Introduction

  • Francesco M. Bongiovanni
Chapter

Abstract

To the author, writing a sequel to his first book became necessary given the unexpected game-changers that have hit Europe since publication. The combined impact of the refugee crisis, the rise of terrorism and the increasingly visible Islamization of societies (or the ‘trilogy’), and the failure of the traditional political classes to address these and other issues has catalysed the development of ‘alternative politics’. The ‘trilogy’, Brexit, German hegemony and the Trump presidency are among the new challenges facing the continent. Understanding the truth is more necessary than ever in an age of ideologically biased information. With this book, Bongiovanni undertakes a fact-based journey in order to discover the hard truths about today’s Europe as it faces new challenges—some of which threaten its very soul.

Apart from deserving my gratitude, anyone who read my first book, The Decline and Fall of Europe , is entitled to ask whether this sequel is really justified. Have things changed so much since the book was published in 2012 that a new one is necessary, or is this just the old dish being warmed up? To this legitimate question the returning reader needs a clear answer—as much as I needed one before deciding to embark on this new writing adventure. The fact is, sadly, that there have been dramatic new developments—most as sudden as they were unexpected—which have caused Europe to find itself today on a significantly more worrisome trajectory than the one I had anticipated in my first book. Interestingly, some of the people who, back then, suggested that The Decline and Fall of Europe was too pessimistic now say it was perhaps not pessimistic enough. This change in mood reflects the simple truth that, since 2012, the situation in Europe has considerably deteriorated across many dimensions and the changes are starting to directly and visibly affect a vast number of people. On top of a general worsening in ways that had largely been predicted at the time, new developments have piled up that may take the continent into uncharted, dangerous territory. I am therefore afraid that the answer to the above question is that it is high time to re-examine the situation in Europe.

The Decline and Fall of Europe was intended to be a 360 degree tour, offering a balanced description of the European ‘system’ and of the intractable challenges facing Europe, which were leading to inexorable decline across any dimension one cared to analyse. Among these, the transformation of the welfare state into the unsustainable ‘Civilization of Entitlements’ that was bound to condemn parts of Europe to gradual impoverishment (which I have at times jocularly taken to illustrate as follows in my speeches: ‘you can have long vacations or you can have the money for long vacations, but you can’t have both’); the crisis of a single currency built on a flawed architecture; the vast inefficiencies of the EU’s Tinguely Machine and so on. The purpose of the book was to try to figure out what was really going on and where it could take Europe, concluding that ‘the quality of life our children will know will be inferior to the quality of life we have enjoyed in the past half century’.1 At the time The Decline and Fall of Europe was published, Europeans were still by and large in denial. Subjects such as failed immigration and integration policies, and the Islamization of Europe’s open societies were still mostly considered taboo. A major publishing house I had approached about translating the book for distribution in France replied that while what the book said was true and mattered, the French were not ready to hear such truths. Similarly, publishers I approached in Germany, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia showed scant interest in translating the book for distribution in their own countries. It seemed that Europeans didn’t really want to know (or perhaps they already knew everything, or the book wasn’t good enough). The book therefore remained available only in its original English language and generally did much better in North America, the United Kingdom and Asia than in continental Europe. I was invited to give some speeches, lectures and TV interviews outside Europe. The point I am making here is that non-Europeans seemed far more interested in understanding the plight of Europe than Europeans themselves, whose main concern appeared to be to ensure that their privileged way of life would continue.

How much things have changed since then! Europeans have by and large woken up to the first tremors of the Titanic scraping against the iceberg. By early 2017 most of them were finally conscious of the frightening realities they were facing and recognized that there was no room left for blissful denial—a sea change from their attitude five years earlier. Something had clearly evolved in the collective European psyche, and denial had given place to bewilderment, fear and anger. These feelings translated into the recent and spectacular rise of ‘alternative politics’ across most of the continent, a development that could lead to dangerous territory if historical precedent is any indication. Europeans are now affected enough, worried enough, angry enough that they finally show significant interest in trying to understand what is hitting them (this will hopefully cause my books finally to be translated!). Consider, for instance, the controversial issue of the Islamization of European societies. New interest in this issue translated into the phenomenal success of Phillippe Houllebecq’s 2015 book Submission,2 a political-fiction novel set in 2022 in a France governed by its first president from an Islamic party. One can agree or disagree with the relevance of Houllebecq’s book, but the fact remains that it sold 120,000 copies in France in five days upon its January 2015 launch, and became a top seller in Italy and Germany as well. This awakening does not, however, necessarily mean Europeans will collectively muster the will and courage to take appropriate measures to steer the ship away from the iceberg, assuming one can figure out what the appropriate measures should be. Unfortunately, I see very little chance of this happening and profess complete trust in the ability of governing political ‘elites’ to ensure that the ship holds its course steady to hit the iceberg, head on and at full speed. The reader will, by the way, notice that throughout this book the word ‘elites’ (in the context of European or Western political elites) is set within quote marks, reflecting the difficulty I encounter in associating the mediocre class of people guiding the Western world today with the very word ‘elite’.

