The European Union has been shaken to its very foundation. The euro is straining relationships between the wealthy northern nations, especially Germany, and the southern nations, Greece in particular. Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Afghani refugees are fleeing the civil wars that plague their nations for a better life in Europe.
Britain is threatening to pull out of the EU and right-wing nationalism is seeing a resurgence in Germany, France and the Netherlands. Scottish secession from the United Kingdom, and Catalonia from Spain, are real possibilities. Small nations fear domination by Germany. Memories of the German boot from two world wars still linger in the continental consciousness.
Several nations’ low birth rates and aging populations will mean fewer younger workers to fill needed positions in the future. Immigrants are needed to bridge the gap, but their religious and ethnic differences are fueling strong nationalistic feelings tearing at the very structure of a united Europe.
As time goes on, “Europe is quickly becoming one of the most diverse regions of the world,” according to Ngaire Woods, in an article from the January/February 2016 “Foreign Affairs” called, “The European Disunion: How the Continent Lost Its Way.”
Of Germany’s 81 million population, 16 million are made up of people of foreign or immigrant descent. The same is true of the United Kingdom, with the second-highest number of immigrants in its population. According to Woods, “Europe will become more like the United States, since immigration will become unstoppable.”
We need only examine the demographic changes to the United States brought about by increased immigration from Latin America and Asia with the change in immigration laws in 1965 to see this trend being born out. Much of the political tension and anger we currently see in our country is due to changing demographics.
Much of our anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment has its roots in the same concern found in Europe from the massive waves of immigrants fleeing the Middle East and North Africa.
The Republican Party in America, dominated by aging white males, is seeing its power base threatened by growing numbers of African-Americans, Asians and Latin Americans. The reason for the fracturing of Republicans is anger about this demographic reality. Americans of caucasian European descent will be a minority within a generation.
Paradoxically, the wave of immigration to Europe may actually make it easier for the EU to overcome its violent historical past and nationalistic divisions, according to Woods. It will make it easier for Europe to integrate into the United States of Europe, dreamed of at the end of World War II.
So while the immigration crisis is tearing at the unity of Europe, in the long run, it may actually spur European unification. And as populations change, so do their politics.
For Europe, it is Germany’s dominance that both drives integration and, at the same time, keeps Europe from deeper cohesion. That is the irony of the European Union today. Germany, which tried to unsuccessfully control Europe through two world wars, may actually find itself attaining its 20th century goals through peaceful means.
Continued German dominance of Europe is a political and economic fact, which will not disappear in the future. If Europe continues to “muddle through” these current crises as it did with the financial crisis with Greece, we may see the rise of a more unified though culturally and religiously diverse Europe, capable of exerting tremendous economic, military and political influence in the world. Time will tell whether a truly unified Europe emerges from its current turmoil.