As the previous article in this series argued, fear lies at the core of the anger that has been festering in Europe in the past 15-years. Those who are afraid want a quick deliverance of the causes of the fear. That is why they vote for people who promise quick fixes.

Several so-called quick fixes are on the horizon. Assuming the far right manages to form, or sway, governments in several key European countries, we will likely see policies that strongly restrict migration and that might even attempt to reduce existing migrant communities in some parts of Europe. We will see policies that seek to maximise national interests as opposed to the collective good of the European project, as envisaged by its architects a half century ago. By extension, we will see policies that attempt to shift economic and financial concerns in several European countries onto the European Union, effectively collectivising problems much more than benefits. In turn, we will see a dilution in the power and momentum behind new visions for Europe. That is, many European governments will avoid big initiatives seeking to find Europe-wide solutions for festering socio-economic problems. We will also see a more nationalistic political-economic perspectives in foreign affairs, trying to use foreign policy to address the concerns of each country, as opposed to contributing to a shared view that shapes Europe’s position in the world.

All of this is understandable. Societies have the right to maximise their own benefits versus those of a lesser collective, even if that lesser collective is as powerful and successful as the European identity and project have been in the past half century. Societies also have the right to attempt to kick the can down the road, postponing handling some important social-economic problems, because of an assessment that some economic or technological changes in the future might provide solutions for some of these problems. Societies could also decide to leave some problems for future generations to address and pay their prices.

The weight of priorities also differs. Today in Europe, there are clearly groups that place bigger weight on the cultural aspects of immigration than on the consequences of rising socio-economic trends, such as aging or the difficulty of finding human resources to meet a large array of jobs. This might not be to the liking of many policy experts, but it is politically legitimate for societies to prioritise their concerns as the majorities in these societies wish.

And before and after, Europe can afford to ignore some problems today. Europe has managed, by the success of many of its countries – and crucially by the success of European project in the past few decades - to accumulate major wealth that it can divert its eyes and attention from hard-nosed political and economic calculations, towards assuaging its cultural and emotional concerns.

The problem, however, is that the current period is a transition onto a new world in which the European way of doing things in the past few decades would no longer be possible. Decisions today – based on the priorities European societies focus on - would have mighty consequences in the foreseeable future.

This transition period is marked by key characteristics.

The divide between wealthy and poorer Europe has actually widened in the 15-years since the financial crisis of 2008/2009. Interest differentials on sovereign bonds might have narrowed, but that was precisely because the European project has proven itself, in the years during and immediately after the financial crisis, credible enough that international markets saw that wealthy Europe actually bailed out poorer Europe. But the underlying economic fundamentals have not changed. In some respects, they have widened in favour of wealthy Europe.

This leads to the second characteristic. With the exception of few highly wealthy European countries, and very specific industries, European competitiveness, relative to that of many Asian economies, has been decreasing, particularly as Asian talent, technology, and capital have been gaining immense ground.

And third, when it comes to the research areas that are shaping the future of humanity – quantum mechanics, bio-engineering, advance computing and artificial intelligence – the leading European spots in these areas are increasingly interlinked to counterparts in America, much more than they are to the rest of the European economy. This might result in a situation, similar to that in several major global south economies, in which there are pockets of excellence with immense wealth, but that are largely detached from the swathes of their economies.

These problems are particularly perilous in Europe, because unlike in America, China, or the big economies of the global south, Europe’s political economy, after the Second World War, was founded on egalitarianism and building and sustaining a super large and powerful middle class. The more these three characteristics mentioned above are entrenched in Europe’s political economy, the weaker the European middle class would become, and the less egalitarian European societies would be. This would further inflame the anger and fear increasingly coming to the surface.

Europe’s place in the world will be affected. The more the European political economy becomes infused with these ills, the more the dilution of European power in the world. This will be particularly problematic, because Europe will increasingly be on the receiving end of the dynamics of the nascent confrontation between America and China. Europe might even return to the place it was in during most of the Cold War, when it did not have a cohesive strategic decision-making process, and was, in all key strategic domains, strongly attached to America’s objectives and calculus. This is very different from the strategic autonomy that some European leaders and thinkers have been promoting in the past few years.

Quick fixes might have some immediate benefits. But they do not address the causes of the fear that has been lurking for some time in large parts of Europe’s collective psyche.

My food for thought is that for Europe to address the causes of that fear, it must address the causes of the problems that have been festering in the European political economy in the past 15-years, since the financial crisis of 2008/2009.

This will inevitably entail imagining a new European ideal. This ideal must not conjure up a nativistic Europe that idealises what was never ideal, and that at times led Europe to slaughter millions of its own people at the altar of false gods.

That ideal must also shed the illusion that Europe can continue to ignore its socio-economic concerns without consequences to its place in the world. And this ideal must be realistic enough to posit that the coming decades will geopolitically be vastly different from the past few decades in which the European project prospered.

Imagining this new ideal could be a generational opportunity for secure and confident Europe to emerge. Europe, that is the product of the achievements of the European experience in the past six decades, ought to stand up to the forces that see only demons in the shadows in the European house and courtyard.

A new serious European ideal, emerging from the European experience of the past few decades, and not emerging in its opposition, would ensure that the respect and admiration that many the world over have for Europe, would continue. This soft power is Europe’s mightiest force. And it translates into tangible results in trade, tourism, investments, and international relations.

As I have argued in Ahram before – and as I was quoted in the European Parliament in January 2022 by its President – “Europe has curated for itself, in the past few decades, the most beautiful and refined way of living humanity has even known”. To allow fears in the collective psyche to destroy the foundations upon which that beauty and refinement were built, would be a tremendous loss for Europe and for the world.