PATRICK LAWRENCE: Europe’s Identity Crisis

As European leaders continue to import a version of U.S. militarism, rearmament will cost the Continent its postwar social contract.

Wax figures and a mural of the Statue of Liberty in the Main Street, U.S.A., exhibit in Disneyland Paris. (Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Patrick Lawrence
in Zurich 
Special to Consortium News 

It is many years now since the French, bless them, revolted as Disneyland Paris arose near the previously uninvaded village of Marne-la–Vallée–Chessy.

Soon enough came the Disney Hôtel New York, the Disney Hôtel Santa Fe, the Disney Hôtel Cheyenne, the Disney Newport Club, the Disney Sequoia Lodge, Disney Village, Parc Disneyland, Parc Walt Disney Studios. Let us not omit Star Wars Hypersonic Mountain among these monuments to the Americanization of Europe. 

Blocking imports of American “culture,” and we need the quotation marks, is among the world’s more quixotic undertakings, given the failure rate. But losing the battle against the infantilization of European sensibilities seems the least of the Continent’s worries at this point.

The irrational Russophobia, the proxy war in Ukraine, the disruption of the Continent’s natural place as Eurasia’s western flank, the conjured-from-nothing “threat” of Russian expansionism, support of Israel’s siege of Gaza: These are U.S. imports, too, and Europe finds itself in crisis in consequence of them. 

Who are we, Europeans now ask in one or another way. What have we made of ourselves? Are we always to be America’s obedient underlings, taking all orders and refusing none? What has become of us in the 21st century? 

European social democracy in its various forms has been vulnerable to the attacks of market fundamentalists and neoconservative ideologues for many years. Now the apostles of “savage capitalism,” as its Latin American casualties call it, and their warmongering siblings begin, this time in the name of Cold War II, what appears to be their final assault. 

Europe has vacillated between two contradictory impulses — asserting its sovereignty and succumbing to an undignified dependence on American power — since the mid–Cold War years. Charles De Gaulle was the last European leader to stand with conviction for the Continent’s independence and autonomy. 

But Gaullism is no more than a faint and far-off light around Europe today. I reluctantly conclude that, in the moment of truth now upon it, the Continent will make the unwise choice, a self-condemnation that could endure for decades to come.  

A long-evident divide between Europeans and those who purport to lead them now widens. The former defend what remains of the socially advanced state erected across the Continent during the first postwar decades.

The latter are poised to tear it down to import a version of America’s military-industrial complex precisely as The Walt Disney Company brought Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to the French capital’s outskirts. 

Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Paris. (Eugene Phoen, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Europe’s leaders have woken up to hard power” is the headline atop a commentary Janan Ganesh, a Financial Times columnist, published on this topic last week. “To militarize as much as it needs to,” he wrote, “Europe needs its citizens to bear higher taxes or a smaller welfare state.” 

This is bitterly succinct. Europe’s leaders and the media that serve them are in the process of normalizing the “need” to turn Europe into a warrior state in the American image — suffused with animus and paranoia, beset with “threats,” never at ease as the social fabric deteriorates. 

Identity Crisis

An acute identity crisis — and this is at bottom Europe’s present disorder — has been rolling the Continent’s way like a big, black bowling ball since, I would say, the U.S. began to realize that Vladimir Putin was other than his pliant predecessor as Russia’s president. It has been ever more obvious lately, as I noted in this space a year ago

“Howitzers instead of hospitals” is how The New York Times put the case at the time. Again, it is dismally on the mark.

There are various reasons the choice Europe faces has since grown yet starker. 

One, the Ukraine war is lost and America’s enthusiasm for the Kiev regime has plainly weakened. This leaves Europe to manage the mess on its doorstep while the U.S. can, as is its habit, “move on.” 

Hence the European Union’s commitment two months ago to provide Ukraine with €50 billion in “reliable and predictable financial support” over the next four years. 

Two, Donald Trump has reignited talk of either a North Atlantic Treaty Organization without the U.S. or the disintegration of NATO. The first of these is a logical impossibility: Is NATO anything more than Washington’s instrument for projecting power across the Atlantic?

