Europe in confusion
Europe’s inner harmony of the early 1990s was first affected greatly amid the failure in mid-2000s of the European Constitution project and has since been virtually destroyed by political ambitions, ignoring the sentiments of ordinary Europeans. Obviously, they were in a grave need of undergoing certain internal restructuring and self-revision as one community. That one-community thinking suffered a blow in the light of the sentiments that emerged amid the 2009 financial crisis in Greece. Back then, these attitudes were largely – and openly – ignored by the European establishment.
Russian occupation of Crimea, Islamic terrorist attacks, unprecedented waves of external migration, Brexit, and Donald Trump’s victory topping the cake have dragged Europe into a state of sheer confusion. Europeans today believe that not only the continental security architecture has at one point collapsed, but also a long-established lifestyle they have enjoyed over the recent decades of safety and security.
At the same time, it seems wrong to agree with the opinion alleging some sort of a serious crisis of European values. Most likely, it was the EU’s path toward undue acceleration of political integration that failed most amid apparent economic imbalances, fiscal dissonance, and prevailing significant cultural and mental difference, all affecting public attitude across the member states toward priority issues of further EU development.
Europeans today believe that not only the continental security architecture has at one point collapsed, but also their long-established lifestyle
In this context, it should be reminded that the Kremlin in recent years has not only created a wide network of the so-called "Putin's friends" across Europe, starting to actually affect European policies; he also skillfully exploits the concept of western pluralism and transparency to achieve his goals.
Russia’s traditional tools of influence include corruption, disinformation, economic and energy blackmail, mobilization of Russian-speaking diaspora, Russian-funded NGOs and expert centers, the Russian Orthodox Church, and even some media outlets. Moreover, the Kremlin seems to select a separate strategy and tactic for pursuing its goals in each European country. Moscow is also well aware of the standards of Western journalism, which praises neutrality, allowing both sides to any conflict to present their positions in equal proportions, and thus very often unwillingly contributing to the Russian propaganda.
A recent influx of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East has highlighted the problem of integration in the European society of the refugees with diverse cultural baggage, provoking a wide public and political debate.
So, the ability of European political elite, bureaucratic and military establishment, intellectuals, and civic activists to realize the necessity of rethinking the unique traits and characteristics of European civilization at its present stage will have a decisive impact on the fate of Europe.
Truly urgent for Europeans is also the need for a new vision and approach to the liberal-democratic theory, based on the belief in the rationality of humans a priori, against the backdrop of the latest political trends, determined primarily by feelings and emotions. The dangers of such trends have too many manifestations in European history and obviously require a system of counteraction to prevent unscrupulous speculation on some elements of the human subconscious.
Obviously, the EU must also finally take decisive steps to counter the Russian influence
At an instinctive level, it feels there is a need for a new European "Renaissance," to provide for a wider debate aimed at finding at least some tentative answers (including philosophical) to a question regarding the directions and pace of the required European transformation.
Obviously, the EU must finally take decisive steps to counter the Russian influence, as Moscow not only seeks to undermine Trans-Atlantic unity, it also aims at discrediting the idea of pan-European integration as a civilizational project. Putin's Russia today puts considerable effort and resources into these measures. In fact, this is the Kremlin’s strategic goal.
Probably, the immediate future of Europe will depend on whether a compromise will be reached between the two main groups of powers: the so-called "older" EU members, vowing to maintain and further increase the powers of supranational bodies, and conditional "neophytes," in particular the Visegrad four along with Sweden, Denmark, and the Baltic states, who seem to be more inclined today to pursue national policies.
In the future perspective, looms an actual threat of a Europe’s regional fragmentation: Northern Region (Nordic countries and Baltic states), Central Europe (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Ireland), and Southern Axis (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta). It appears that such groups, although merely situational so far, have almost shaped up.
It remains difficult to predict the future of Europe in general and the European Union in particular. Judging from Kyiv’s perspective, it appears that the main factor determining the future of Europe will be whether Europeans remember the reasons why they launched that complicated process of creating a unified European Community 60 years ago. It may also happen so that their attitudes will for a long time be overwhelmed with xenophobia and selfishness, while populists and demagogues will enjoy top ratings.
Oleh Bielokolos is an expert at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation