When Kabul fell in mid-August, virtually the primary response of European leaders was concern of one other wave of refugees arriving on the continent. “We should anticipate and defend ourselves in opposition to main irregular migratory flows,” mentioned the French president, Emmanuel Macron. Armin Laschet, the Christian Democrat candidate hoping to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor within the election that takes place in two weeks, mentioned there may very well be no repeat of the refugee disaster of 2015, when Germany obtained greater than 1,000,000 asylum seekers. By the top of the month, the European Council had agreed to “act collectively to forestall the recurrence of uncontrolled large-scale unlawful migration actions confronted previously”.
The concentrate on “defending” Europe from an inflow of asylum seekers displays a troubling transformation of the European Union over the previous decade. There was a time when “pro-Europeans” had been assured that the world would virtually inevitably be remade within the picture of the EU, because it endlessly expanded its guidelines and exported its mannequin centred on the “social market financial system” and the welfare state. For the reason that eurozone debt disaster started in 2010, nonetheless, Europeans have develop into extra defensive and now see the world largely when it comes to threats.
Towards this background, Europe additionally more and more conceives of itself in cultural phrases. Because the European mannequin has develop into much less credible and compelling – partly as a result of, led by Merkel, Europeans have hollowed it out in an try and develop into extra “aggressive” – “pro-Europeans” now discuss endlessly of “European values”. Ursula von der Leyen’s “geopolitical” European Fee even features a commissioner for selling the European lifestyle (it was initially “defending” relatively than “selling”), who’s answerable for asylum and immigration points.
When Macron turned French president in 2017, he spoke of a Europe qui protège – “that protects”. This was initially, above all, about defending residents from the market; he hoped to reform the eurozone to create a extra redistributive EU. However his plans had been blocked, or relatively merely ignored, by Merkel. Since then, underneath strain from the far proper and more and more mimicking it, Macron has reinvented the thought of cultural, relatively than financial, safety – particularly, from Muslims.
“Professional-European” centrists equivalent to Macron more and more consider worldwide politics when it comes to a Huntingtonian “conflict of civilisations” – however whereas Samuel Huntington noticed the west as one civilisation that will discover itself in battle with China and Islam within the post-cold struggle interval, they see Europe as a civilisation that’s distinct from, and which should additionally assert itself in opposition to, the USA.
The civilisational flip within the European challenge complicates the story of Brexit we’ve got advised ourselves. Leavers have typically been portrayed as craving for a white Britain earlier than mass immigration started within the Fifties. However the actuality is extra advanced. For instance, one-third of Britain’s black and Asian inhabitants voted to depart in 2016. As political scientist Neema Begum has proven, many did so as a result of they noticed the EU as a “white fortress” – and even those that voted to stay tended to not establish as European. Continental Europe usually lags behind the UK when it comes to racial equality – for instance, Brexit dramatically diminished the variety of MEPs from ethnic minorities within the European parliament. (There are not any actual figures as a result of member states equivalent to France and Germany don’t gather ethnic knowledge.)
On the continent, “pro-Europeans” imagine they’ve one thing in widespread with different Europeans that separates them from the remainder of the world – they consider Europe as what the Germans name a Schicksalsgemeinschaft, or group of destiny. Few remainers suppose on this approach; many are real cosmopolitans. The issue is that they’re typically as blind to the fact of the EU as leavers are and assist an imaginary EU relatively than the true current EU. Specifically, many on the British left think about the EU to be far more open and progressive than it truly is. Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator and now a candidate for the Republican nomination within the French presidential election subsequent yr, final week known as for a suspension of immigration from outdoors Europe.
It’s notably odd, when you concentrate on it, that figuring out with “Europe” must be considered an expression of cosmopolitanism. Europe will not be the world and supporting the EU, or pondering of your self as European, doesn’t make you a “citizen of the world”, not to mention a “citizen of nowhere”, as Theresa Could famously advised in 2016. Slightly, it makes you a citizen of a selected area – one which occurs to be the whitest on earth. The truth is, traditionally, “European” and “white” had been largely synonymous – suppose, for instance, of what “European” meant in apartheid South Africa.
It’s true that, after the Second World Conflict, a brand new, extra civic European id emerged, at the least amongst elites, that was centred on what turned the EU. But it surely continuously drew on older ethnic or cultural concepts of Europe for legitimacy and pathos – for instance, probably the most prestigious prize for “pro-Europeans” is awarded within the title of Charlemagne, the embodiment of a medieval European id synonymous with Christianity. As even the time period “pro-European” illustrates, civic, ethnic or cultural concepts of European id had been at all times being elided.
Furthermore, whereas the EU was primarily based on studying the teachings of centuries of battle inside Europe that culminated within the Second World Conflict, and regularly additionally got here to include the collective reminiscence of the Holocaust into its narrative, “pro-Europeans” didn’t even try and study the teachings of what Europeans had performed to the remainder of the world and by no means had something to say in regards to the historical past of colonialism.
The EU has develop into extra embattled in the course of the previous decade because the far proper surges all through the continent and more and more units the agenda for the centre proper and even some centre-left events, such because the Danish Social Democrats. Because of this the delicate civic id that emerged in the course of the postwar interval appears to be giving technique to a extra cultural and even ethnic id – outlined, particularly, in opposition to Islam. In different phrases, whiteness may very well be turning into extra, not much less, central to the European challenge.