17/04/2022

Europe heats up again

3 min
Europe is rescaled

The idea that history has not ended needs no further elaboration. Neither has history ended, nor do human beings seem ready to break out of the loop of barbarism that they have been perfecting by putting their intelligence – or rather, their technical capacity – at the service of the most refined brutality.

It had been decades since Europe has seen its political and economic model directly challenged with such crudeness. In fact, the geopolitical focus of the world has been shifting for decades, leaving the Old Continent in the shadow of the major powers and becoming a secondary stage. In theory, both the United States and the emerging powers described Europe as a decadent old lady, while it became a prosperous and secure corner of the planet. A sort of Indian reservation of civilization and social security.

Today the invasion of Ukraine goes beyond an expansionist war by a megalomaniac who wants to revive the Russian Empire. The invasion of Ukraine threatens the freedom of a democracy that would rather be a star of the Union than a satellite under the Russian boot. Zelensky's Ukraine wants to enter the sphere of respect for human rights, democracy and a free economy, and flee Putin's securitarian paranoia.

Almost two months after the invasion began, Ukrainians continue to resist and the list of cities martyred by the Russian army grows. The Ukrainians are resisting at a very high cost and have achieved some military success, such as the sinking of the Russian Black Sea navy flagship, the Moskva. A ship sunk amidst the silence of dead servicemen's mothers and a public opinion indoctrinated by state propaganda.

As the war goes on and the Ukrainians deliver blows, Putin raises the tone of his threats. He speaks of "unforeseeable consequences" if Ukraine continues to be armed and warns that he will deploy nuclear weapons in the Baltic if Sweden and Finland join NATO.

Meanwhile, Europe continues to drag its feet, as Kiev calls for the gas supplies that finance Putin's war to be cut off. Germany is preparing a €2bn package of military aid, but at the same time does not dare to turn off the tap of Russian gas.

Putin has admitted "certain effects" of the trade sanctions and announced he would adapt to a new context. The World Bank speaks of a deep recession and a fall in Russian GDP of 11% this year, but the sanctions will only be decisive if they affect oil and gas, Russia's main exports, which have benefited from a spectacular rise in prices since the beginning of the war. Europe must be ready to make sacrifices if it wants to defend a model that is under threat.

A divided and unhappy France

The European model is threatened from within its democracies. On April 24, for the third time in the last twenty years, a far-right candidate will reach the second round of the French presidential election.

The usual fear of the far right is disappearing and anguish and sullenness are leading public opinion to distance itself from traditional politicians. France – like Italy and Spain – is experiencing an uncertainty that crystallises in a growing social and economic gap that divides society between those who have benefited from globalisation and those who are suffocated by inflation. Both seem to have lost their fear of the far right, which is seeing the disappearance of what was called the "Republican front" with the threat of abstention.

Éric Zemmour has given respectability to Le Pen, who has skilfully moderated her speech and preferred to speak more about the price of energy than about immigration. She is thus approaching an average voter who does not like to be labelled xenophobic but who wants to be a priority.

The campaign is open and, in fact, since 1965 only two French presidents have been re-elected. In the first round Macron won 28% of the vote, four points more than in 2017. He has focused on jobs, growth and foreign action to erase the management of covid and inflation. Macron needs a good handful of votes from the leader of the third force, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

A Le Pen victory would be a disaster for France and for Europe. It is not impossible for one of the engines of Europe to be led by a president who expresses admiration for Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán, who wants to exclude France from NATO's integrated command structure and who no longer advocates leaving the euro but developing a "French first" approach with an immigration policy contrary to Republican values. It goes without saying that the contagion effect on the continent through Italy and Spain would be the end of the dream of a way of understanding democracy and Europe.

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