Europe’s Old Demons Return
ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images
You have probably seen footage of helpless refugees pouring into Europe. It can bring you to tears to see photos of drowned toddlers, pregnant women traversing dangerous terrain, and thousands of underdressed, malnourished children.
But there is another important angle to this crisis that hasn’t received nearly enough consideration. This is the impact the refugee crisis is having and will increasingly have on Europe. Not just the immense financial cost, or the potential infiltration by Islamist terrorists, or the inevitable erosion of European culture. These consequences are significant. But something more fundamental, and more alarming, is unfolding.
Europe is experiencing a transformative identity crisis.
In the immediate aftermath of World War ii, the most destructive conflict in history, the primary goal of Europe’s postwar architects was to create a system that would guarantee peace and stability. This meant suppressing past demons and founding a system on more advanced values. Postwar Europe was built to value collaboration and cooperation. It was designed to be enlightened, multicultural and tolerant. It has positioned itself as the world’s moral authority: It abhors war; it defends the environment and human rights; it values international cooperation.
The problem—as any history book will show—is that this is not who Europe is. This is not Europe’s dna.
Perhaps the greatest effect of the refugee crisis, together with Russia’s dramatic resurgence and Europe’s rolling financial problems, is the way it is causing Europe to shed this postwar veneer and return to its past. Being tolerant feels good, until hundreds of thousands of foreigners enter your nation and expect you to foot the bill. Being multicultural is wonderful, until Muslims waving Islamic State flags and eyeing your teenage daughter settle in your village. Being antiwar feels righteous, until Russian tanks roll across the border.
Europe right now is a place where dreams are beginning to meet reality. (This clash is yet to happen in America and Britain to this degree, though it is looming.) Harsh realities are forcing Europeans to substitute postwar values with basic human urges. Tolerance is being replaced by prejudice, multiculturalism by patriotism, the community spirit with a greater determination for self-preservation and self-advancement.
The demons of the past are returning, and they are provoking the most significant transformation in Europe since the Second World War.
An Intractable Problem
More than 700,000 refugees entered Europe between January and September. During September and October, 10,000 refugees were crossing Europe’s borders every day. Germany alone was anticipating the arrival of another 920,000 refugees in the last three months of 2015, bringing the total number for the year to 1.5 million. Tens of thousands have settled in other European nations.
The crisis shows no signs of abating, despite the best efforts of European leaders to curb the flow. The reason is simple: The Middle East, especially Syria, remains a war zone. Migrants are flowing into Europe from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and other war-stricken countries; potentially hundreds of thousands more could come from these nations. Reports vary, but between 8 million and 11 million Syrians have been displaced since 2008; millions are homeless. One million Syrians have moved to Lebanon. Two million have relocated to Turkey. Another 600,000 are in camps in Jordan.
This is not hyperbole: Unless something changes soon, millions of refugees from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia will make their way to Europe in the coming months and years. Given a choice, most will head for Germany.
This crisis is not going away quickly or easily. There is no simple solution, and no way to avoid terrific cost. Europe is in deep trouble and Europeans are beginning to come to terms with this reality. The more they consider the ramifications, the more alarmed they grow.
A Legitimate Threat
It’s not politically correct to discuss, but it is reality: Someone has to pay the cost of sustaining the refugees. Each refugee costs over $18,000 per year, according to estimates from German local governments. This is the cost of accommodation, food, health care and administrative expenses. The 1.5 million refugees Germany will accept this year will cost over $27 billion.
Many experts say that the $18,000 figure isn’t accurate and the true costs are much higher. The Kiel Institute for Global Economics estimates the cost to be $70 billion annually. There’s also the longer-term cost of integrating the refugees, educating them and getting them into the workforce. It’s no secret that Europe isn’t a picture of financial and economic health right now. It is a legitimate concern: Can Europe afford to take care of millions of refugees?
There is also the threat of increased terrorist activity. More than 90 percent of the refugees are Muslim. In September, German authorities arrested an Islamic State recruiter operating in a refugee center in Stuttgart. In another case, reported by the Express, “One [refugee] admitted to helping more than 10 trained [Islamic State] rebels infiltrate Europe under the guise of asylum seekers. He said: ‘I’m sending some fighters who want to go and visit their families. Others just go to Europe to be ready’” (September 10).
