[Ed. – Funny, I wrote about a closely related topic nearly a year ago.]
It has become clear that the centralization imposed for decades by the EU and its distant, unrepresentative bureaucracy hasn’t created a unitary Europe. Indeed, it has created a powerful backlash across the continent, one that the EU can survive only by figuring out how better to establish its legitimacy among its diverse nations.
The geographical defenses that shielded Europe during the postwar era no longer hold. When the great mid-20th-century French geographer Fernand Braudel wrote his classic work on the Mediterranean, he didn’t treat the sea itself as Europe’s southern border. That, he suggested, was the Sahara. Today, as if to prove him right, migrant caravans assemble across North Africa, from Algeria to Libya, for the demographic invasion of Europe proper. The Balkans, too, have resumed their historic role as a corridor of mass migration toward Europe’s center, the first stop for millions of refugees fleeing the collapsed regimes of Iraq and Syria.
Europe thus now finds itself facing an unhappy historical irony: The decades in which it was able to develop its high ideals of universal human rights, including the right of the distressed to seek havens in Europe, was made possible, it is now clear, by the oppressive regimes that once held sway on its periphery. The Arab world was slammed shut for decades by prison states whose dictator-wardens kept their people in order. Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Assad family in Syria, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya—they allowed Europe to have its idealistic cake and eat it, too.
Worse for European unity, geography and history have conspired to make some regions of the continent more vulnerable to the flood of migrants and refugees than others. As Germany and parts of Scandinavia lay down a very tentative welcome mat, Central European countries like Hungary and Slovenia erect new razor-wire fences. The Balkans, virtually separated from the rest of Europe by war and underdevelopment in the 1990s, have now been dealt another blow by the anarchy in the Middle East. At the southeastern extremity of Europe, Greece, once a poor Ottoman province, has seen its economic crisis exacerbated by its unlucky position as the gateway for hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the Arab world’s turmoil.