To unite the EU needs a common enemy and only the wanker from Ankara is ready to play the role.
What is Europe, where are its borders, who are its people, and why should I die for it? These are the questions the European Union has desperately grappled with since the 2008 crash. National governments derive power from the willingness of their citizens to make sacrifices. Whether its paying an extra 2.9 cents for a litre of petrol, or traveling across the seas to get shot for Uncle Sam, a government’s power comes from the support of its people. But while the idea of the EU remains popular amongst the European people, with over 60% support across the block in 2017 Eurobarometer surveys, few are willing to make sacrifices for the EU. Northern Europeans don’t want to pay for the ‘greedy’ Southerners. Meanwhile, the Western Europeans don’t see the need to defend Eastern Europe against the Russians. It seems as though the EU has millions of supporters, but very few citizens ready to make the sacrifice necessary for a truly united Europe.
So will Europe ever unite? Can the European Union potentially become a single federalised state, or a superpower capable of challenging China or America? Such a force could defeat the Russians over a long weekend and potentially upset the balance of global politics like no event since the unification of Germany or the French revolution. But the EU needs a threat to give the extra push needed for federalisation. Once that would’ve been Russia, but with an aging population and a declining economy, Russia is today truly only a threat to the Baltic republics: Belarus and the Ukraine. From the beaches of Barcelona or Palermo, the idea of Russia as a serious threat is due to Europe’s ‘special relationship’. Even so is the idea of sending their young lads to fight for Estonian sovereignty.
Luckily an Armenian phrase tells us who could provide the necessary threat to Europe: “when dealing with the Turk, don’t let go of the stick”.
The only power capable of convincing European nations to unify is the threat of a rising Turkey with an expansionist government. It has two key advantages over Russia: Firstly, by a matter of its geography it is able to threaten far more of the European continent than Russia can. Secondly, because in a conflict between Turkey and Europe, the United States would likely remain neutral (as it did in the Falklands War), Turkey would force the EU to take the leadership position during the conflict. This would be a cold conflict only though, likely to result in direct confrontation only through proxies in hotspots such as Cyprus or North Africa.
During the boom years, European integration seemed both logical and inevitable. The EU expanded its influence both geographically and politically, incorporating the A8 nations of eastern Europe in 2004 and increasing the authority of the Commission with the Treaties of Nice (2007) and Lisbon (2007). Then the bad times came. In 2008, the Great Recession began, since then the EU has lumbered from crisis to crisis. The Greek debt crisis, the migrant crisis and Brexit have all rocked the continent. Through it all, the EU Commision has struggled to act decisively and has lost the support of people across the continent, resulting in the surge of populist and eurosceptic parties. In Poland, Italy and Austria, pro-EU governments have been replaced with eurosceptic regemes unafraid of challenging the Commission.
A new hope appeared in 2017 in the form of Emmanuel Macron, who sweeped to power, defeated Le Penn and promised to reform Europe and save the Union from irrelevance. At first it seemed to work, Macron faced down protestors in France with a neo-liberal zeal, and Merkel made statements to support Macron’s vision. However, following severe losses for the ruling coalition in the 2017 German election and the populist AFD entering the Bundestag, Merkel’s political capital dried-up. Meanwhile, resentment grew in France at the so called “president of the rich”, culminating in the recent Gilets Jaunes protests which may have permanently crippled Macron’s Presidency.
A decade on from the 2008 crash, it’s now perfectly clear that in a vacuum European states will continue to squabble likely forever. But Europe does not exist in a vacuum. The Republic of Turkey has a population of over 80 million of which over half are under 25, it has the largest army in Europe and will soon be home to the world’s largest airport. Also, it has done a good job of challenging Europe in the past, the Ottoman Empire once touched Vienna, Malta and the Moroccan coast opposite southern Spain. As it became clear that the EU could never allow Turkey to join, the nation has become increasingly hostile to Europe. In 2012, French diplomats were expelled following France’s formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In 2016, German Parliamentarians were banned from visiting their own pilots at a NATO airbase in Turkey. And in 2017, President Erdogan called the Dutch government “fascist”.
While the Turkish Navy and Airforce can pose a direct threat to Southern and Eastern Europe, the Turkish also have the capability to threaten violence on the streets of Western Europe. Most of Western Europe’s great cities (Berlin, Rotterdam, Brussels) have large impoverished Turkish minorities which the Europeans have utterly failed to integrate or provide economic opportunity to. Amongst the Turkish diaspora, support for President Erdogan is strong, giving Ankara the capability to ignite social unrest on the streets of European capitals. Moreover, Turkey has a strong relationship with the United States, which hopes to use Turkey to check Russian and Iranian influence, and is willing to sidestep allies in order to do so (as we all saw last week when America abandoned the Syria Kurds). While the USA supporting Turkey against Europe remains unthinkable, if the Turks were able to make a confrontation appear to be at least partly the fault of the Europeans, America could be convinced to take a neutral position as it did during the Cyprus Crisis in 1964. In this scenario, Turkey becomes a threat capable of scaring the Europeans like none other, perhaps even enough to form a federation in resistance.
The modern definition of Europe comes from the time of the Carolingian Renaissance when the word was used to refer to the union of Latin and Germanic Catholic peoples. This was in contrast to the Islamic Al Andalus in the south and the Orthodox Byzantine Empire in the east. From the beginning Europe was about uniting different peoples to face an enemy from outside. This Union formed under Charlemagne was not to last long after his demise, but the idea of a common people without a shared language, but owing a shared civilisation continues. Globalisation has given Europe a common language, even post Brexit over 51% percent of EU citizens can hold a conversation in English and that number will only grow. A United States of Europe is today more possible than ever before, but it will require a rival to give it shape and purpose. And Europe’s old enemy Turkey is going to be that rival.
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