership role in the EU is what led to the EU’s lackluster response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 as well as its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. This was due to the fact that Germany has extensive–and vital–natural gas ties with Russia. As Russia sought to make its unlawful moves in what it deems to be its sphere of influence, it put pressure on Germany in order to get the European Union to force the United States into a more conciliatory approach with the Russians. Should the Germans decide to perform their own exit of the EU over cultural, political, and lastly, economic disagreements, it is likely to have a far more devastating impact on the European Union than Brexit ever could have had.
Thus, as Germany goes, so goes the European Union. Therefore, the question of European disunion, I believe, is largely predicated on how the German electorate responds to the ongoing–and increasing–immigration crisis. Thus far, it has not responded in ways that favor continued, or increasing, centralization with Brussels.
So, if you want to know about European disunity, more than anything, just ask the Germans. The numbers and political trends in Germany, I believe, are very telling. And they could portend European disunion.