A “perfect storm” is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.
I delayed writing this blog until after the result of the Greek referendum on accepting or rejecting the latest financial offer from the European Union (EU) was known, although, to my mind, the “no” result was never in doubt. The newspapers today are full of comment and predictions although no-one really knows what will happen next. The EU and associated eurozone affiliates are in uncharted territory and I’ve no doubt that all sorts of emergency meetings will now take place. One thing is for sure however. A Greek withdrawal from the eurozone and, possibly, from the EU will strike at the very heart of the EU and may cause many other member states to rethink their subservience to what is effectively a federal government based in Brussels.
But, this isn’t all. Europe, and particularly Western Europe, is under attack in a way that is unprecedented. It’s not just about whether Greece will exit the eurozone and possibly the EU. Europe is under attack from other quarters: the lack of reform in the Islam-dominated countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA); unprecedented numbers of economic and political migrants coming from the MENA countries and especially the fallout from the activities of Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq; a growing resistance to migrants from the east EU countries into the west EU countries; and from Putin’s aggressive behaviour and support for the Ukrainian separatists.
Let’s consider each factor. If Greece decides to leave the eurozone and return to the drachma we could argue ‘no big deal’. The UK pound-based economy is doing well, as is krona-based Sweden. Six other EU countries, mostly in east Europe, survive on their original currencies although one (Denmark) has joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism 2 as a prelude to adopting the euro in lieu of the Danish krone. But, there is general unrest within the EU. Spain, Portugal and Italy have all recently undergone austerity measures in an attempt to bring their government spending under control. The UK has been promised an EU in-out referendum sometime in the next two years. Switzerland and Norway are held up as examples of countries that exist outside the EU but inside Europe. The European Commission in Brussels has singularly failed to audit its accounts with a clean bill of health for almost twenty years. And, he who controls the purse strings controls everything. Make no mistake, we are heading towards a United States of Europe, USE, under a federal government based in Brussels and there is considerable kick-back from many member states, not just the UK. Regional Europeans are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the continual evolution of the USE and resistance is mounting. A Greek exit followed by a UK exit will cause many other member states to reconsider their future within the EU.
Within the MENA countries, Islam is without leadership and policy. Islam has no equivalent to a central governing body such as the Roman Catholic Pope plus Holy See or the Anglican Archbishop plus Synod to dictate 21st century dogma and doctrine. Islam is whatever the local imam, mullah, mufti or ayatollah decides. There is no central doctrine-defining body. Each Islamic religious leader is free to interpret the Qur’an and Hadith in whatever way he thinks fit. (There are very few female religious leaders within Islam and then only within certain sects.) The result is a 14th-century-locked religion that is wandering hopelessly in the 21st century and spawning radicalised extremists and jihadists in its midst.
(Both inside and outside of Europe, we see other Islamic extreme groups building on this uncertainty: Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, Jemaah Islamiyah, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, …)
Consider the invasion of Europe by non-EU migrants coming predominantly from countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Bangladesh – all predominantly Muslim countries. Many migrants enter Europe illegally and without papers. We have no idea about their background or their primary reason for seeking asylum: fleeing from persecution, economic migration or bent on mischief (jihadists)? We also have no ideas about how to stem the flow. It is ridiculous when you think of it to have UK Royal Navy warships patrolling the Mediterranean looking for and rescuing the occupants of over-crowded boats. Humanitarian, yes, but all this does is allow the people smugglers to encourage yet more asylum seekers into the boats with a promise that “you will be picked up by the Royal Navy and taken to a safe European haven”. It would be far better to have the warships enter the North African harbours and sink the boats before they are loaded with their human cargoes. But such an action would be construed an act of war and thus is not carried out.
