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Nationalism, Populism and the Collapse of the EU

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Stratfor, april 27, 2012

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said Thursday that the collapse of the European Union is a realistic scenario. According to Schulz, a disturbing trend toward "re-nationalization" and "summitization" has taken hold in the last few months, with heads of state and governments "arrogating more and more decisions to themselves, debating and taking decisions behind closed doors and in disregard of the community method." Schulz also characterized the Fiscal Compact as an attempt to bypass the Commission and Parliament in forging a fiscal union. Meanwhile, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a speech inRomaniathat the "winds of populism" are threatening the open borders ofEurope.

Stratfor has long argued that the financial crisis is in fact a political crisis. The European Union was not designed to withstand an economic crisis that would adversely affect different nations and social classes in a variety of ways. The resurgence of nationalism was an inevitable result as political leaders scrambled to protect their own nations first. A rise in populism was also inevitable, as the classes most affected by austerity reacted on a number of fronts, from immigration to the reduction of social benefits.

National political leaders are bypassing the European Parliament and Commission for two reasons. First, because their positions depend on national political processes.Europetried to combine national sovereignty with supranationalism. In practice, that means national electorates determine who governs and national governments are answerable to that electorate. TheUnited Statesalso began with an ambiguity concerning whether the federal or state governments were sovereign. The southern states seceded based on their understanding that sovereignty rested with the states. Only after a brutal civil war was the federal government affirmed as the ultimate seat of sovereignty.

This leads to the second problem. In theUnited States, plenty were prepared to fight and die to uphold either national or state sovereignty. For both sides there was a moral principle involved concerning the nature of theUnited States.Europehas a long history of citizens fighting and dying for the sovereignty of nations, but who is prepared to fight and die for the European Parliament or the European Commission?

The rise of populism and nationalism inEuropeis a consequence of lost sovereignty. It can be seen in leaders taking control in extra-EU discussions. It can also be seen in the rise of nationalist sentiment hostile to both the European Union and immigration. National leaders are responding to political and institutional realities. Their fate is bound to the nation, not to the European Union. Populists are expressing the sense that European institutions are indifferent to their concerns. Both leaders and populists exhibit real passion, whether born of fear or patriotism.

One of the European Union's more defining traits is its deliberate lack of passion. In a continent where passion has led to endless slaughter, the goal of the European Union was to ban passions and govern according to the principles of disinterested management.

The European Union promised peace and prosperity. But the European Union suffers from what one thinker said aboutWeimarGermany: that it offered a pitiful image of justice without a sword. The European Union lacks the ability to force compliance. It is, in the end, a convenience designed to reach an end; it is not an end in itself.

Schulz's and Van Rompuy's warnings about the collapse of the European Union are not idle scaremongering. Both leaders sense an important dynamic at play: that nation-states speak for the European public in a way that the European Union does not. In theUnited States, Union forces fought and died atGettysburg. No one seriously expects anyone to fight a war to preserve the European Union. It is said that no one would fight forEurope's nation-states any longer. That may be true for many, but not all. The trajectory of populism indicates to us that some will.

That is a sobering and even frightening thought when one considers whatEuropewas a short time ago. The grand illusion of the European Union was that it had abolished that impulse, thatEuropehad watched it disappear during times of prosperity. But times of austerity revive impulses toward nationalism and populism, and railing against them will not make them disappear. The real test ofEuropeis not the financial crisis, but whether the rise of nationalism and populism can be stopped and eventually reversed. It is a possible outcome, but from our point of view not the most likely.

Stratfor, april 27, 2012

 

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