As Europe Grows ‘Weary of History,’ Its Leaders Try To Blame America

Various factors have contributed to this condition — including historical guilt, religious retreat, and a geopolitically marginalized continent.

AP/Ebrahim Noroozi
Chancellor Scholz, right, and President Macron at Berlin, January 22, 2024. AP/Ebrahim Noroozi

In “Die Welt von Gestern” (“The World of Yesterday”), published in 1942, Austrian writer Stefan Zweig writes of his continent in the years before World War II, “I felt that Europe, in its state of derangement, had passed its own death sentence.” Today – under the weight of a sense of boredom with its identity and politicians seemingly intent on its undoing – Europe could soon meet its fate. All the while, its leaders blame America.

“Global events in the Taiwan Strait, in the Middle East, in Ukraine are all results of American hesitance to actually lead,” the former North Atlantic Treaty secretary-general, Anders Rasmussen, tells a parley at Washington. Lithuania’s Foreign Affairs Committee head, Žygimantas Pavilionis, seems to agree. “It’s painful, but you have to spend 80 percent of your energy waking up Washington to be Washington.”

Among some of America’s allies exists a tacit narrative that European insecurity is rooted in American policy. On the heels of the Iowa caucuses, too, it has emerged that the greatest risk to Europe is neither Russia nor Communist China nor, indeed, unbridled migration, but the prospect of another Trump presidency — that a would-be President Trump might pivot away from the continent. And, indeed, he might.

The matter of the Biden Administration’s foreign policy failings, too, is no stranger to this column. Yet it is ironic that Europe should berate America on matters of security given its own indolence. That but a handful of nations — most from Eastern Europe and the Baltics — prioritize defense spending so as to meet NATO’s two percent target is one thing. That Europe willfully opens the door to likely hostile elements is another.

The latest example is Germany. It approved last week what is now among Europe’s most liberal immigration policies. Under the revised law, the pathway to citizenship has been reduced to five years from a previous eight — even three in “exceptional circumstances.” What constitutes such circumstance is as yet unclear. The right to dual citizenship, once extended only to other European nationals, has also been flung open.

Tens of thousands of Turks, Germany’s largest minority group, are now eligible for naturalization. More than two million people could yet become Deutsche, should estimates from the center-right Christian Democratic Union prove correct. This latest spasm of demographic engineering comes against the backdrop of the European Union’s migration pact, which mandates that member states accept new migrants or face financial penalty.

Under the pact, four million annual migrants could be absorbed into what Mr. Zweig once deemed “the cradle and Parthenon of Western civilization.” Most arrive from largely Muslim nations like Syria, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian Arab territories. No doubt, not all who land on European shores are of ill intent. Yet, as in America, the process of discernment is not easy, a point accented by the rise in Islamist violence on the continent.

Stabbings on streets, killings at sporting events, attacks on Jewish and Christian institutions. Since October 7, the risk of such attacks has only increased. Were it but a matter of brute force, it would be one left to law enforcement. Yet the violence is often accompanied by, and ostensibly rooted in, a project of cultural undoing and change. In some of Europe’s Christian churches, the Muslim call to prayer is now being sung.

European youths convert to Islam at record rates. In today’s France, Islam has become the most practiced religion. “Islamists have won the battle of ideas,” a French essayist, Hakim El Karoui, an informal advisor to President Macron, said in 2018. Should Europe’s current “high migration scenario” persist, 20 percent of Germany’s population could be Muslim by 2050, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s 31 percent in Sweden.

These shifts coincide with a European loss of faith in its beliefs and traditions. President Macron often clamors for a new “European narrative” — as if the old has run out. The Germans even have a word for it: Geschichtsmüde, “weary of history.” Various factors have contributed to this condition. Historical guilt — much like that which has beset the American left — religious retreat, and a geopolitically marginalized Europe.

This weariness, then, so the reasoning seems to go, must be overcome with a new narrative for which Europe’s migrants are essential. “We need migration,” Ylva Johansson, Europe’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, has said. Yet as Europe sets about this cultural undertaking it might be reminded to wake up and be Europe, too — lest it die too soon.


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