Allow me to confess something personal. Writing a book on Europe is quite demanding, particularly if one carries out one’s own research, as I did for both books. This was all the more so in my case, since writing and researching takes away precious time from my interests in business and composing music. Unfortunately, not much money is to be made by writing such a book. So, my motivation had to come from some other direction. I wrote The Decline and Fall of Europe because of the shock I experienced when I came back from spending 15 years in the dynamic continent that is Asia only to find a Europe busy tying a rope around its own neck. I was then prompted to write Europe and the End of the Age of Innocence because the slow decay I had predicted in the first book appeared to have been replaced by a potentially swifter and more turbulent end game.

It seems that as Europeans are finally becoming interested in knowing more about their destiny and the reality surrounding them, they are realizing that they cannot rely on their political leaders, governments or the mainstream media to always tell the truth. Social media is not necessarily better. All of these players have been compromised, time and again caught lying, hiding facts, fabricating or manipulating information to advance their own interests or ideology-driven agendas. Having woken up from a long state of slumber and denial, the average European hungers for information but has become very suspicious of what he/she is fed, and rightly so. Written by an average European who put himself through the difficulties of trying to find out what was really going on, Europe and the End of the Age of Innocence is a small contribution to the need for a balanced and informative view, which I hope is laid out in a way that everybody can read and understand. To my readers, I should like to reiterate that I am no scholar, journalist, historian, political scientist or politician, nor do I harbour ambitions of becoming any of these. I am an ordinary man who decided to undertake a new journey of discovery to find out a bit more about today’s Europe, put these findings on paper and share them with you. Once again, ‘Trying to make sense of all the material turned out to be like one of these games where you connect the dots and slowly see patterns emerging.’3 No one is entirely impervious to outside influence or can wholly shed his/her own education and background; yet I have attempted to write a book devoid of ideological bias, laying out the facts as well as I could given my limited research capabilities and, apart from a few instances where I can’t resist venturing an opinion, I generally leave it to the reader to reach his/her own conclusions.

Had the trajectory followed by Europe been more or less in line with the findings laid out in The Decline and Fall of Europe , I wouldn’t have bothered to write a sequel, and you wisely wouldn’t have considered reading it had I done so. Yet, to name just a few of the unexpected and sudden developments that made necessary a reassessment of Europe’s state of affairs, who would have predicted, just a year before Brexit, let alone back in 2012, that the UK would leave Europe—the first time since the end of the Second World War that the European integration process has been officially put in reverse? Who would have said, back in 2012, that Marine le Pen would have had a significant chance of winning France’s 2017 presidential election with a programme intending to lead Europe’s second-largest country down the path of far-right nationalism and outside Europe and the eurozone, potentially reducing the European project to a chapter in history books? Who would have said, even in 2016, that the German general election of September 2017 would result, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, in a far-right nationalist party entering parliament and that Germany would find itself without a government? Who would have imagined that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would suddenly and unilaterally open her country’s doors to a human tsunami fleeing what American journalist George Friedman aptly calls the ‘world of chaos’, causing the death of Schengen, and fracturing Europe along East–West lines (just as mismanagement of the euro fractured Europe along North–South lines)? Who would have said that the placid Merkel would take actions that would contribute in no small measure to Brexit, to the rebirth of nationalism and the explosion of alternative politics across the continent? The issue of ‘others’ has now inserted itself prominently into the forefront of European life and politics. The ‘trilogy’ formed by unwanted mass immigration (UMI), by the creeping yet increasingly visible Islamization of Europe’s open societies and of their Euromuslim minorities (by which I mean Muslims living in Europe), and by the daily Jihadist terrorist acts that have become Europe’s ‘new normal’, has replaced the economy and jobs as the main topic of conversation across the continent and constitutes a key focus of this book. Will Europe’s open societies and cherished way of life survive this onslaught? As I am writing these lines, I just heard on the news that another bombing took place in a London subway with dozen wounded and that yet another soldier was stabbed by a Jihadist in France. By the time you finish reading the first section of this book, it is likely that further Jihadist attacks will have taken place, that several thousand more migrants from Africa or the Middle East will have reached European shores and that a few hundred million euros of taxpayer money will have been spent dealing with UMI. The ‘trilogy’ is dramatically changing the broad socio-political landscape, to the great surprise of the mediocre and clueless traditional political ‘elites’ who, having fallen prey to a new form of seductive, multiculturalist and post-national ideology, have mostly chosen to ignore reality and the grievances of their constituencies (the fact, however, that politicians who tell the truth don’t enjoy long careers means ordinary people carry their share of responsibility). Where can this sea change take Europe?

