In June 2016, the European Union woke up to the news that Brexit was a reality. Even those, who had argued for Brexit, were surprised. Time moved on. In November 2016, the EU woke up stunned. Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States.
As if Brexit hadn’t been enough to contend with, suddenly the United States had a President, who saw globalisation as a threat to America. Who promoted protectionism and criticised NATO.
The EU went from valued ally to parasite in one night, while Putin went from adversary to potential friend. At least that’s what it sounded like. What it will end up being in terms of actions is yet to be determined. Only one thing is certain – the increased unpredictability.
These rude awakenings may well have added to the unity of the European Union for a fleeting moment, but they also added to its problems. Is this too much, can the EU survive these setbacks?
Sometimes we need to look at the woods, not the trees. Let’s skip the more concrete effects of Brexit. It’s a tree, not the woods. Britain’s departure may rock the boat, but it doesn’t capsize it.
France and Germany are the undisputed cornerstones of the EU. Let’s take a look at both, starting with the French presidential election.
Oops, we are definitely in the frying pan. Who knew that the day would come, when the EU’s future might rest on the French tolerance for corruption? It takes a great deal of tolerance to accept conservative candidate Francois Fillon’s “redirection” of public funds to his family members.
Why would the future of the European Union be endangered? Is Marine le Pen, the far-right French version of Trump, a real threat? In theory, yes. France, and by extension the EU, would end up from the frying pan into the fire with her.
Trump has nothing on Le Pen when it comes to gloom and doom. She is anti-globalisation, anti-immigrant, anti-EU. You name it, she’s against it. Except Putin. She is all for him.
She leads the polls in the first round of the presidential election, but there is a second round. At the moment no one predicts a win for her in this final round. But never say never.
There are clearly several powers out there searching for dirty linen in the closets of Le Pen’s competitors; and creating fake linen too. Even Julian Assange has crawled out of his own closet to do so. Things can still happen.
How can we avoid both the frying pan and the fire? The scene is all set for a dark horse. And surprise, surprise, there he gallops, Emmanuel Macron, 39. He is said to have been building up to the race since joining Valls’ cabinet as economy minister in 2014, maybe even longer.
The timing couldn’t look more promising. There is a definite demand for a fresh take on things. Macron may be a dark horse, like Trump, but there the likeness ends.
No tacky The Apprentice for Macron; he could be straight out of a Hollywood movie. He has a Kennedy feel, and the perfect background to present himself as the man, who can re-invent France. Who can make France a bright and bold place open to new ideas, but still be realistic.
He used to be a socialist, but now describes his position as being somewhere between left and right. Not only is the timing right, Macron is politically in the right place too considering Fallon’s blunders on the right and the fact that the Socialists chose left-wing Hamon as their candidate.
Macron even has his own movement, “En Marche!”, and there is a sob story too, for those so inclined. He met his more than twenty years older wife when he was fifteen. It is said that they have been inseparable since he was eighteen.
The “leaks” are now painting him gay and unfaithful for starters. I am sure there is more to come. Hollywood studios should be fighting for his story.
The media is still trying to figure out Macron’s meteoric rise. As I write this, he leads the second round polls before Fillon and Le Pen. But the fake news machine is just getting started.
Macron looks like just the thing to invigorate both France and the EU. The European Union could definitely do with some invigorating. But where is the time for that, when one is mired in Brexit issues, and trying to beat the trumping; the creation and exploitation of popular waves of frustration for purely self-serving reasons?
While we wait for the EU to get its act together, let’s have a quick look at the other cornerstone, Germany, to see if the EU will get a chance to work on its problems.
Conservative Angela Merkel is in for a real race for the German chancellorship this time. Her main opponent, the social democrat Martin Schulz has taken giant steps and seems to be in the lead, if latest polls are to be believed.
Whichever way this fight goes, it would not mean a big change for the EU, even though Schulz might appeal more to voters that are disenchanted with present day EU.
His candidacy is welcomed by many as a channel for protest votes that might otherwise go to the right-wing populist party.
Where is the dark horse? What dirty linen will be aired? Fake or true? There is still a long way to go in this race.
I don’t profess to be an expert in German politics, Angela, but might not the EU supporters be your Rust Belt? The ones you can’t ignore even though they have historically been in your corner? They are not stupid, they see the problems.
I hope the pro EU candidates both in France and in Germany remember that repetition is key when battling fake news; as well as when spreading them. According to studies, the human brain can wear down when exposed to the same information over and over again. It will accept as truth something it initially rejected as false. Especially when we are faced with shortages of time, energy or conclusive evidence, says Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.
Which is why Twitter is the ultimate propaganda tool. Tweets are short and simple enough to be remembered and they can easily be repeated time after time.
I am not saying you should tweet, Angela, but your main messages should be strong, emotional and clear, in essence tweetable. I understand this is something that Martin Schultz does much better than you.
So here we are: A troubled EU sits smack in the middle of a playing field, where seasoned players like Russia, China and the newly trumped America put themselves first, and Europe last. Where opportunists like Great Britain and Hungary run in circles, hoping to play on several sides at the same time. Where Russia and the US bomb away in the Middle East, and leave Europe to pick up the fleeing survivors. Where trade war looms, and cyber war flourishes.
It’s like watching Downton Abbey. Cold winds of change are blowing, and we all scramble to adapt in our cosy bubble. We have so much to lose.
At least our cornerstones look steady for the moment, but the rest is shaky at best.
Let’s not become too gloomy, however. We will adapt and survive. It is what Europe has done throughout history. Sometimes at the cost of its ideals.