One video showed refugees flying Islamic State flags as they disembarked the train onto German soil. Another video showed young men, one only a boy, brushing a finger past their throats, depicting decapitation. Elias Bousaab, Lebanon’s education minister, warned in October that two in every 100 Syrian migrants infiltrating Europe are Islamic State terrorists. That’s 2,000 terrorists for every 100,000 Syrian refugees.
It’s hard to remain multicultural and tolerant in the face of numbers like that!
Statistics also show that criminal activity increases when refugees arrive. In October, the Gatestone Institute reported, “Asylum seekers are driving a surge in violent crime in cities and towns across Germany” (October 11). In September, a leaked report showed that police in Hamburg have stopped confronting migrant youths because they are often outnumbered and overwhelmed. Reports of refugees shoplifting, burgling homes, committing assault and stalking German women have become routine. In some cities and villages, authorities have cautioned native Germans to avoid venturing out at night.
Being open-minded is easy from a distance. It’s much harder when you can’t leave your home for fear of foreigners.
A Serious Backlash
When one feels threatened, it is human nature for resentment and anger to well up. Unsurprisingly, anti-migrant rallies have become increasingly common across Europe. The number of protesters at these rallies is increasing too, and many rallies have a solid contingent of Nazis. At one rally in Germany, protesters were heard chanting, “We will do to you [the refugees] what Hitler did to the Jews.” Violent attacks on migrants and migrant homes and camps are also commonplace. Germany’s Interior Ministry reported more than 490 attacks between January and October; only 153 were recorded for all of 2014.
During October 17 mayoral elections in Cologne, candidate Henriette Reker was knifed in the throat by a right-wing extremist. The man attacked Reker because of her support of Angela Merkel’s embrace of the migrants. The same day, a school in Sweden that was being prepared to house 80 refugees was torched. Incidents like this are occurring weekly, sometimes daily, in Germany and other nations that have taken in migrants.
The groundswell of anger and frustration is having a dramatic and worrying effect on politics in Europe. The popularity of far-right parties and parties advocating anti-immigrant policies is soaring.
In parliamentary elections in Switzerland in October, the Swiss People’s Party, a conservative, anti-immigrant party, won handily with 30 percent of the vote. (The migrant crisis was the number one concern for more than half of voters.) In Sweden, the Swedish Democrats, a far-right party with neo-Nazi connections, is now the most popular party in the country. During parliamentary elections in 2010, it won 5.7 percent of the vote; in October, polls showed it winning 25 percent of the vote. It’s the same in Denmark, where the Danish People’s Party recently won its biggest share of the vote ever.
The most popular party in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, advocates confronting Islam in Europe. Wilders regularly warns about the “Islamic invasion” taking place, warning that the refugees are a threat to Dutch “security, culture and identity.”
Europe’s politicians are having to come to grips with the new reality: To thrive politically, they need to be much less concerned about being tolerant and multicultural, and far more concerned about defending their nation (and Europe in general) from the negative impacts of the refugees, Russia’s resurgence, and perpetual financial uncertainty.
An Existential Problem
Consider also the predicament the refugee crisis is creating for the European Union. EU leaders and nations are conflicted (and often bickering) about how to handle the refugees. Angela Merkel wants Europe to embrace the refugees; meanwhile, the governments of Hungary and Slovenia are building fences to keep migrants out.
In more ways than one, the refugee crisis has pitted national policies (and national leaders) against EU policies (and EU leaders). At times, nations have ignored EU policies and principles in favor of policies in their own best interest. Take, for example, the Schengen Agreement. One of the EU’s defining characteristics is its open borders and the free movement of people between member states. This was formalized by the Schengen Agreement, a historic treaty signed in 1985 that created a borderless Europe, allowing the free flow of goods and people. During the refugee crisis, border controls, even border closures, have occurred in EU member states in the Balkans, and even in Austria and Germany. When push came to shove, national interest superseded EU policy.
This raises some fundamental questions about the EU. What is its purpose, and how valuable are its institutions, if member states in the event of a crisis simply ignore EU principles and act in what they feel is their best interest?
This doesn’t mean the refugee crisis is going to tear the EU apart. Actually, the clash of interests between EU member states and the conflict between member states and Brussels is provoking some significant discussions about how to augment European unity. Although the refugee crisis has created some fissures in the EU, it is also a prod for greater cooperation.