And the pleasing thought of life without NATO is, very regrettably, nowhere near even a medium-term possibility. The whither–NATO conversation has nonetheless prompted European leaders to think, or appear to think.

Emmanuel Macron is not stepping back from his assertion last month that Europe must be prepared to send ground troops to the Ukrainian front — this despite vigorous objections to the French president’s position. 

Macron, who nurses a de Gaulle complex, purports to favor a more independent Europe when he says such things, and there are those who buy into it. “If we want to be peacekeepers in the world,” Antonio Tajani, Italy’s foreign minister, said in an interview with La Stampa a couple of months ago, “we need a European military.”

I find this sort of thinking altogether facile. Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s usefully forthright foreign policy chief, went straight at the reality when he outlined “the four main tasks on E.U.’s geopolitical agenda” in his speech to the Munich Security Conference two months ago. 

The second of these was, yes, “strengthening our defense and security.” The fourth was “sustaining these efforts in cooperation with key partners, and in particular the U.S.”

I thought Borrell was impossibly paradoxical when I first read his remarks in External Action, an online E.U. publication. On reflection, he seems simply a man of forthrightly stated realpolitik: Europe can arm itself all it wants; its current leaders will keep it a dependent adjunct of the U.S. imperium.  

Battery of THADD, or terminal high altitude area defense, to intercept ballistic missiles, at U.S. naval facility in Deveselu, Romania, June 2019. (NATO)

It is not difficult to detect among Europeans their restive dissatisfaction with the direction Europe’s leaders are choosing. You find among them a fundamental desire to reject all Cold War-like animosities and live plainly and simply as Europeans.

Polls indicate that large proportions of those surveyed do not trust the U.S. These polls also record a similar distrust of “Putin,” but this reflects the power of the relentless propaganda in major European media as they incessantly demonize the Russian president, as there is considerable acceptance of Europe’s position as the western flank of the Eurasian landmass and the interdependence with Russia this implies. 

Zeit–Fragen, a German-language journal published here (and in French and English as Horizons et débats and Current Concerns), recently quoted Egon Bahr, a former German minister and a key figure in the design of the Federal Republic’s Ostpolitik, on this topic.

“Our self-determination stands alongside and not against America,” Bahr said. “[But] we cannot give up Russia because America doesn’t like it.”

Bahr spoke at the German–Russian Forum in Berlin six years ago. As Zeit–Fragen’s editors make clear, the speech still resonates because the majority of Germans — and considerable proportions of other Europeans — strongly favor a return to the rapprochement with Russia the U.S. has more or less required Europeans to abandon. 

“Who thinks voters will prioritize rearmament?” Janan Ganesh asked in his FT column last week. “There is little to suggest electorates are willing to accept a rupture of the welfarist social contract in order to tool up.” 

I hope Ganesh is right in this observation. As Europeans try to rediscover who they are, the historical magnitude of this moment is difficult to overstate. 

The very best one hopes for now is a ripping confrontation between the defenders of Europe-for–Europeans and those who sponsor a version of the militarized monster that long ago overtook America.

Barricades, blocked highways, yellow vests, occupied ministries: As we used to say in the 1960s, “Let it happen, Cap’n.” This will be a war worth waging for the Continent’s soul.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for The International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of Journalists and Their Shadows, available from Clarity Press or via Amazon.  Other books include Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. 

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17 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Europe’s Identity Crisis

  1. April 4, 2024 at 16:32

    This image essay hxxps:// makes the same point as Lawrence’s essay: Why is Europe willing to dismantle its social safety nets to serve the U.S. hegemon?

    Let’s make fun of European leaders who sacrifice their own economies and destinies by submitting to American hegemony. Don’t they realize that the U.S. intentionally provoked the war in Ukraine by aggressive NATO expansion, in order to weaken Russia, keep Germany down, and enrich U.S. energy companies?

