Big events, big consequences
In late January we saw the definitive stages of two troubling developments that we believe may have a considerable impact on what will happen in Europe in the next decade or so. Of course, we are talking about Brexit and the newly-elected President of the USA Donald Trump’s formal entry into power.
On Tuesday, January 17th, British Prime Minister Theresa May finally shared a more or less clear picture of her government’s and the United Kingdom’s plans for exiting the European Union, including leaving the European Single Market and vowing to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over British law. Already questionable were the actual feasibility and procedural hurdles involved in staging a full-on detachment from a complex transnational organization, the odds of re-negotiating a viable alternative to incumbent cooperation, as well as the apparent contradiction of the UK becoming more “global” by cutting its ties with a major market and a natural, historic partner. What became clear now is that the UK, a country closely engaged in European integration for almost half a century, is now firmly set on sailing off in an unknown direction, away from continental Europe. And despite May’s reassurance that the UK is not turning its back on Europe, and knowing that the Prime Minister does not nearly express the will of all British citizens, sadly, we cannot help but feel that this is exactly what is happening. Both the UK and the EU will probably survive the divorce, but the former has, coincidentally or not, chosen the least opportune moment to file its documents.
Why is the moment so particularly unfavorable? That calls for taking into account the circumstances under which a loudmouthed, narcissistic swindler, showcasing all the charms of hereditary wealth and privilege, was elected as President of United States of America and sworn into office on Friday, January 20th. If you have followed closely the presidential campaign, you would have noticed all the vitriol that went into it, as well as the markedly disquieting pledges coming from the now President’s camp to dismantle important progress made in key areas, such as taxation, health-care, climate change and immigration policy. There are multiple facets to this startling unwinding - from perceived cracks in democracy to uneasy historic references, oddly crystallizing through a juxtaposition between the new US President’s inauguration speech and the one marking the assent of a comic book villain, itself probably based on real-life nationalist propaganda. It remains to see whether President Trump will deliver on all his promises, but reports coming in merely days after the inauguration ceremony are not good - if it is any indication Obamacare, LGBT and reproductive rights, financial support to major civil actors and the arts, environmental causes and asylum policies are already on the chopping board.
Europe at stake
|Photo: Marketa (flickr); Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0|
We perceive two of the aspects as outstandingly alarming from a European perspective. What clearly transpires is the newly-elected President’s undisguised commitment to back down on America’s involvement in transatlantic security relations that have, for quite a while now, served as the backbone of the Western democratic community. At the same time, the freshly sworn President seems less than impressed by a potential European unravelling. He was indeed content to define Brexit, a development well-suited to serve a major blow to the European project, as a “great thing”. Even more alarming is the use of “alternative facts” by the new US President and his team to build an exclusivist reality, serving the presumed demands of a hard majority.
Europe is particularly vulnerable to both of those developments. In an international perspective, the European Union is surrounded by unfriendly political regimes. On Wednesday, January 18th, Turkey’s Parliament voted on a new package of constitutional amendments, giving broad powers to the country’s President and paving the way to a fully-fledged authoritarian rule at EU’s doorstep. On the Eastern front, propaganda coming from the Kremlin has now transformed into a “hybrid war”, involving hacking entire elections and buying off local political actors. Both of those regimes are also increasingly playing the revisionist card - strange maps of Europe have emerged recently from both Russia and Turkey, which the latter curiously failed to upgrade.
war against reality
|Photo: Surian Soosay (flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0
More important (and frightening), however, is the all-out war against reality, fought on both US and UK grounds by various agents of chaos, whose rhetorics are permeating the political mainstream - blatantly in the first case and a tad more subtly in the second. The ultimate goal: to upset the “establishment” and replace it with an equally firmly defined majority, getting rid of unwanted social elements, of which immigrants are currently taking the lion’s share of flack. Such scenarios sound unsettling for many reasons, not least because they take away compromise and reason out of everyday discourse. The “establishment” has to be replaced en bloc, entirely - there are no ways for it to be amended or improved. And in doing so all means are allowed - particularly disinformation and misinterpretation of facts, which the aforementioned illiberal regimes are more than happy to borrow. It would have been tremendously more reassuring, however, if those dynamics had not reached American soil.
All of this is scary because it is happening now, in real time, on camera and for everybody to see. With access to information less of an issue, the big question is how facts are interpreted, by whom and on the basis of what ideology. And we have to admit that interpretations by liberal media, based on objective analysis of facts, are seemingly struggling to remain relevant in the battle for truth. In recent years, liberal media and civil society actors have been put under unprecedented pressure, with epithets like “sorosoids” and “liberasts” widely used by anti-establishment supporters to disparage moderate viewpoints or discredit basic democratic tenets. But the real game-changer is the recent US election, which we believe may have a critical validating effect on the surge of nationalist agendas in Europe. Tellingly, the troubling concept of “Lügenpresse” (Lying press) re-emerged and was picked up by the American alt-right - how long until the wave rolls back and hits European shores as a tsunami? Having in mind the upcoming string of key European elections in 2017 and the fact that European far-right leaders already proclaimed the demise of the EU in Koblenz, on Saturday, January 21st, under the hashtag #WeWillMakeOurCountriesGreatAgain?
What you can do and why?
E&M is turning to you as a person that can stand up and help stop things spinning out of orbit in Europe. We are calling all liberally minded people on the continent, the ones who believe in facts, gradual change and the ability of democratic societies to overcome difficult times by peaceful evolution.
We are also turning to young people in particular, as what happens in Europe now concerns mostly you - you are going to be living the active part of your lives in the aftermath of a major shift in Europe. So, it is up to you to decide where this change is going to take you.
And it is no joke: it is happening - the storm is not going to miraculously pass over your backyard. When it hits, you will be straight in its eye, with few possible escape routes. Unfortunately, the safe haven of Liberland has not been created yet. And part of the reason is that there is no territory on Earth that can sustain such a crowd. Let’s then stick together and work our way towards functioning democracies in our own societies.
The time to act, as always, is now. Now, because we have to catch the last stages of normality in a rapid escalation game. Now, because at least on the surface propaganda outlets do not seem especially keen on obscuring their plans, allowing for their opponents to regroup and build a resistance, which is already rolling worldwide. Young people in Europe have been under the radar at all major recent turning points on the continent - so here is a cause that matters and can get you in the open!
So, get active and get political! Go outside! Take a position! Protest - don’t just stand aside and watch your government veer away from democratic norms or hate-mongers get more ground! Support and volunteer for organizations that analyse and promote democracy, such as the European Association for Local Democracy, Democracy International or any relevant civil society organization in your country. Challenge your politicians or the big wigs in Brussels with uneasy questions - don’t let them slip away unnoticed to the next business lunch. Understand how democracy and constitutional liberalism work so you are better able to debate them and protect them. Learn how fake news work so you are better able to recognize them and shut them down. Find interesting ways to spread the knowledge among your peers and write for unbiased media like us. And, finally, get in contact with the people who you know feel the same. Don’t forget - we Europeans are in this together!