As the most powerful Empire the world has ever known descends into fascism, all eyes are on Europe to uphold the torch of democracy. Alas, the twenty-eight countries of the European Union are still behaving as they always have since the first Eurasian tribes reached the Atlantic tip of the peninsula: quarreling over everything. While it is customary to analyze their bickering in political terms, it may have been dictated from the start by geography: The rivers of the Eurasian steppe from which the tribes drove westward are hundreds of miles apart, creating a largely barren wilderness, while the peninsula is a well-watered paradise. How would they not fight over the best real estate?
Back in the 9th century, Charlemagne united most of western and central Europe, however his grandsons carved out three nations that have dominated European history ever since: France, Germany and Italy. (Plus ca change…) During the long millennium that followed Charlemagne’s reign, the tip of Eurasia that since the Enlightenment, has been known pompously as ‘Europe’, has proved too exiguous to peacefully contain thirty tribes as diverse as Italians and Dutch, not to mention Gauls and Germans.
For centuries, they fought each other at every turn until they gave themselves a straight-jacket. However, one look at the Eurasian peninsula that, since the Enlightenment, has been known pompously as ‘Europe’, makes clear that it is far too exiguous to peacefully contain thirty tribes as diverse as Italians and Dutch, not to mention Gauls, and Germans.
The latter were first conquered by the Romans, but they have been clashing with the Franks ever since. Italy was largely protected by the Alps, Europe’s heart of stone, which partly separates the three nations from each other, after long being at the mercy of the Spanish and the Dutch, provoking French and German intervention. The boot, as it has been known didn’t modernize until after World War II, and even now, Italy’s status as an ideal vacation spot with an irresistible cuisine prevents it from being taken seriously politically. And yet, thanks to its long Communist tradition, immortalized starting in the nineteen-fifties with the films of Vittorio de Sica and Luchino Visconti, Italy is the only European nation to have maintained normal relations with Russia since the defeat of fascism — on a flight to Moscow, I sat next to a young woman who was going to ride horseback on the steppe. The rest of Europe failed to resist inroads by Washington’s Trojan Horse from across the English Channel, known since the Middle Ages as ‘perfidious Albion’.
The first steps toward what became, in 2000, the European Union were also taken in the nineteen-fifties. Unfortunately, they were based on a fatal decision to reject a federal system such as the US, leaving a political void around Brussels’ rules and regulations, a complex architecture that has satisfied no one.
The top EU job is that of Commission President, and when the term of Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker was scheduled to end in November 2019, it took months of negotiations for his successor to be named. Although few European male politicians could compete with Ursula van der Leyen’s CV, this former German Defense Minister is the first women to hold the post. Her background in public health may partly explain the fact that Angela Merkel’s Germany has had the most effective response to the Covid 19 pandemic. However, Europe as a whole is reverting to its past: decades after creating a free travel area, known as the Schengen zone, for its citizens, in 2015 it tried to bar African and Middle-Eastern refugees. Finally, when the pandemic hit, neighbors began to close their borders to each other. And when Merkel and Macron, Europe’s bicephal leadership, called for massive loans that would have mainly benefited the south, they were opposed by several well-off northern governments. A situation that not even Charlemagne would have been likely to overcome suggests that as America loses its role as ‘indispensable nation’, Europe’s ‘moment’ has irrevocably passed, leaving the steppe from which it came in charge of the future.
Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist that lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years. Over the years she penned a number of books, including Russia’s Americans. Her essays can also be found at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”