Two days after Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (now Germany’s federal president) wrote about the uncertain future ahead for Germany and Europe:
“We are living between two eras—the post-war order and the quarter century after the fall of the Berlin wall are now history. The order of the 21st century and the way the world of tomorrow will look is not settled; it is completely open … I know we have to adjust to troubled times, to some unpredictability and new uncertainties” (May Bulman, “Germany Warns Donald Trump’s Presidency ‘Marks End of Old World Order,’” The Independent, Jan. 23, 2017).
Where are matters headed?
NATO in question with demands that Europe shoulder costs
Not all of the uncertainties for Europe’s future involve the new American administration, but concerns about the NATO alliance are one of them. “It could have been worse,” was the summary comment made by German news media after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington, D.C., in mid-March to meet President Donald Trump.
As expected, European nations’ lack of funding to meet their NATO commitments was one of the topics on President Trump’s agenda for the meeting. Some weeks earlier Merkel agreed that the newly elected president had valid concerns about NATO members not fulfilling their annual commitment of 2 percent of GDP spent on defense.
In fact, in 2016 only five of NATO’s 28 member countries met that requirement, and the United States accounted for approximately two thirds of the funds spent by all NATO members on defense, although a sizeable portion of U.S. military spending involves commitments outside NATO’s traditional area of responsibility.
Reflecting the new American administration’s reassessment of the Atlantic alliance, in his first meeting with his NATO counterparts, America’s new secretary of defense James Mattis declared, “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defence” (Paul Szoldra, “Here’s Who Is Paying the Agreed-Upon Share to NATO—and Who Isn’t,” Business Insider Deutschland, Feb. 16, 2017).
Just two weeks after Merkel’s White House visit, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted at a Brussels meeting of NATO foreign ministers that all alliance members agree to meet the 2 percent funding goal by 2024, with “yearly milestones and progress commitments” to be presented by the May 2017 NATO summit.”
Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel’s response to Tillerson’s proposal lacked enthusiasm: “I don’t know any politician in Germany who believes that this goal is doable or desirable for our country … We will increase military spending, but only to the extent that we consider to be responsible. I have no idea where we are supposed to put all the aircraft carriers we would have to buy to invest 70 billion euros in our army annually” (Marcus Becker, “Gabriel Rebelliert Gegen [Rebels Against] Tillerson,” Spiegel Online, March 31, 2017, translated from German).
No matter what happens with the NATO alliance, Europe will increase its military expenditures. If the alliance is to survive, Europe will need to spend more to satisfy its North American partner. If NATO collapses, Europe will be forced to spend more anyway—and at the same time become independent of American dominance regarding military strategy.
Muslim refugee crisis remains unresolved
Relations between Europe and the Trump administration are only one of Europe’s current concerns. Muslim refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Libya have flooded Europe in the last two years, with Germany alone having accepted some 1.5 million refugees over an 18-month period. Although the so-called Balkan route has been effectively shut down, people are still trying to get to Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, mainly from Libya, using boats that in many cases are not seaworthy.
The influx of so many people from another culture has strained social resources, revealed fissures in European unity and left many people wondering to what extent the refugees will be—or even want to be—integrated into European society.
When thousands of refugees from Syria wound up on small Greek islands in the Aegean Sea in 2015, the utter impossibility of Greece fulfilling its obligations under the Schengen treaty (permitting passport-free travel between much of Europe) was readily apparent.
The treaty mandates that any person arriving from outside the European area must be cleared for entry into the European Union and neighboring participants by the country of the point of entry. This means that countries like Greece and Italy on the outward perimeter of the area of participating states are forced to bear more responsibility for permitting people to enter the European area than landlocked countries within like Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are only responsible for people arriving at their international airports from non-participating countries.
With its population of only 11 million people, Greece was overwhelmed in 2015 by the more than one million refugees who poured over its borders, many arriving by boat on Greek islands. As many as 10,000 arrived on some days. Greek border police had to be augmented by officers from other EU countries, and even then many refugees entered the EU undocumented, much less with proper vetting.
