Today we stand on the precipice of a European implosion. A popular referendum on July 5th may determine if Greece will leave the monetary union, and perhaps, according to its Central Bank, also the EU. A Syriza look-a-like party, Podemos, has captured the hearts of voters in Spain and now rules its two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona. Britain’s Tory party, bowing to its rightist fringe, threatens a “Brexit.” Anti-immigrant, far right parties are winning elections from Denmark to France to Italy.
In the face of these twin populist insurgencies of the far-left and the far-right Europe’s parties have floundered, shedding votes and legitimacy in the eyes of their constituents. Europe’s politicians have ceded the podium to firebrands, racists and reactionaries, allowing them to pick apart the very raison d’etre of Europe.
Never mind that it was this same group of politicians and political parties that brought upon us this quagmire. That it was their policies that gave us austerity, deflation, economic collapse and failed immigration policies.
But perhaps more damning than their previous errors is their utter and complete lack of responsibility for their actions. Instead of reversing course and shunning the policies of economic misery and integrating their immigrant populations, they lay the blame at the feet of “forces” outside of their control: globalization, technological change and immigration.
Worst of all, they have allowed the Populists to question the very existence of “Europe” as embodied by the European Union. Their failure and deafening silence created a void for Populists to fill.
Today’s “Europe” exists for a reason. It rose from the shadows of a very dark chapter in European history. A chapter defined by war, genocide and fratricide. “Europe” was created to firmly end that chapter.
But “Europe” doesn’t just serve as an alternative vision to chaos – it is also the positive vision for society that the world sought to build after the devastation of war. A place where tradition and modernity exist in mutually beneficial unison rather than cantankerous tension. Where French and German, long at odds with one another, can trade, intermarry and live in peace. It is this positive vision of Europe that Mitterand and Kohl sought to extend Eastward following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that the parties that seek to dismember “Europe” draw their inspiration from the same groups that thrived in Europe’s dark past. They recognize that in a Europe of fraternity, peace and dignity they are not welcome. Thus, they must attack it.
The continued silence (worse, appeasement) by mainstream “Europe” towards these Populists will be our generation’s biggest moral failure. We are all obliged to make the case for “Europe.” It can’t remain the faceless bureaucracy based in Brussels, but rather must be heralded as the very bond that makes this continent great.
On July 5th Greece will get an opportunity to make its case for Europe. A “yes” vote to an agreement and to stay in the Euro can save not only Greece’s shattered economy but also Europe as a whole, a healthy reminder that, despite all its flaws, “Europe” is still an ideal worth fighting for.