For example, the refugee crisis is a major incentive, among others, for the development of an EU army. Europeans are beginning to see the value in fixing the refugee crisis at its source. This means greater military involvement in the Middle East and North Africa, and in the Mediterranean Sea. “We are going to move towards an EU army much faster than people believe,” stated Joseph Daul, president of the European People’s Party, the largest European-level political party, on October 15.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission president, has made the development of a Common Security and Defense Policy a top priority. “European defense cooperation remains a patchwork of bilateral and multilateral agreements,” read a strategic note issued by the European Commission in June. “It is time for a reckoning: Traditional methods of cooperation have reached their limits and proved insufficient. European defense needs a paradigm change in line with the exponential increase in global threats and the volatility of our neighborhood.”
In layman’s language, the paper, published at the behest of Juncker, is saying that Europe needs an army capable of confronting Russia, getting involved in the Middle East and North Africa, and stopping the refugee flood.
Political Upheaval in Germany
The refugee crisis has set off a political crisis in Germany. German politics has been remarkably stable for more than a decade, thanks largely to the consistent leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. But Merkel’s leadership, and legacy, are now in serious jeopardy.
Merkel has embraced the refugees and migrants, promising them a home, a fresh start and a new life. At first, the German public, in general, agreed with her. But as the images of hundreds of thousands of Muslims pouring into Europe came out, the German public began to have second thoughts. Merkel did not. She modified her language and dialed back her enthusiasm, but didn’t alter her views. As far as she is concerned, Germany’s borders should remain open.
Time will tell, but Merkel’s embrace of the migrants could be her undoing.
Chancellor Merkel’s popularity is plummeting. On October 20, EurActiv reported on polls revealing public confidence in the chancellor at an all-time low. “Her approach to the refugee crisis … has cost the previously lauded queen of the polls dearly,” the organization reported. “According to data collected by insa on behalf of Focus Online, around 33 percent of Germans believe that it would be right of her to resign” (emphasis added).
According to Richard Hilmer, the former head of Infratest-Dimap, an electoral research provider, “the feeling is growing that [Merkel’s refugee] policy is out of control.” Merkel is the face of the failure, and she is going to be held “personally responsible for everything that happens from here on in, be it negative or positive,” he said. German paper Die Welt, usually a Merkel ally, reported, “The chancellor is walking on thin ice.”
For Merkel, the most alarming trend is the growing resentment and opposition coming from her own party. On October 7, 34 regional officials from the Christian Democratic Union (cdu) wrote to Merkel, warning that Germany’s resources were nearly exhausted due to her open borders policy. Within a few days, hundreds of cdu members had signed the letter.
A Wall Street Journal article described an October cdu meeting: “Ms. Merkel had come to the eastern German town of Schkeuditz on Wednesday for a conference with members of her Christian Democratic Union. But what was supposed to be a gathering among friends turned into a blistering indictment of her chancellorship. One after another, the delegates at the Globana Trade Center—town councilors, regional party grandees, and simple members—took turns to criticize her open-door refugee policy” (October 16).
At a protest staged by the German anti-immigrant movement pegida in Dresden, protesters carried around gallows for Angela Merkel.
Although many Germans respect and admire Merkel, and believe she has excelled as chancellor, they vehemently oppose her approach to the refugee crisis. Germany’s chancellor is more vulnerable than she ever has been.
Merkel’s demise would create an enormous opportunity for the right party, and the right individual.
Germany is gripped by deep social and political upheaval and is experiencing a transformational identity crisis. A new political experiment is taking shape as Germany’s political parties position themselves to appeal to a German public that is tired of crises, feeling disenfranchised by the perpetual lack of real solutions, and increasingly worried by the influx of refugees.
As Europe’s old demons return and the basic urges of self-preservation and nationalism once again take hold, Germans will increasingly look for a leader and political party willing and able to lead Germany (and even Europe) through this transformation.
The region to watch right now is Bavaria. Situated in the southeastern part of Germany, bordering Austria and the Czech Republic, Bavaria is the soul of the nation. The region is conservative and staunchly Catholic, and it has a rich history with some of Europe’s most powerful empires and most dangerous regimes. “Bavaria has often been a center for new political experiments in Germany,” explained Stratfor. “In times of deep social upheaval, this involved embracing extreme positions” (October 18).
