Editorial of January 2016

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by Mariana Canotilho, Editor
 ▪

‘The inclusion of the other and the fall of the Empire’

The word of the year 2015 was ‘refugee’. It is quite amazing how seven letters can actually encompass the sea of problems the European Union is facing, which will almost certainly be prevalent throughout 2016.

Aylan Kurdi died at our doorstep in the beginning of September. Before him, thousands of other migrants had already drowned in the Mediterranean, but it took the powerful image of a dead child lying on the sand for the Europeans to address the problem. Hundreds of volunteers mobilized to help their fellow humans, who ran away from war and misery. But although individuals acted, according to their possibilities, the EU institutions seem helpless, almost paralyzed. The Union struggled to reach an agreement about the reception and support to the refugees; some Member states refused the proposed quotas’ system. Hungary’s parliament voted to deploy troops to repel refugees from its border, deepening divisions with the rest of the EU. The common mechanisms negotiated have proven almost useless until now. Very few refugees have been resettled. 2016 began with yet another picture of a dead child, while trying to reach safety and peace, and with the alert from the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres: the EU has failed, and only traffickers are managing the migrants’ influx.

There is a growing and worrying incapacity, within the Union, to “include the other”, to use a classical expression of J. Habermas. In fact, the refugees’ crisis is only the worst, more serious symptom, of a larger problem: the loss of the European social project, the abandonment of an idea of Europe as an inclusive and plural community of equals. With this phenomenon comes the loss of hope in the Union’s institutions, trapped between the unwillingness of some and the incapacity of others to find reasonable political solutions to people’s problems.

Under this scenario, citizens are turning to other, quite unsettling, options. Extreme right-wing parties are gaining followers and votes all over Europe (France, Hungary and Poland are good examples of this), without a decisive institutional reaction from the EU, even in common matters, and in a striking contrast with the way the Greek crisis was handled.

Nationalism and separatism are rising. No later than 2017, the UK will hold an in-out referendum about the Union. An “out” vote will have unpredictable consequences and may be the end of the European project as we knew it: the “fall of the Empire”. Therefore, the biggest challenge for the time to come is to reinvent the EU. To build European politics based on hope and on values such as solidarity, diversity and rule of law, rather than fear and exclusion. Only Europe can save itself. Will it succeed?

Picture credits: Michael Gubi

[We also invite you to take a look at the Portuguese elections aftermath as commented by Sérgio Maia Tavares Marques, here.]
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