Is Athens burning? Reflections on a Divided Europe

Blog post by: Sam Kramer

January’s elections in Greece left no uncertainty as to the popular opinion there. Far-left, anti-Euro Syriza won 48% of the seats, one of the biggest margins since democracy’s return in 1976. Berlin and Brussels are concerned for the rest of the Eurozone. Greece, saddled with debts and obligations it cannot hope to fulfill, may choose to leave the Eurozone for the comforts of its own currency. Germany may be happy to see it depart, but if fellow sufferers like Portugal or Spain leave, a European consensus would be hard to muster. The problems extend well beyond economics. Greece’s potential departure is a symptom of the decline of liberal values in Europe, exacerbated by American neglect and economic malaise.

Liberal democracy was introduced in Europe like a rare breed of rabbit, in captivity, and now is fading in the public eye as a viable alternative to populism. The far right in Germany, a nation which has outlawed Holocaust denial and clamped down on neo-Nazi movements, won almost a tenth of the vote in the 2014 European parliamentary elections. Yet pragmatic, centrist politicians developed the European Union and its currency. The founders of European unity, Social or Christian democrats like Robert Schuman and Alcide de Gaspieri, believed in a humane system governed by laws. Social fairness, enforced by an impartial judiciary, helped restore Europe’s strength and stability after the Second World War. Seventy years after its conception, the European liberal ideal grows more distant. Democratic values are no longer taken for granted, a sign they are under threat. This is especially vivid in the European leadership’s positions. Chancellor Angela Merkel, the main proponent for the Euro and austerity policies, was described in a New Yorker article as “… a learned democrat – not a born democrat, like Americans.” Many European politicians grew up in the Communist or wartime period, when liberties were severely curtailed and there was no civil society. Without the inherent assumption of freedom present in American politics, they are no longer fully convinced that liberal democracy, contingent on defending the rights of individuals and opposing extremist forces, is the most effective plan for their nations.

This is evident in the rise of anti-Islamic and anti-Roma legislation in France, coupled with the rise of explicitly anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and xenophobic parties, whose racism lurks under the mask of secularism and patriotism. Governmental discrimination is coupled with popular anti-Semitism such as Dieudonné M’Bala M’bala’s skits, which insult Jewish custom, mock the Holocaust, and dismiss critics as tools of conspiracy. Here, illiberal tendencies hold sway over the powerful and powerless, ruler and ruled. This un-democratization will have grave consequences for the international balance of power, if it has not shaken it already.

The United States, accustomed to an unquestioning European bloc supporting its main objectives, will need to readjust its policy towards the region dramatically. The United States is not seen as a positive force, but as a conqueror, a hegemon in power solely due to an accident of geopolitics. The far right plays on this by spinning tales of American subterfuge and imperialism, assisted by spineless Eurocrats. The fever swamps of radical nationalism are drained by a ceaseless commitment to liberalism and toleration.

Liberalism needs support to display its viability to detractors. This requires steady American investment and attention in order to stiffen the anti-populist resistance still present. This nation cannot continue dishing out “freedom fries” and taking potshots at European “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” Europe is the United States’ first line of defense and must be treated as such. Cultural and academic cooperation must be increased to shore up the defense of liberalism in a land where it is not yet fully accepted. Creating a series of institutes with branches across Europe, with the express purpose of assisting the liberal movements across the continent, would go a long way in demonstrating US commitment and gaining the support of the academia, historically so critical of US policy. The United States can thus secure ideological allies in a multipolar world.

Political assistance in the form of military aid is crucial to the continent’s stability. Sequester or not, European nations no longer have the will or resources to maintain standing armies. The United States, possessing both, has a duty to make up the difference. Russian forces, numbering in the millions, are watching a weakened Europe, ready to spread their influence. American arms, money, and morale will be required to reassure Europeans that their sovereignty and the lifestyles they currently possess will not be taken easily. Europe and the United States are bound by Article 5 of the NATO treaty and by the spirit of the United Nations to back each other in times of national or international crisis. As friendly governments seem ready to collapse, it is the United States’ time once more to rehabilitate its ally.

To further fortify Europe, it is essential for the United States to provide assistance in relieving the social pressures threatening Europe. The United States must lead by example in reforms, especially in immigration, where cultural rather than economic concerns must be addressed. The economic slump is a symptom of the corruption, ethnic factionalism, and inefficiency of the present system. A united Europe needs American aid to ease reforms and lessen the social pressures caused by a rapid integration with little security for many. The United States, with its successful integration of radically different cultures, can prove that a nation’s borders are, as Ronald Reagan noted, “something other than a locale for a nine-foot fence.” Assistance in ensuring continued prosperity and employment to prevent social disorder is equally important.

The present TTIP negotiations contribute to Europe’s economic stability by deepening ties with one of its largest markets – the United States. Such active policies will help ensure a stable, tolerant, prosperous European continent able to ward off the nationalist specter. Liberalized trade would provide an enormous market, flush with money from the recent recovery, for European goods. The recent currency drop would make European goods more affordable, bringing quality into American homes and money into European pockets. An increase in revenues means an increase in the standard of living, thus confidence in the status quo and an unwillingness to risk it on nationalist adventures.

Caught between the extreme left and the far right, Europe’s liberalism is imperiled. The Greek elections demand a forceful response from the “arsenal of democracy” – or risk losing the gains of 1945 and 1989. To support fellow liberals the United States must provide reassurance in the form of military aid and economic openness. This can help stabilize the continent, thus warding off the lure of populism and hyper-nationalism.

The Globe Staff

Author: The Globe Staff