  2. TonyR
    April 3, 2024 at 21:59

    Like you say disbanding nato is an impossibility… But certainly the EU needs some defense capabilities… They should take over nato and the u s. Should step back…. I know quite unlikely… This 1% to 2% of gdp towards defense does sound pretty reasonable to me if actually used it for defense and not offense

  3. wildthange
    April 3, 2024 at 21:29

    Joining human society on planet Earth should be the goal not the bootstraps of the world top predator society that thinks it gods spearhead gods new Thor’s Hammer.
    If they don’t follow our military industrial profit motives they we be left out ad have to do their own to keep up with us or else be on the “against US” side not just militarily but economically. But our military industrial complex needs everyone buying our wars and weapons in order to survive. Otherwise we will collapse in deficit spending.
    The choice is work with the world or work with the top predator and perhaps permanent war is only a benefit to the western military industrial protection racket of a professional elite of war promotion profiteering allied with a false sense of human religious superiority.
    Maybe our 21st century technology should turn to civilization survival and economic equality rather than profiteering on destruction and rebuilding by corporate moguls feasting on human suffering..

  4. James White
    April 3, 2024 at 18:35

    ‘Who are we, Europeans now ask in one or another way.’
    The American Vassal States of Europe.
    ‘What have we made of ourselves?’
    Pawns of the Globalist Oligarchs.
    ‘Are we always to be America’s obedient underlings, taking all orders and refusing none?’
    That is the plan.
    ‘What has become of us in the 21st century?’

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      April 4, 2024 at 11:48

      In a nutshell. You’re right.

      • James White
        April 5, 2024 at 09:51

        Thank you Carolyn. Will there be a reckoning in elections this year? We are about to find out.

  5. Francis (Frank) Lee
    April 3, 2024 at 17:45

    Well what we have here is Germany doing its best to wreck its own economy – and it seems to be succeeding! Really – how does that policy fit in exactly? Before the idiocy of a gutless euro pact, where there was a something which we would have been recognised as a competent government. No more. The Euro neo-cons have to be obeyed, if not they will be spanked and sent to bed. They really are like frightened children.

    • Em
      April 4, 2024 at 07:39

      Europeans’ Identity Crises!?
      Let’s be frank! Francis is a good name, whether it be spelled with an i or an e.
      If its good for the Argentinian born, Chauvanist Roman Catholic Pope, then, in your case how come the need for a clarifier (Frank), afterall, presumably you were assigned the name, just as we all are assigned as being female or male.
      In these times, however, it is more out in the open, people are NOT assigned their gender, notwithstanding the manifest genitalia.

  6. bardamu
    April 3, 2024 at 17:15

    The depth of confusion that Lawrence describes is spooky and fascinating. But what gives?

    Is it not possible that Macron does not hallucinate American loyalty nor an attack by Russia, but reels from the loss of client states in the Sahel? Russia has partially blocked American ambitions in Syria, and it has developed relationships with Islamist groups that have overtaken what were largely French clients– Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Guinea.

    In such cases, it is not exactly the labor or natural resources that the wealthy covet, but the maintenance of the peculiar set of priority relationships that accompanies the administration of distribution of these. So, for instance, in theory, a non-profit could purchase the fissile materials from the Sahel to fuel French nuclear power, and this would easily cost far less than engaging the nation in a series of wars that would at some point fail. However, an egalitarian arrangement would dissolve the primacy that importers and exporters and financial operators enjoy in both French and African societies.

    Something like this appears to be the general pattern of these “globalists,” these neoconservatives or neoliberals.

    If so, this is the typical and characteristic confusion: Macron conflates “French interests” with the interests of the few wealthy financiers, militarists, and mafiosi who skim from these international abuses. Perhaps he does not say this more clearly because his actual position would be grossly unpopular.

    French troops will not recoup the Sahel, but Macron might imagine that NATO troops would–sufficiently motivated.

    • David Otness
      April 4, 2024 at 03:30

      Yours is a perspective worth consideration. Thank you.