Processing the refugees at its external perimeter was not the only challenge for individual European member countries. Should the thousands of refugees just be allowed to go wherever they wanted within the EU and neighboring states, with the vast majority of them seeking resettlement in Germany? To cope with the refugee influx, the European Commission proposed a system to discourage the kind of country-hopping that saw hundreds of thousands of refugees settle in Germany after having passed through other European countries such as Hungary and Greece.
The proposal provided for the resettlement, on a quota basis, of some 160,000 refugees left stranded in Greece and Italy in 2015. However, by March 2017 less than 10 percent of them had been resettled in other EU countries. How to distribute the remaining thousands of refugees reflects an east-west divide within Europe, with Hungary and Poland refusing to participate in the resettlement plan and others helping only on a limited basis.
The European Commission has recently pressured Poland and Hungary to accept refugees under the EU relocation plan. If the two countries refuse to cooperate, Brussels will use “all powers” in response, it said in a statement.
“This is solidarity in action and a demonstration of responsibility. Now is the time for our member states to deliver on their commitments and to intensify their efforts,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, in an April 12, 2017, European Commission press release. “They have a political, moral and legal duty to do so. I call on those countries that have not yet joined this common effort to do so,” he added.
In comments made to British newspapers, an unnamed EU diplomat said that Poland and Hungary would either participate in the refugee relocation plan or possibly face expulsion from the Union.
Will Muslim refugees be assimilated?
For Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban the refugee crisis is not just a question of humanitarianism. Orban does not hesitate to voice his concerns over Europe’s future with its growing Muslim population. Orban explained his viewpoint in an interview with a Swiss radio station: “Whenever I talk about a Christian Europe in the European Commission, the others look at me as if I were from the Middle Ages.” In his view, the influx of refugees will eventually lead to a “competition of cultures,” and “Christians will be the losers in this competition if many Muslims are allowed into Europe” (Deutschlandfunk [Germany Radio], “Retter des Christlichen Abendlandes? [Savior of the Christian Western World?]” June 20, 2016).
The Hungarian leader believes that the religion of Islam and its resulting culture cannot be assimilated into a cultural environment that was largely shaped by Christianity. Instead of assimilation, he believes, multiculturalism will result in two distinct societal entities. Orban’s prediction should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is known for its intent to promote a Muslim “parallel society” in Europe.
Since the beginning of the refugee crisis in 2015, Europe has seen a noticeable increase in conservative movements—partially because of the fear that assimilation will not work, and partly because of terrorist attacks committed by people admitted as refugees. As a result, traditional political parties have had to appeal for adherence to traditional European culture in an effort to stem voter dissatisfaction.
Prominent politicians of Germany’s mainstream Christian Democratic Union (CDU, the party of Chancellor Merkel and Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl) have called for an “Islam law” to be introduced in parliament prior to this fall’s national election. CDU deputy party chairperson Julia Klöckner said the law could regulate Islamic mosques in Germany, including a provision prohibiting financial support for mosques in Germany from foreign sources.
Other party officials believe that any proposed law should clearly subjugate any and all aspects of Islamic sharia law to Germany’s de facto 1949 constitution.
The increased interest in conservative movements predated recent tensions between Turkish president Recep Erdogan and EU leaders prior to Turkey’s April referendum on constitutional reform. However, Erdogan did not help matters any by urging his countrymen living in Western Europe to be prolific in their family planning.
“Go live in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses. Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe,” Erdogan told his fellow Turks in Europe in a speech after the Netherlands and Germany prohibited rallies in support of the Turkish referendum (“Erdogan Urges Turks in Europe to Have 5 Children,” Daily Mail, March 17, 2017).
His foreign minister even warned that Europe was heading for “wars of religion” in response to the Dutch government’s action to prevent Turkish officials from campaigning for the referendum in the Netherlands. And it was Erdogan himself who, in a speech he gave in Cologne in 2011, urged his fellow Turks living in Germany to not be assimilated.
