The Implications of the European Periphery
BSSB.BE MIT Center for International Studies 22/02/2019
* As EU countries struggle to define their security strategy following the Trump administration’s “transatlantic chill”, the future of NATO and EU membership in its key areas of expansion in Ukraine and the Balkans has become increasingly uncertain.
The increasing influence of authoritarian neighbors such as Turkey and Russia coupled with rising anti-establishment and far-right sentiments do not bode well for stability in this part of the world.
Europe’s core since the late 19th century has been Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In some ways, this was Charlemagne’s Europe, which was the organizing core of the European Peninsula. These countries, with the addition of Italy and Luxembourg, also established the European Coal and Steel Community, which eventually evolved into the European Union. Together they account for a substantial proportion of Europe’s wealth.
Europe’s periphery consists of the countries and regions that surround this core: Scandinavia, the British Isles, Iberia, the Balkans and what used to be called Eastern Europe. A strong argument can be made that Italy also should be considered part of the periphery. Italy had been the center of a great Mediterranean empire in the distant past, but it was never part of the Europe that Charlemagne created.
Given this past, the likelihood of both nations dissolving under pressure was extremely high. Neither did, and both gained full sovereignty in 1989 when the Soviet Union withdrew from Germany. Almost immediately, Poland and Hungary were drawn into the European Union and NATO. Their primary motive was to build their economies and retain their national independence, particularly if Russia re-emerged as a power. In that sense, they promptly traded elements of their sovereignty for peace and prosperity. They would remain Poles and Hungarians but also become Europeans.
After 2008, Europe began its ongoing move to the right and nationalism. Eastern Europe started this movement first by electing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and then electing a similar government in Poland a few months later. This created a strain between these countries and the EU. In the British Isles, England and Scotland sought to pull away. But Eastern European countries were pushed away.
The Polish and Hungarian governments were elected by large margins in elections mostly free of fraud. No one challenged the elections’ legitimacy. However, the EU challenged the policies of both governments on a range of constitutional shifts concerning the judiciary and the media. Neither government hid their general intentions. The voters knew and wanted what they were voting for. However, the same thing these countries hoped to gain from joining the EU, immunization against fascism, now collided with the EU’s attempt to protect its general ideology.
From the EU’s perspective, what the Poles and Hungarians were doing went beyond the pale of acceptable liberal democratic behavior. From the standpoint of Hungary and Poland, they had adhered to the heart of liberal democratic behavior: Their governments had won free elections. In challenging the right of an elected government to chart its course, it was the EU that was violating liberal democratic values.
The exercise in political theory is of interest, but the heart of what I am arguing is that just as the British periphery is fragmenting, the Eastern European periphery is also fragmenting. Some regimes are now pulling away from other countries and the EU; other regimes are drawing closer. This fragmentation has critical geopolitical consequences in the short term. As the EU alienates Poland and Hungary, further fragmentation will take place as these two countries try to find a balance between Europe and Russia, rather than simply being committed to the center, particularly Germany.
Una Hajdari, a freelance print and broadcast journalist from Prishtina, Kosovo, who is currently in residence at the MIT Center for International Studies as the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow.
Elizabeth Wood, professor of history at MIT, is the author of three books, Roots of Russia’s War in Ukraine; Performing Justice: Agitation Trials in Early Soviet Russia; and The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia.
YOUTUBE: The Implications of the European Periphery. Starr Forum: NATO, the Balkans, and Ukraine
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: MIT Center for International Studies
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