Social Consequences: A European Identity
Historically, the nation state is the foundation of international relations across the globe. The national identities of European states have been evolving separately, and often in competition with one another, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. European nationhood is rooted in ethnicity, not citizenship. African and Middle Eastern nationhood are rooted in tribalism, which is also based on ethnic or cultural identity – not citizenship. As such, a pan-European demos does not exist. For a vast majority of Europeans, being a “European” is a geographical, not a political, distinction. Most people’s identities are not formed by attachment to abstract principles such as liberty, equality, and fraternity, but by cultural, religious, historical, and linguistic ties.
Since 2014, Europe has faced an unprecedented influx of over four million accounted for illegal migrants primarily from the Middle East and Africa, initially triggered by refugees fleeing the war in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Darfur. ISIL and other terrorist networks have utilized the migration to infiltrate the region disguised as refugees or migrants.
The majority of migrants are religiously Muslim adult males and arrived by sea or over land, principally through Turkey and Albania. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates more than 1,011,700 migrants illegally arrived by sea in 2015, and almost 34,900 by land, compared with 280,000 arrivals by land and sea for the whole of 2014. These figures do not include those who got in undetected. The EU's external border force, Frontex, monitors the different routes migrants use and numbers arriving at Europe's borders and estimates more than 1,800,000 refugees and migrants entered Europe in 2015.
Tensions in the EU have been rising because of the disproportionate burden faced by some countries, particularly the countries where the majority of migrants have been arriving: Greece, Italy, and Hungary. The response by individual European governments to this crisis has differed. As unofficial leader of the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel essentially created the migrant crisis by allowing so many migrants to flood into their open borders, particularly the Schengen Zone, threatening national security across Europe. The electorate were never offered a vote on her intended decisions to allow all migrants through, and she has been heavily criticized by citizens and governments of other EU countries alike. In 2015, Germany alone took in over one million refugees and migrants.
Fundamentally, every individual and society has an inherent instinct for self-preservation. This biological and cultural anthropological truth of human nature will never change; it’s in the part of the brain that isn’t logical or rational, simply focused on evolutionary survival. Europeans want to preserve their cultures and many people feel this is threatened by accepting these migrants. This is not the same issue of being open to immigration and appreciating multi-cultural influence; Europeans are known for their social tolerance, but this crisis has pushed many past their comfort zone, particularly in light of increased violence and unlawful behaviour by some migrants unwilling to respect and abide by local laws and customs, and ongoing radical Islamic terrorist attacks in many European countries. Many Europeans are not happy with the way their governments have handled this crisis, particularly without citizen input, which has led to a rapid rise in Euroscepticism and support for Eurosceptic political parties that began from an economic critique. EU and federal government policies of forcefully redistributing migrants among member states has resulted in a high, and increasing, level of resentment among citizens and is an anti-democratic attack on the self-determination and rule of law of member’s nation states.
Political Consequences: Death of Traditional Politics
The political decisions of EU leadership, the economic crisis and austerity measures, and the migrant crisis have collectively taken a toll on the governing political parties all across Europe. Between March 2011 and May 2012, more than half of the eurozone saw their governments collapse or change hands, alongside increased support for nationalism and populism. This trend has continued to present day.
Increasingly, the bureaucratic structures EU elites in Brussels have created take more decision-making power away from citizens and burdened citizens with increasing economic regulation that stifles innovation, choice, and entrepreneurship. The average age across the EU is high, with aging populations and low birth rates because Millennials are underemployed or unemployed. Millennials are unable to afford to get married, start families, or have as many children as they might otherwise want without the financial capacity to raise them and live a desirable quality of life.
While the architects of the EU project are determined to make overarching decisions for the whole of Europe, the fact remains that all politics is local, and citizens are not going to support an unelected government telling their national and local governments, and by extension themselves, what to do. Power that flows from the top-down, rather than the bottom-up is doomed to failure because this arrogance always leads to resistance and uprising from the populace. The EU has no intention nor ability to be democratic and are determining winners and losers with every policy they develop and decision they make. The result has been economic stagnation and decline for nearly every country in the EU.
In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union through a referendum, which was coined Brexit. The United Kingdom has been a member state of the European Union (EU) since 1975, when it joined the European Economic Community (EEC, the EU’s precursor) in 1973. A referendum was held in 1975 with a 67 percent vote in favour of membership, despite objection from the Labour party. In 2016, the UK held a referendum on whether to ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ the EU. ‘Leave’ won with a 52 percent vote in favour, with turnout at 72 percent and more than 30 million people voting. While the mainstream media reported Millennials voted overwhelmingly to Remain, no exit polls were conducted, so there is no evidence to support this claim.
American political strategist James Carville famously said, “it’s the economy, stupid.” The Brexit referendum in 2016 was negatively portrayed by political and news elites as a showdown because Britons who were either racist (Leave supporters) or not (Remain supporters), but this simplistic analysis was as insulting to voters as it was simplistic and inaccurate. Britons voted to leave the EU for primarily economic reasons – they simply cannot afford to, and choose not to, live under an oppressive, handcuffed political, economic, and financial structure anymore.
Millennial Europeans are frustrated by low economic growth, high unemployment, mass immigration, and rising debt. Europeans are frustrated by the burdens of the EU, and the failure of mainstream political parties to address these issues. Populist parties are gaining support from this generation, who believe their national and cultural identities are at risk, particularly with an aging native population and a migrant population, many of whom refuse to integrate and respect European culture and norms.
For the EU to have any chance of continued existence, many of the policy areas now under EU control must be returned to the sovereignty of nation states. The likelihood of this, however, as demonstrated in the hostile Brexit negotiations, is slim, as EU proponents and bureaucrats want to retain the power, influence, and resources they have amassed.