Brexit will leave Germany with more power
When Frank-Walter Steinmeier talked about the “new uncertainties” ahead for Germany, his primary focus was the NATO alliance and its future. But another cloud on the horizon for Europe’s future is the impending Brexit—Britain’s exit from the European Union.
For a casual observer, the main issue here would appear to be the future economic relationship between Brussels and London. Will the thousands of EU citizens now living in the United Kingdom retain legal residency there? Will the United Kingdom receive a special “favored nation” preferential trade status with the EU?
With the second-largest domestic economy in the EU, Britain’s exit from the European trading block will no doubt have long-lasting repercussions. One of them has nothing to do with Britain itself, but rather with the country whose position as the prominent domestic economy in the EU will be further strengthened by Britain leaving—Germany. Germany’s GDP equals approximately that of the 20 smallest EU countries combined and will be nearly 50 percent larger than France’s domestic economy, which will take over second place in the European Union’s national GDP ranking after Britain is out.
During the recent French presidential campaign, candidate Emmanuel Macron, France’s former economic minister, repeated a concern of recent years about the growing dominance of the German economy: “Germany’s economic strength in its current form is not tolerable.”
During negotiations on approving loans to Greece in 2011 to stabilize the euro, Europe’s old fears about a strong Germany seemed to be reawakening. Angry demonstrators in Athens called German leaders “Nazis,” while the British press claimed that Germany was using the euro crisis to fulfill its old but long-suppressed dream of having an empire of its own.
The Daily Mail expressed concern over growing German power on the European continent. Claiming that Germany was using the financial crisis to conquer Europe, it reported that a German “fourth reich” is on the horizon (Hitler’s Germany of World War II being the Third Reich— reich meaning empire):
“If the euro is to survive—and with it the European project—the other 16 Eurozone countries will have to be like the Germans. Indeed, they must lose the freedom not to be like the Germans. That means a complete fiscal union in which Germany, as the EU’s most powerful economy and principal paymaster, makes the rules and makes them unbreakable. Be in no doubt what fiscal union means: it is one economic policy, one taxation system, one social security system, one debt, one economy, one finance minister. And all of the above would be German” (“Rise of the Fourth Reich, How Germany Is Using the Financial Crisis to Conquer Europe,” August 17, 2011).
Germany’s Bild newspaper later quoted the Daily Mail description of conquest by German economic domination: “In the past, military conquest would have been necessary to get rid of the leadership in a European country. Today it happens via economic pressure. With help from their French allies the Germans caused a regime change in two of the most troublesome eurozone countries”—Greece and Italy (Nov. 9, 2011).
Predecessor of the European Union
Britain’s departure from the European Union will only further strengthen Germany’s position as the dominant—some would say dominating —EU member nation. A strong European Union without the German economy is unthinkable, but a strong Germany acting on its own is also unthinkable for many Europeans, as it was for the man considered to be the father of today’s Europe, Robert Schuman, the postwar French foreign minister.
In retrospect Schuman seems to have been predestined for his role. When Germany annexed the territory of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 after defeating France on the battlefield, his father became a German citizen. Thus Schuman was born as a German citizen in 1886. He earned his law degree in Germany and then practiced law in Metz while being assigned to a German reserve army unit. When Alsace-Lorraine was returned to French sovereignty in 1919, Schuman became a French citizen for the first time, but without any residual hate for Germany.
Five years after Germany’s armed forces surrendered to the allies in 1945, Schuman, now France’s foreign minister, proposed the creation of a European coal and steel union that was the first step toward a postwar united Europe. Schuman’s proposal caused a sensation.
“The announcement of the Schuman plan was a welcome message for the generation that had suffered through World War II and now had hope that another war among European brothers would not—and could no longer—break out. As stated in the Schuman declaration, combining heavy industry —which was also the industry of armaments—would make a war between France and Germany materially impossible. A grave was thereby dug for the centuries-old enmity between the two neighboring countries, and with its gravestone a foundation was laid for unifying Europe” (Franz Herre, A wie Adenauer , 1997, pp. 67-68).
