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13 May, 2016

Chinese Commentary: Rising nationalism, growing identity crisis spoil Europe Day

STRASBOURG, May 8 (Xinhua) — Europe Day, celebrated by all European countries annually on May 9, takes place this year around the theme of diversity, a notion often claimed to be at the heart of the European project.

This 2016 edition, however, has been spoiled by the rise of nationalists in a European Union (EU) torn between its member states, especially on the issue of migration, and beset by a profound identity crisis.

The European Parliament, headquartered in Strasbourg, has opened its doors to the public on Sunday, as it does once a year in connection with Europe Day.

The 9th of May is seen as the date of a founding act of the European Community, commemorating the first steps of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), in 1950, while Robert Schuman, French minister of foreign affairs at the time, called for French and German coal and steel production to be united under an international authority.

Protesters hold a banner reads "gates closed at frontiers" to protest EU's migrant policies which they think are violating human rights. (Xinhua/Lu Suyan)

Protesters hold a banner reads “gates closed at frontiers” to protest EU’s migrant policies which they think are violating human rights. (Xinhua/Lu Suyan)

After Strasbourg, several European institutions based in Brussels will pay homage to this founding moment by opening their doors on May 28 and welcoming European citizens “in a fun and family-friendly atmosphere.”

Europe, however, is far from having a festive mood. “Europe is a promise, but a promise which has not been honored,” the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz said last Thursday during a debate on the future of Europe, held in Rome with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the President of the Italian Council Matteo Renzi.

At the head of this noxious climate is the refugee crisis in which the EU has found itself stuck, and which has caused deep divisions between member states to be forcibly thrust into the light.

Unable to deal with the arrival on their soil of over a million refugees in 2015, European countries have adopted national measures which have sometimes been in contradiction with or even antagonistic toward their neighbors, and have come in a state of urgency, without a global vision.

In the eyes of informed observers, as well as in those of ordinary citizens, the EU appears more and more like a ship without a rudder, let alone a helmsman.

The EU-Turkey agreement of March 18, a compromise born in the shared pain of Brussels and Ankara, has not yet produced tangible results, while tens of thousands of refugees are still stuck in camps in Greece, waiting for resettlement in EU member states, or to be returned to Turkey.

The refugee problem, which has been pushed back to the borders by having been confided to Turkey, has caused the resurgence of old European demons. Populisms and nationalisms are flourishing in Hungary, Poland and Austria, but also in France and even in Germany. The “Franco-German couple,” long the driving force of the EU, is faltering; Paris, like Berlin, has been concentrating on domestic policy.

The threat, still current, of Greece leaving the Euro Zone (“Grexit”), as well as of a “Brexit” with the upcoming British referendum on June 23 on whether the United Kingdom will remain in the EU, independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia, and the Dutch “no” to the European agreement for association with Ukraine: all are equally factors in the destabilization of the Old Continent.

Experiencing a breakdown in governance since 2005 and its constitutional referendum, the EU has left public opinion to express doubts, skepticism and growing defiance toward the institutions as well as the leaders, against the backdrop of checks being reestablished along certain internal borders, terrorist threats matched by rising anti-Muslim sentiment, and radicalization. All of this comes during an economically morose period that continues to only exacerbate social tensions.

With economic growth still feeble (1.4 percent predicted this year), endemic unemployment, rising in poverty, and the Euro put back into question in its role as a common currency, Europeans have hardly been given much reason for a festive mood this May 9.

Eight years after the start of the crisis, the European economy remains on the drip from the ECB (European Central Bank), which will have, by next March, injected some 1,740 billion euros into markets via its debt purchasing programs, and its zero percent or nearly zero interest rates.

In such a context, the rise of nationalisms, in conjunction with this identity crisis of the “European project,” has left serious dangers looming over the European Union in regard to its longevity, its values, and its ability to find its place in the 21st century world undergoing complete reconfiguration, not to mention the ability to find the spirit of “Europe Day” and rekindle that of its founders.