Europe, in general, and Germany in particular, was the source of much pain, for much of the world, in the first half of the 20th century and the source of much hope and inspiration ~ as, by leveraging the unparalleled and unprecedented generosity (and good sense) of the Marshall Plan and the famous German work ethic, it showed itself and its neighbours how to make a socio-economic victory from the ashes of a military defeat.
Through the decades, since about 1950, modern, post war Germany has been the rock upon which the European Union was imagined and then built, and to which all of Europe,
especially Eastern Europe, has attached itself. German leaders, from Konrad Adenauer to Angela Merkel, have been models of pragmatic leadership even as they, gently, shifted Germany from centre to left to right, but never too far from the centre, and always with an eagle eye on the prize: a peaceful, prosperous Europe with Germany at its heart, as the centre of Mitteleuropa.
There is no precise, historical definition of Mittleuropa, but some Germans think of it as the lands occupied by the historic German speakers and their near cultural and linguistic neighbours. Whatever it is, the notion of modern 21st century Mitteleuropa, rests on a foundation of good, liberal, German pragmatism. It means peace and prosperity and security and, and, and … and it’s no wonder that a million refugees want to go there and be part of the promise.
But, as we can see, Angela Merkel’s very German and very generous impulse to welcome those in need has bumped up against a deep seated European (not just German) fear that the others, those who do not have 2,000+ years of European history in their blood and brains will not ~ because they cannot ~ become true Europeans. The fear is that the others will always be foreign; will always be apart, even in the middle of Europe’s great cities; will always be “strangers in a strange land;” and will, always, want to change their new homes into something different, something more familiar to them but something foreign to the “natives.” That fear is not confined to Europe.
Now, Germany, the rock of peace and stability and growth, is shaking under domestic social stresses and strains and The Economist says that:
“Germany has tried to lead in Europe, but others will not follow. To Mrs Merkel’s immense frustration, other EU countries agree to policies like relocation and then ignore them. While German officials try to knit together the geopolitics of the crisis, from Iraq to Turkey and Russia, most other countries would prefer it simply to go away. As for the European Commission, which sometimes looks like the chancellor’s last ally, it has gamely advanced common policies but is too weak to enforce them. “The European dream is vanishing,” sighs one of its senior officials.”
The problems that beset Germany and Europe are coming from, in some cases, the most unlikely of sources, including from various “nativist,” ant-immigrant, political groups in über liberal Scandinavia.
When the most liberal of societies have “had enough” then the illiberal ones are already at or even beyond the breaking point …
So, what is to become of Europe?
Is the dream dead?
Can the centre hold?
And if it does not, if it cannot, then wither Europe?
France and Germany are not natural allies. It’s not about the history, although that is bloody and painful enough. The simple fact is that France is a deeply illiberal society with strong statist tendencies that, traditionally, believes in the “man on the white horse” as a solution to all its problems while Germany is a liberal society, but one with strong roots in the 19th century romantic period ~ including in its darker elements.
Britain may be trying to have its cake (free trade with Europe) and eat it, too (a return to some sort of splendid isolation).
In short, European unity is cracking, largely under the strains of immigration.
We must understand, however, that immigration is not the issue, but it is a catalyst for unrest, in Europe, in North America, indeed, around the world.
The real issue, in my opinion, is culture and values.
Angela Merkel said that “Multiculturalism is a lie,” and I have cautioned that, while we need immigration, we will have to make sure that immigrants integrate into out society rather than believing (and demanding) that we will want to remake Canada into an imitation of Syria or Pakistan. We need to be open and honest with immigrants, but we must, as Angela Merkel suggested, insist that immigrants do more than just learn our language(s), they must adapt themselves to our culture and our values.
What is happening right now, in Europe, is a reaction to a politically correct and deeply flawed belief that newcomers, seeing our society, will want to join … many, probably most do, but some don’t and they want to bring their “old country” values with them and change us. Sometimes we do make superficial changes … because it is in our liberal tradition to tolerate and accommodate, but our liberal tradition also requires us to uphold fundamental values that are inconsistent with many, many other socio-cultural models. The challenge for Europe, still led by Angela Merkel and for the rest of the West, still led (if that’s the right word) by President Obama, is to remain tolerant, to remain accommodating and, simultaneously, to preserve our established culture and our deeply held, traditional liberal, secular and democratic values. The challenge for leaders, of all political stripes, is to keep Canada (and America, Australia and Europe) “open” to new people and new ideas and, indeed, to allow and even welcome change when it proves that it is change for the better, that it is change which strengthens and improves our liberal, secular, capitalist, values based society. The issue must never be about race, nor religion, but is can and should be about culture.
In over 70 years of living, many of them spent soldiering on several different continents, I have learned that people of diverse races and religions are all about the same: black and while men are, in pretty much exactly the same proportions, wise and foolish, brave and cowardly; Christians and Hindus are, in about the same proportions again, honest and venal, industrious and idle; Asians and Europeans are, again equally, creative and dull, and dexterous and clumsy. Race doesn’t matter, nor does religion … but culture does and some cultures ~ those, for example, that practice “honour killings” and female genital mutilation cannot be allowed to add their “values’ to ours. Some “values” cannot be welcomed, should not be accommodated and must never be tolerated.
We need to accept new people even as we reject some of their customs, traditions and values. That’s the challenge.