Schuman made no attempt to disguise his goal of integrating the German national state in an international European partnership, thereby preventing Germany from pursuing hostile plans toward its neighbors. Just five months prior to making his proposal for a coal and steel union, Schuman addressed this topic in a speech given in Brussels:
“The result of Germany’s membership in a [proposed] European organisation—if it subjugates this country to the needs of the whole community—will be its rehabilitation and a guarantee for us . . . It places the German potential for intellect and work in the service of Europe, and Germany benefits itself from the intellectual and material potential that Europe provides in such a community . . . Germany is the most dangerous when it is left to itself and its fearful and destructive state of unrest” (Dec. 18, 1949, emphasis added).
Who will defend Europe?
Will Germany’s economic dominance eventually lead to a greater role in other areas as well? For example, what role would Germany play in a Europe that would be forced to defend itself militarily? Donald Trump’s pre-inauguration comments like “NATO is obsolete” and “The countries we defend have to pay for it. If they don’t, then the United States must be willing to let them defend themselves”—widely reported in European media—left Europeans wondering to what extent they would have to go it alone militarily.
If the American nuclear shield protecting Europe were to be removed, Europe would be subject to political and military blackmail without a nuclear deterrent. The prestigious German weekly Die Zeit recently asked whether the European Union would need its own nuclear weapons, independent of the United States, to defend itself against the threat of Russian aggression (Peter Dausend and Michael Thumann, “Braucht die EU die Bombe? [Does the EU Need the Bomb?]” Zeit Online, Feb. 16, 2017).
Britain and France both have nuclear weapons, but Britain is on course to leaving the EU, and France might not be willing to extend its own nuclear capability to defend Europe. So what is the rest of the continent to do?
Modern Germany is committed to the success of the “European experiment” and is now solidly entrenched within its framework (as desired by her neighbors) and does not hesitate to voice its opinion on European affairs. The creation of a European full political and economic union, a possibility allowed by the EU Lisbon Treaty, is unthinkable without German participation.
Europeans realize that, too. To whom did they look for support in solving the eurozone sovereign debt crisis? On whom will they rely in other crises in the future? The Germans.
What’s ahead for Europe?
Europe, which has been remarkably stable for almost 70 years now, is seeing the foundations of that stability severely tested. In the wake of Britain’s Brexit vote, separatist movements and parties in several nations are clamoring for leaving or even dissolving the EU.
Meanwhile, Europe’s very identity is being challenged by millions of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Many are in truly desperate straits, seeking peace and safety, but many others are coming simply for a better economic life in wealthy Europe compared to their poverty-stricken homelands. And many others are coming, yes, to take over the continent—heeding the calls of Islamic leaders for conquest.
Recent history shows that many have no desire or intent to assimilate into traditional European culture or adopt European values. It’s no wonder historians like Bernard Lewis have referred to this as a “clash of civlizations”—for indeed it is!
Many Europeans are also concerned about a resurgent Russia whose leader, Vladimir Putin, seems determined to restore Russian power and prestige—if not its empire. Russia has already brought large and strategic portions of Ukraine and Georgia back under its control, and former Eastern European Soviet-bloc nations watch Moscow with a nervous and alert eye.
In times of crisis, Europe has had a history of turning to strong leaders who promise decisive solutions to people’s problems. The most devastating was about eight decades ago when a humbled and hurting Germany turned to a former army corporal and failed artist who promised to lead the nation to greatness—and instead led the continent into the most destructive bloodbath in human history.
Soberingly, the Bible foretells the rise of a new European-centered superpower to emerge in the time leading up to Jesus Christ’s return, followed by another final global conflict that will bring the world to the brink of human annihilation before God intervenes to save us from ourselves.
As we see current geopolitical trends reshaping our world, let’s be sure to heed Jesus Christ’s admonition to “take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33-37 Mark 13:33-37 33 Take you heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is.
34 For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
35 Watch you therefore: for you know not when the master of the house comes, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning:
36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
37 And what I say to you I say to all, Watch.
American King James Version×), giving diligent attention to our spiritual condition and praying always, as He tells us in Matthew 6:10 Matthew 6:10Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
American King James Version×, “Your kingdom come”!