Imagine you are Hunter S. Thompson, dug up from the grave to write one last novel on the current state of Europe. Now, of course, you are not prepared for this assignment – no doubt looking terribly pale and in need of an energy drink or 20 just to bring you back to life – so I’ll write the first sentence for you. “The road to dystopia is paved with good intentions…”
Fear and Loathing in the EU: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the European Dream
The road to dystopia is paved with good intentions.
I could count on one hand the number of sleep-filled nights Angela Merkel has had in the past year. Every other nightmare seems to bring up the judgement day scenario. She’s sitting at the gates of the EU, the war in Syria having continued into its eighth year; another outbreak of fighting in Libya to scratch her head about; a wave of nationalism sweeping over a continent once filled with hope and optimism, long since replaced by fear and loathing.
As Frau Merkel awakes from the latest of a long line of restless nights, the reality to confront her the next morning will do little to settle her emotions. A drubbing in the regional elections administered by her far-right counterparts, the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland); a slap in the face to her pro-refugee stance. So much for ‘love thy neighbour like thy self’; I guess even the Bible is going out of fashion these days.
She still has supporters to fall back upon. Like her, they have good intentions. They have a humanitarian side. They don’t want to see their fellow homo sapiens being treated like members of the animal kingdom unbefitting of their status as head honcho, or “top dog” – much to the confusion of many German Shepherds in her constituency. Hard-working, law abiding citizens – all victims of geography. In another life, that could have been us.
We sit there staring at our TVs and we watch, horrified, as images of the scale of the tragedy in Syria unfolds. Whether it is the little boy washed up on the beach last September, the latest human toll of a sunken boat in the Mediterranean, or the war-ravaged ruins in relics of empires past, like Damascus.
Something must be done, we say to ourselves. Apparently the German Chancellor hears our pleas. Down the stairs Angela goes, groggily, pyjamas loosely fitting her frame, and scampers in to the kitchen to be greeted by a 5am dawn. But it’s misplaced optimism. Her hand fumbles in the kitchen cupboards in search of a few paracetamol tablets. Anything to get rid of this headache. Back to sleep. “Turkey can sort out this mess”, she mumbles.
It’s a balancing act. If sorrow and humanitarian outpouring were the only emotions evoked when the topic of the migrant crisis is brought up then the problem would be instantly solvable. This, you might say, would be one of the German Chancellor’s more sleep-easy dreams. Unfortunately, reality often chimes in unannounced to interrupt her peace. Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, Cologne, Brussels. Just who in their right mind would agree to be a decision maker in 21st century Europe?
Security. This is where the right-wing nationalists make up ground. An EU open to all is an EU exposed and less safe for its inhabitants. A fake Syrian passport found on one of the Paris attackers, a prior deportation from Turkey for a member of the Brussels bombers, and the implication that Daesh is smuggling sleeper cells into Europe disguised as refugees only further complicates an overwhelming migration crisis.
On top of that is the perceived threat that migrants pose to an established society. In the post-financial crisis world that we live in, job security is a luxury that many are no longer privy to, so additional competition in the job market is a very unpopular notion. Add the anguish in the eyes of someone prepared to take a risky journey from a war-torn country to the relative safety of Europe – with only a backpack’s worth of stuff and a family to feed – and know that where human desperation is situated, crime and security threats are not far away.
So what can the German Chancellor do? To be fair to her, the EU is a hard sell at the moment. If you were a child in the late 1940s, and I asked you what you thought about the prospect of Europe free from war and full of prosperity for the next 70 years, you would have exclaimed that it was beyond your wildest dreams. And up until 2008, the EU provided just that. A major success, many would say, from the humble beginnings of a French-German* coal and steel union in 1952 to the rapidly expanding super-state with global influence. Not long ago, an EU membership was a badge of honour; a prestigious club where the lucky few could dine with one another in a buffet of free trade, community and security. But a decade and a few crises later, the Union’s overindulgence has put considerable strain on its vital organs, which are struggling to circulate the blood required to sustain it.
Unfortunately for Angela Merkel, her day is far from over. She’s off to the hospital to check on the life support machine for her most cherished stallion, a united Europe. The blood is still pumping, just, but a journey to the heart of the European dream is filled with clogged arteries and toxic fumes. And she knows that, with the UK referendum just two months away, David Cameron is in no mood to flog another European dead horse to the British public.
It’s been a difficult year for Angie. She’s torn the Schengen Agreement up, the EU apart, a hole in her reputation, and her hair out in the process.
Now it’s down to the doctors, led by Donald Tusk, to save her prized possession.
* West Germany, to be precise. Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also included in the agreement.