In general, we have no idea about what to do to stop the tide of asylum seekers streaming across the Mediterranean. We treat the problem symptomatically rather than by removal of the source. The only way to stop the flow is to make the countries of origin pleasurable to live in – no internal civil or religious conflicts, no persecution, an improved standard of living, and so on. In a word: utopia, but this is a pipe dream. The best we can do is focus on improving standards of living in the MENA countries but here’s the rub: neither the EU nor the USA has any plausible plan to do this full-scale – well, not that I know of anyway. As a result, we continue to treat the problem by trying to contain it. Italy sends quotas of migrants to other European countries; migrants mass at Calais anxious to reach the UK (there will be bloodshed soon as the migrants become more aggressive and opportunistic in their attempts to break through the barriers to the Channel Tunnel); countries such as Germany, Sweden and the UK announce that they are “full up” and cannot absorb any more; and the indigenous populations of the countries receiving the migrants are becoming increasingly hostile to the migrants. (UKIP’s 3 million votes in the UK’s 2015 General Election is evidence of this but if you want more evidence go to a local pub or some other social gathering and listen to the man on the street. The sentiments are not racist. They are simply a statement that it is grossly unfair on those who have paid taxes into the benefits system and on housing, education and the National Health System.)
In a similar vein, France, Germany and the UK has had an influx of EU migrants flooding in from the newly-joined East European countries – Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Croatians. Most seek a better life in the more-affluent West European countries and contribute accordingly but almost every day the news contains an item about benefit rip-offs, insensitivity to local customs and culture, aggressive begging, or crime and, again, this feeds an anti-EU migrant emotion. I suspect that most EU migrants become worthy citizens but the news channels (TV and newspapers) distort our views by only reporting the bad news, not the good.
Now throw Syria into the pot. The civil war in Syria started in 2011, as part of the Arab Spring. For a while the war was waged by a hodgepodge of disparate rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s government but then the Islamic State back-to-basics Muslim extremists entered with a savagery unknown in the 21st century. Nobody knew how to respond to this major intervention: side with the original rebels, side with the government, side with whom? The result is that both the Europeans and the Americans have no firm policy. It’s a huge mess. Sending in a few drones to try to take out an IS leader or two is futile. Michael Fallon, the UK government’s Secretary of State for Defence, recommends increasing the Royal Air Force’s airstrikes. Why? At what targets? And will this help al-Assad whom we have pledged not to support? But, more fundamentally, you cannot bomb an ideology out of existence. You may kill a leader or two but all this does is creates yet more martyrs. The IS, like the Taliban, is a sharia-based Islamic revolutionary group and, as we have seen in Afghanistan, cannot be bombed out of existence. The only solution is to meet with the leaders, military and religious, and try to persuade them to update their beliefs. But, it would be a brave politician to suggest this – “we do not bargain with terrorists” becomes the mantra. I am not an admirer of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair but one thing he got right was to continue the peace talks started by ex-Prime Minister John Major between the IRA and various Northern Ireland and UK government bodies culminating in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 thus ending a civil war that dated back to 1917. The Syrian civil war, now complicated by the presence of IS, has only been running for four years. Can we really allow it to continue into infinity and will increased military intervention solve the problem? If Vietnam and more recently, Afghanistan and Iraq, are anything to go by, the answer is no. The only solution is negotiation, education and willingness on the part of Islamic extremists to change a belief system that dates back to the days of Muhammad and, to be honest, I don’t see that happening. What I see is increased calls for more military action which will achieve nothing except more hatred, needless deaths, persecution, barbaric acts of revenge and yet more migrants heading towards Europe. It’s a grim picture.
Finally, Vladimir Putin is nibbling away at the eastern end of Europe. His support for the Russian separatists in East Ukraine is undermining the general relationship between Russia and both Europe and the United States. Our only reaction has been to resort to sanctions which, in turn hurt both Europe and Russia and clearly has hardened Putin’s resolve to continue his mischief in Ukraine. Look at the map. Ukraine borders Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania – all EU countries. If Ukraine slides deeper into civil war, it becomes a threat to all four neighbouring EU countries.
Now put all these factors together: a possible implosion of both the eurozone and the EU caused first by a Greek exit and second by a UK exit; increased unrest in the Middle East and North African countries leading to yet more asylum seekers flooding into Europe; eastern EU migrants overloading the social resources of western EU countries; an inability to tackle the presence of IS in both Syria and Iraq; and a major Russian irritant in Ukraine which borders four EU countries.
We have the ingredients for a perfect storm in Europe.
Your comments are welcome. Please prove me wrong.