At stake is the Idea of Europe, For it to matter in the 21st century, Europe needs to exhibit leadership

By H K Dua

Apparently, editors of Oxford Dictionary could not come to agreement on how to describe the nature of the current European crisis. They just picked two words from European headlines; Grexit and Brexit as an easy way out.

Grexit is about Greece’s inability to repay its financial debt and its threat to quit the Euro Zone if Europe doesn’t pay its bills.

Brexit is about Britain’s perennial dilemma whether to remain within the European Union or not. Both questions remain unresolved.

Actually, Europe’s crisis is much more serious than a journalistic coinage can describe. The Oxford Dictionary cannot translate what the body of a little Syrian boy in red T-shirt washed ashore the Turkish coast conveys. Aylan Kurdi in his silence has certainly shaken the world’s conscience and of many people in Europe.

Europe, however, seems to be fairly divided on whether to admit more immigrants from West Asia and northern Africa coming in droves every day. The immigration debate in most of Europe is more serious than being realised at the moment and its ramification can threaten the liberal and democratic values the post-war Europe has been trying to evolve.

In many European countries right wing groups are already springing up to oppose continued immigration, particularly the entry of Muslims into predominantly Christian Europe. Many in Europe are worried about that the immigrants will bring down their wages or local people lose jobs to the immigrants. Even if the governments succeed in tackling the flow of immigrants, their settlement will take a long time and the resultant social tensions might upset political stability in vulnerable European countries. Next few weeks will see whether West Europeans countries will be able to stop the flow of immigration or provide shelter, jobs and help those who are fast spreading across the continent. .

While Greece’s chronic debt problem threatens its Euro Zone, Britain’s continuing Hamletian dilemma whether to remain in the EU or not, is threatening European community. On the other hand, the unending influx of people into Europe can threaten the very Idea of a moderate Europe itself.

Over the years as European Union has evolved, Germany has undoubtedly emerged as its leader. This is mainly because of the size of the country and of its economy. If Greece or another Mediterranean country’s economy has to be bailed out, it is Angela Markel who has to lead the rescue operation.

If Syria’s unstable situation is pushing out more of its people, Angela Markel’s Germany has to absorb the largest number. It is on her word that many other countries have agreed to admit some refuges, even with trepidations about tensions developing among their people.

On another plane, emergence of Germany as EU”s leader scares Britain more than a continental embrace. What Britain wants in Europe is a leadership role in EU which France and Germany will never agree to let it have. Britain, on the other hand, doesn’t want to get submerged in Europe simply as a voting member. Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq war when it joined George W Bush Jr’s war on Iraq on the pretext of it was hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction widened its distance from France and Germany which had questioned Washington’s facts about WMD and also the Washington’s wisdom in destabilising West Asia of which Europe would later pay the price. Syrian trouble has followed the Iraq war and now the ISIS is playing havoc in the region throwing out refugees and creating future uncertainties.

If the present trend of immigration to Europe continues, Britain by referendum in a couple of years can decide to remain outside, closing the doors to incoming refugees.

Few people in Europe will shed a tear if Britain leaves EU. Most Europeans feel that Britain’s heart is in the US and can never think European. Historical attitude on both sides of the English Channel have not changed over a period of time. Another question that arises among the European is how Britain can be a part of EU when its own union with Scotland is fraught with uncertainty.

Will Jean Monet’s dream for creating one Europe without borders survive? Greece’s exit from Euro Zone is not of great consequence, but Britain’s opting out will have wide repercussions on EU.

One reason will be the re-emergence of Germany as a sole leader of EU or Europe – a prospect which over long stretches of history Britain has never relished.

Cross border immigration and Shengan visa have made travel free in Europe. After spurt in immigration and despite the Shengan visa barriers have begun coming up, making the concept of free travel across Europe difficult.

Theoretically, free travel curbs can lead to trade barriers– a concept which could lead to the weakening the concept of a common market. This most Europeans would like to avoid. British attitude will, however,

differ from how smaller countries look at the future of the European Union.

A silent watcher of the European scene is Russia which under Putin’s leadership is making efforts to revive its image as a major Europe. The message of Putin’s recent foray into the Ukraine cannot be lost on European nations, big or small. Russia’s rise and inclination to flex muscles can keep the Europeans together, whatever shape the Union might take.

A closer Union which Brussels has been trying to evolve may not be sustainable under stresses of unchecked immigration. But it is possible EU’s relationship with Britain may undergo a change in favour of a loose relationship. Instead of or Europe’s present troubles may lead to a less cosy union in Europe.

However, Europe as a continent has to worry why its place in the world affairs is not as prominent as it had thought earlier. Is Europe a declining power is the question, many have been asking in world capitals, lately.

The United States overtook Europe in power terms, after Europe went through two wars and it is maintaining its lead; and now a rising China is ignoring it in its march towards a super-Power state in about 20-30 years. India too is seen as a 21st century economic power, Europe is counting less among nations.

Its civilisational impulses are still intact, but for Europe to matter more it requires more than an idea and a vision and an effort to pursue that vision. It is lacking an idea for the 21st century., possibly leadership and political will.

The writer, a former editor in chief of the Indian Express, is an MP in   the Rajya Sabha and advisor, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.