Over the past decade the mainstream political, economic, and academic elites have been obsessed with discussing the emergence of the European Union (EU) as the next superpower. It is, however, becoming clear that the EU will not only fail to reach such status, it might even cease to exist in its current form within the next decade or so. The reasons lie not merely in its economic decline but also in the absence of soft-power and sophisticated internal socio-political policies. To understand why the EU is heading down the road to collapse it is necessary to examine the essence of EU’s power.
A quick trip to the Middle East, Latin America or China will reveal the influence of Hollywood designed hedonistic “illusion of life” on some segments of society there. A visit to Paris, Berlin, and Prague will also reveal the same pattern of lifestyle as one would observe among affluent classes in the Middle East, Latin America and China. The reason is the Anglo-Saxon popular culture/ideology forms the basis of the current global order. The post WWII global system is a product of decisions made in London and Washington, not Berlin or Paris. The current global system resembles more closely the ideas of John Lock and Thomas Jefferson than Immanuel Kant or Karl Marx. On a grand level the EU serves as a tool to promote the US designed global order of which modern-day Germany, France and other powerful EU members are a product. Simply put, the EU lacks its own indigenous soft-power. What it has today as soft power is simply a US product with European wrapping. The EU lacks the following specific soft-power prerequisites:
- consumer brands –” an unfortunate reality today is that to become a “global superpower” one needs to create original consumer brands that are household names everywhere in the world, such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nike, McDonalds, or Google that represent a certain attitude towards life. Of course consumer brands are not the main pillar of power but in the case of the EU, the lack of distinctiveness is because pan-European ideologues do not aim to create a new global order –” rather to take control of the current system established by the US, which has its own framework of what superpower status means and part of that “meaning” is the possession of consumer brands. If the EU were to aim at constructing a completely different global order, it would probably not need to worry about creating original consumer brands.
- universities –” the EU does not have major universities that are household names. Eight out of ten of the world’s household name universities are in the US and not in the EU.
- immigration –” while immigration policies worldwide are not what they should be, comparatively speaking, the EU’s immigration policies border on the scandalous. The racially inspired “integration” policies of the EU are in reality assimilation policies that have created a vast pool of disenchanted, underprivileged, and marginalized ethnic and social groups. The expulsion of 8,300 ethnic Romanian and Bulgarian Romas by France between August and October 2010 does not only manifest a racist attitude towards immigration, it also points to the fact that even within the EU there are second- and third-class citizens. Anyone who has lived in Europe can clearly notice the difference in the social acceptance of a Spaniard living in Germany, in contrast to a Polish or a German-born Turk in the same country.
When examining issues of cultural, ethnic, and national identity in North America and Britain, statistics show that a significant number of immigrants who become Canadian or British citizens consider themselves Canadian or Britons, while the rate of European citizens who are from a different ethnic or religious group, and who consider themselves European are significantly lower.
- entertainment –” the EU is not the leader in entertainment culture. Gone are the days of Beetle-mania. When teenagers around the world start actively pirating music and movies made in the EU, then the EU can begin projecting its soft-power on the global level. Such a scenario is not on the horizon yet.
Economy and Economic Culture
The recent economic crisis in the EU has demonstrated that its social stability is tied to its economic wealth and its economic well-being is tied to its political allegiance to the US-designed global order. Since this order is collapsing, the EU will have to reorient the politics of its economy towards a new power center. The EU will have to shift its economy towards Asia or other place not tied to Wall Street. However, this is not a simple task since Asia itself is closely embedded with the US-based financial and economic power structure.
One of the key structural problems for the EU is that it has a single central bank, the European Central Bank (ECB), and therefore, must follow one monetary policy. This single monetary policy often disregards regional peculiarities; especially the specific realities of Eastern and Southern Europe. In fact the uniformity of economic policies often adopted by the EU is what may lead to its collapse.
The structural aspect of EU’s economy, however, is the least of its problems. Economic culture is a huge burden on its economy due to its close ties to the US –” in 2008, $148.2 billion flowed from US residents to EU countries for direct investments, while $181.1 billion flowed from EU residents for direct investments in the US. Unlike the Americans, the EU population is accustomed to an economic system that incorporates strong aspects of socialism. Examples include unemployment benefits, pension, healthcare, maternity leave, and other economic policies that are deeply rooted in the mind of an average EU citizen. Such economic policies are praiseworthy and in line with the principles of Islamic economics. However, since the overall economic system of the EU is closely tied with the US economy that is based on cutthroat capitalism without regard to human well being, the EU will be forced to make sacrifices to save its political and military patron, the United States of America. This means that the humane economic policies to which the EU citizens are accustomed will give way to the most beloved economic tool of Washington: austerity. Street violence in Greece and France shows that austerity will not be an easy policy to enforce and if pushed too far it may trigger a social explosion.
The Bigger Picture
While the military, political, and economic burdens of the EU make it virtually impossible for it to become a superpower, its internal social interrelations and changing demographics are the most crucial risks to its survival. The reality is that the EU population is aging fast. To sustain its economy it needs immigrants. Apart from the material infrastructure required to accept immigrants, the EU needs social “infrastructure” to regulate its relationship with new immigrants. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration in October 2010 that the multicultural experience in Germany has failed shows that the only policy the EU has with respect to immigration is that of assimilation. Although the situation in countries with an official multicultural policy is not very bright either, at least they have minimum standards for accommodating immigrants that can potentially be expanded or modified and become truly fair and supportive of the immigrant population.
From the ban on hijab in France to the ban on minarets in Switzerland, the EU has demonstrated it cannot and does not want to address its existential dilemmas of demographics and immigration. A detailed study on the demographics and immigration published by the EU Commission in 2005 states: “The European Commission (EC) has also argued strongly in favor of immigration. In a communication of 2003 the Commission pointed out that the EU population, due to decreased fertility rates and longer life expectancy, is ageing, and leading to a likely fall in the working population in the 25 states from 303 million to 297 million by 2020. A smaller labor force means less economic growth… As a result the share of Muslim population in the EU-25 by 2050 will be around 20% against the current 3.7%. At the same time, the old age dependency ratio (the ratio of population above 64 to that between 15–”64) will grow up to 41.7% against the current 24.3%… If these tendencies prevail on [the] long run in the future, by the end of the 22nd century, the original European population will decrease to one-fifth of the nowadays level, amounting to a mere 10% of the total.”
Although the EU is in dire need of immigration for its economic well being its unwillingness to accommodate changes brought about by its changing demographics and the needs of its immigrant population may lead to major social upheavals. The current protests against austerity measures have been contained for now due to the fact that immigration and the demographic factor have not yet blended with the current protest movement. Once economic misery converges with demographics and the immigration crisis, the political elite’s racism regarding the issue of civil strife will surface. This will make the EU’s collapse inevitable. Like the US, the EU too has many grave social problems that are currently papered over by the illusion of material prosperity. Once this bubble bursts, critical problems will surface and the failure to propose accommodating and rational social solutions to its problems will create great internal instability.