  7. daryl rush
    April 3, 2024 at 16:04

    Abandoning NATO, should have occurred in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. No we needed our enemies still and out trumped up wars.
    Odd that Trump our mad man could accidentally in his random thought patterns lead US to peace and possibly the entire world moving toward peace.
    War monger, Killer joe, bank creditcard joe, corporate joe certainly is not.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      April 4, 2024 at 11:51

      Exactly. Why does NATO still exist? Because it never was a defensive alliance. It was always an aggressive institution. It is a waste of money. The U.S. merely created it so they could become the world hegemon. I am glad to see the world increasingly rejecting the collective west influence and turning east.

    • Joseph Tracy
      April 4, 2024 at 13:33

      Random bullshit from the Tyrannosaurus Rump should not be confused with a policy comittement or actual attempt to end US payouts to own and control NATO. Don’t substitute hope for deeds. He didn’t do jack to end NATO or US role in NATO He came close to starting a reconciliation process with North and South Korea and chumped out at the ravings of the Deep state. He did however make a new and more honest US policy in Syria, which can be summarized as dont’ fight war for Oil if you don’t steal the Oil. That fit right in with Imperial Joe, as did sanctions on Iran and Support for Israel apartheid and genocide, and his expression of desire to take military control of Venezuela. He also expanded the military budget , further indenting taxpaying Americans to unsustainable 30 some trillions of debt. That ain’t Peace, or Freedom. It’s grab for the biggest possible piece and pay for it with free Dumb.

      The fact that the Democrats are behaving like nazis does not mean the Republicans and Trump are not equal opportunity investors in the empire and its deep state violence. Step away from the paradigm. A real revolution begins in the mind.

  8. April 3, 2024 at 16:03

    Patrick – do you recall the scandalous episode after the ’08 crash when a Harvard Prof. Rogoff economic research paper purported to PROVE that debt to GDP ratio was a killer of economic growth? That paper stoked the austerity school and put a break on Obama recovery plans.

    It was later proven that the paper was based on a basic math error and the results were debunked completely, but that happened years after the austerity was imposed.

    Well it looks like Rogoff paid no price in terms of credibility and he’s back at it again.

    In this wonderful piece, you used a phrase “howitzers or hospitals” from The NY Times (no link to support). So I tracked down the provenance of that phrase and came across Rogoff using the Ukraine war to support the same discredited austerity policy for Europe – focused on climate investments. Check it out:

    “The sudden security demands, which will last well beyond an end to the war in Ukraine, come at a moment when colossal outlays are also needed to care for rapidly aging populations, as well as to avoid potentially disastrous climate change. The European Union’s ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 alone is estimated to cost between $175 billion and $250 billion each year for the next 27 years.

    “The spending pressures on Europe will be huge, and that’s not even taking into account the green transition,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard. “The whole European social safety net is very vulnerable to these big needs.””

    Of course, The NY Times cites this as Gospel. They never learn either.

  9. Pete Capastrano
    April 3, 2024 at 16:00

    These “leaders” have been trying for decades to get rid of that ‘social contract’. Today, they all make Reagan and Thatcher look like flaming liberals, and not one of them cares about anything other than immense profits to be extracted, largely from human suffering. Work harder, work longer, for a paycheck that don’t buy what it used to. With police, clubs, tasers, water cannon and prisons if you object, to make sure that freedom stays free.

    I don’t think these leaders are smart enough to plan that far ahead, but it could even be possible that they started the war to get rid of those pesky old social contracts and put the workers back into their place. But like I said, I doubt that Sergeant “I know nothing” Scholtz and Macaroon can think two moves ahead on a checker board.

    As for the people, what do you think this is, a democracy?

  10. Vera Gottlieb
    April 3, 2024 at 15:43

    Crawling up someones’ behind can never end well.

  11. Jeff Harrison
    April 3, 2024 at 14:52

    Come, come, Patrick! Europeans have become merely sniveling vassals of the US. They’re like the me,too kids on the playground when some bully starts something.

Comments are closed.