Another year, full of conflicts that hit Europe hard, has passed. In the shadow of the war waged in Ukraine, the Middle East went up in flames as well, amidst economic crises, a gruesome winter and a generally bleak outlook for 2024. The holidays were beyond doubt a moment of clarity for the most of us but right after New Year’s Eve, depressing headlines filled the cover pages again: many times over the festivities had to be canceled, or worse yet, not even Christmas trees were erected.
In most of the major European cities’ Christmas markets, concrete barricades and patrolling military-men were a given. We could easily say these little annoyances are customary nowadays but it would be wrong to normalize, let alone, to reference them as some sort of twisted victory of multiculturalism.
There were no fatal terrorist attacks this year during the holidays, but calling that a success would be deranged. There were still plans to attack the cathedral in Cologne, with three alleged plotters taken into custody which shows all the more that the danger is still here. And sadly there are plenty more phenomena that contribute to the disillusionment of European citizens.
Sobering is the attitude of the people of Berlin, who consider “less” (300) arrests at New Year’s Eve parties and “only a dozen” injured police officers a positive development. Not to mention that authorities had to set up checkpoints all over the city to prevent the gathering of disrupting groups of people who would otherwise have taken illegal fireworks to these open-air events. Still, hundreds of men – whose origins are officially deemed “unknown” – took part in a “fireworksfight” on Alexanderplatz.
By now, the failure of Wilkommenskultur is beyond doubt. The real question is when Europe will wake up and realize this – and how it will react. Because making mistakes is natural and understandable but keeping silent about them only makes problems worse. Still, seeing mainstream political communication, one has the impression that different sides are not talking about the same problem, and when they do, their representatives only acknowledge their own viewpoint, however distorted that is. A good example for that is the recent tragic sexual assault by immigrants against a 15-year-old girl. After the hearings at the criminal court in Hamburg, eight of the nine perpetrators were let free at first instance in November 2023. During the trial, experts cited the actions to be signs of togetherness and identity-creation among the group members.
Of course extreme examples can be found on each end of the spectrum: this article is not and cannot be an overarching description of the situation. There are a lot of different elements in a vast and complex system that is the interpretation of the world we live in: sensationalist media outlets, short-term political agenda, or the need of the average citizen to understand all this.
For the latter, it would be acceptable for everybody to cease daily news consumption in order to follow bigger developments on a monthly basis. If we did that, everybody could see that something is deeply wrong about European politics: there are towering problems concerning safety, security, society and welfare and yet, there is a complete lack of sensible answers to them. The left-wing liberal political elite barely notices the problems and hardships of the average European, and the right envisions the end of the world every week. In the Netherlands, controversial right-winger Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party won the snap elections, the extremist AfD party is on the rise in popularity in Germany, Marine Le Pen and her party are now one of the strongest ones in French politics.
All these shifts have come a good half year before the European elections. What kind of a turning point could this mean in questions concerning the war in Ukraine, the war in Gaza or the reform and enlargement of the European Union? What values are here stay still? Will there be anything left of the European idea?
Seeing that the United States is increasingly decoupling from the European Union and is acting according to its own agenda, while China is becoming a new hegemonic power in the East, alongside a Russia which still has its imperial mindset in place, European decision-makers had better face problems inside and outside of the EU and give realistic, well-grounded answers instead of empty promises and fateful wishful thinking. They could maybe do all this inside an alliance whose priorities, for once, are its member states and their population.
Because if they do not, Europe will once again become an incubator for both radical and extremist right-wing ideas and inept left-wing ideology. We have time and need for neither of those.
Have a happier new year, Europe!