Bavaria, and specifically the city of Munich, was the breeding ground of National Socialism. The young Adolf Hitler was raised in Bavaria, and made his first attempt to seize power in 1923 in Munich in the Beer Hall Putsch. Munich “had a special place in the Nazi pantheon, and in 1935 Hitler declared it the ‘capital of the Nazi movement’” (ibid).
There is a very good chance that Germany’s next leader will come from Bavaria.
The primary political party in Bavaria is the Christian Social Union. The csu is conservative and is one of the largest mainstream political parties in German politics. It is also the sister party and historic ally of the Christian Democrat Union, Angela Merkel’s party. Together, the cdu and csu have been the most influential alliance in modern German politics.
But the refugee crisis has introduced tension and instability into this alliance. The csu does not share Merkel’s views on the refugee issue; in fact, it staunchly opposes them. (Bavaria is on the front lines of the crisis and has watched refugees pour into Bavarian cities and villages.)
Horst Seehofer, Bavaria’s minister-president and csu chairman, has been one of Merkel’s loudest critics. In October, Seehofer threatened to take Merkel and the federal government to court over its migrant policies. He also hinted that if Merkel doesn’t change her tune there will be a political crisis between the cdu and csu. Despite his strong reproaches, csu supporters are pressuring Seehofer to do even more to oppose Merkel and fix the refugee crisis.
Although the majority of the German public disagrees with Merkel on the refugee issue, most Germans do not want to join the far-right extremist parties of pegida or Alternative für Deutschland. The German people want a mainstream political party that has the same views on the key issues, especially the refugees. The csu is positioned to be that party—to capitalize on Merkel’s misstep and potential downfall.
Two People to Watch
But here is what’s really interesting. Horst Seehofer is close to two individuals the Trumpet has long identified as candidates to play a greater role in German politics. The first is Edmund Stoiber, former leader of Bavaria and former csu chairman.
Stoiber, like Seehofer, has publicly expressed concerns about the refugees and Merkel’s handling of the crisis. He has warned that this crisis threatens the “dissolution” of Europe; he has questioned Merkel’s views on Islam; and he has reprimanded Merkel for ignoring the concerns of the German people. In September, German news media reported that Stoiber had conducted a secret 1½-hour meeting with the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Orbán is a pariah in Europe because of sentiments he has expressed about the refugees that many consider cruel and heartless. Stoiber, it seems, has no problem talking to Orbán. (It was also reported that following his secret meeting with Orbán, Stoiber invited him to speak at a gathering of csu politicians.)
Stoiber has a long legacy in German politics and was groomed by German strongman Franz Josef Strauss. (Gerald Flurry explains this legacy in “Has Germany’s Strongman Finally Arrived?”) Stoiber and Seehofer are articulating the thoughts and concerns of rapidly growing numbers of Germans and Europeans. Their message is popular and will grow even more so as the refugee crisis intensifies.
The other man to watch is Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a native Bavarian and another Strauss disciple. Before he moved to America in 2011, Guttenberg was Germany’s defense minister, the most popular politician in Germany, and the man many expected to be a future chancellor. Guttenberg has a captivating personality. He belongs to German nobility and looks like a movie star. He communicates with force and vigor, but is also a pragmatic, deep thinker. Guttenberg understands Germany and Europe.
Guttenberg is a faithful csu member, and Seehofer has been begging him to return to German politics for years. For a long time Guttenberg rejected Seehofer’s request. That changed in October when he accepted a job working with Seehofer and the csu. “This step back into politics seems comparatively small for a man who was minister for economic affairs and defense and even considered a candidate for chancellor,” noted Süddeutsche Zeitung. “But apparently this is just the right entry level Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg wants” (October 1).
Guttenberg will join Seehofer’s csu advisory team and will give counsel on foreign policy, defense and technology. He will also help Seehofer get the party ready for local, national and European election campaigns, including the 2017 federal elections and 2018 national elections. Guttenberg will work closely with Seehofer, and undoubtedly alongside Edmund Stoiber.
We need to watch this axis of powerful Bavarians!
The refugee crisis is thrusting Germany (and Europe) into a transformational identity crisis. Germany and Europe will look for a leader who understands what is happening. They will seek someone capable of shaping this new identity—someone capable of standing up to Russia, getting tough with the refugees, and finally fixing the economic crises.
This is the new sobering reality: Contemporary Europe is on its way out and Europe’s old demons are returning.