For days I was teaching a class. I asked students to tell me which states they considered to be great powers. They immediately spoke of the United States and China. States like India, Russia, Japan and even Iran have been relegated to another less important group. I have often asked them about Europe. They replied that it was a separate case. "Europe is a normative power," said one student. "It has power and it doesn't."
So far there are no big news. Europe – especially the countries of the European Union – embarked on the End of History narrative in the 1990s. There was nothing to fear if History was on our side. It was a matter of time before foolish states realized that democracy and the market economy were goods in themselves. Even the killing in the Balkans did not divert Europe from its imagined destiny. Halfway through the mad 1990s, it was often heard that Europe did not need an army because no one was going to invade it. It was used for the term “postmodernity” to say that here the permanent state of conflict that had devastated the rest of the world had been transcended. And we were ready to show others (including the United States, which has guaranteed our safety for 70 years) how this was done. Thus in Europe, in the last three decades, politics has ceased to be an end and has become a means. A form of identity, as one would say now. The process has become much more important than the end result.
Meanwhile the world has changed on several internal and external fronts and the fragility of European regulations has been exposed. A weakness related to the ability to impose anything, anyone. A disagreeable United States, a border checker Russia and a model for technocracy-tired regimes and parties in European states and a China always on the lookout for economic opportunities to gain influence on the sovereignty of others, showed that Europe and its normativity can do little in one real world where what counts is still the ability to use force.
The biggest blow came in 2015 with the refugee and migrant crisis – which threatens to repeat itself, to some extent, in the coming weeks, if Erdoğan maintains his mania for making politics with the weapons he has. European norms have been interrupted by reality. The only European leader who opened the borders peer-to-peer, in spite of the other 27 heads of state, was Angela Merkel, who has since been in painful decline, with no substitute in sight, which is all the more serious as Europe, without the United Kingdom, depends a lot on Germany not to languish.
What happened anyway? It's simple. A Europe drained of economic means, with an unemployment rate that has not been seen for a long time and disoriented in relation to future expectations, was faced with the pressure of flows of refugees from Libya and Syria and flows of economic migrants from the Balkans and the North of Africa. The test was to know what would prevail: the survival policy, in which countries necessarily had to exclude some of those who wanted to enter for reasons of incapacity for reception and social stability, or the normativity that dictated that everyone should enter without exception, because the values Europeans dictated it.
Unsurprisingly, the former prevailed. States cannot be required, regardless of whether they belong to supranational institutions, to ignore the needs of their citizens in order to meet the needs of citizens of other states. As much as it costs each one of us, individually, what is happening on our land and sea borders.
The truth is that Europe has done nothing wrong – except the inability to organize itself to try to receive as many refugees as possible, evenly distributed among countries. Still without that, he welcomed those who could and tried to avoid at all costs simplistic narratives of "We" and "Other" and very typical Islamophobias of those who need to find scapegoats in times of scarcity, trying not to alienate the concerned populations – some more legitimately than others – with their future and that of their children. The problem is that policies that leave migrants out of direct confrontation with normative narratives.
European normativity was an illusion that lasted as long as the United States was the only great power and simultaneously the protective power of our continent. With these two conditions over, politics will have to run its normal course. Machiavelli returns without being called to a continent that, in a few years, and out of recklessness, has become one of the most vulnerable areas of the globe.
How to proceed? We need to find a renewed political identity that balances hospitality (and the other values that characterize us) and security. But the opening of borders by Turkey, which stops millions of refugees that we cannot (nor want to) receive, has again raised a chorus of normative voices on moral obligations, international law, and so on. It is a mistake. In the world we live in today, the absolute normative discourse does not sympathize with reality. And its reproduction will always leave us below our aspirations. And this is one of the fastest ways for us to make political mistakes that may be irreversible.
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