And let’s not forget the Trump presidency—another unexpected development with profound implications for an increasingly fragmented Europe that may have to fend for itself more and more in an increasingly unstable world. After a long absence, geopolitics is inviting itself to Europe’s table, where it is finding a reluctant, bewildered and unprepared host. As if all this were not enough, Germany has become Europe’s de facto ruler, a position for which its qualifications are dubious at best. Granted, Berlin has probably not coveted this position and more likely finds itself in it as a consequence of France’s not-so-slow collapse and the United Kingdom’s recent estrangement. Germany’s policies in relation to the euro—in particular, its misplaced insistence on fiscal austerity measures and refusal to entertain any idea of economic solidarity—have ravaged southern economies and cast serious doubts on the viability of the single currency. Since Germans see Germany first (and who can blame them?) and Germany does not deliver the ‘international public goods’ (by which I mean things that a nation does but that other nations perceive as being also beneficial to them) that would contribute to its legitimacy as leader of Europe and benefit the rest of its partners, the ship scrapes the iceberg with no qualified captain on deck. The very recent and surprising dose of instability injected into German politics will make things even more difficult for Europe. Some of the challenges just mentioned couldn’t have been anticipated in The Decline and Fall of Europe , yet others could perhaps have been anticipated, constituting shortcomings of my previous analysis which it is now time to set right. To understand the plight of Europe, we are compelled to take a closer look at these and other issues in the course of the book. We shall also take a fresh look at what happened—or rather, what didn’t happen—to the euro after 2012, and what it means for the future of the single currency. We shall take a look at the geopolitical impact of the USA’s very recent inroads into European energy markets and the relationship with the Ukrainian crisis. Covering all issues affecting Europe today is an impossible task, so we shall focus on selected ones, among which what I call the ‘trilogy’ figures prominently. As stated above, this in my opinion is to a large extent responsible for Europe’s very recent and dramatic political transformation.

Zooming out to look at the broader picture one can see that Europe is not alone in its predicament. The entire ‘Western world’ seems to have lost its compass. The West in general doesn’t seem to know what it stands for anymore, or where it wants to go. Perhaps this is due to the ‘fatigue’ of a Western civilization on the declining slope of its life curve—it is, after all, the destiny of civilizations, to come and go, just as anything ‘alive’ does. Perhaps because it is fast losing the absolute and relative pre-eminence among civilizations it was used to enjoying for many centuries. Or perhaps because it is tearing itself apart between two views of society which it convinced itself are mutually exclusive: a liberal-universalist view based on a flat world, and a conservative-nationalist one that sees a world full of mountains. Whatever the causes of this loss of direction, Europe and especially the USA seem intent on reconsidering if not rejecting the basis of post-Second World War Western civilization while offering no alternative, to the delight of rising powers such as China. The mediocrity of today’s political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic doesn’t help and reflects the decline of a civilization that is short of breath, short of ideas and energy, and that seems, at times, intent on self-immolation. Political correctness, which appears to have become the guiding force of Western thought, is no substitute for wise policy. The late Charlton Heston’s words to the effect that ‘political correctness is tyranny with manners’ have long been forgotten on both sides of the Atlantic. Too busy tying itself in politically correct knots and in fighting internal wars of moralization, the West seems unable to marshal the energy and will to find pragmatic solutions to its identity and existential problems and is fast losing ground in the wider context of competing civilizations. Westerners who remain indifferent should perhaps be reminded of Dante Alighieri’s warning: ‘The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.’

This book is not about the larger issue of Western civilization and its alleged decline. It is about Europe. Watching Europe fall apart is no joy, especially for a European. As the epitome of a post-modern benign power, Europe has a very useful role to play in the world and it is truly a shame that it may collapse before playing it to the end. Yet it is falling apart right in front of our eyes and the movie is not even running in slow motion anymore. Things seem to be happening faster and faster. Many dejected Europeans have been turning to unsavoury and amateurish ‘alternative’ politicians for hope and solutions. Granted, some of the challenges facing Europe today do have solutions, at least in theory. The mere fact that Europe has recently moved from a state of denial to the realization that it is in deep trouble would normally inject a note of optimism, since the first step to finding and implementing solutions is to accept that there are problems and try to understand them. I have implicitly and explicitly ventured some personal ideas about solutions here and there in the course of this book. Many people far more qualified than I am have been proposing solutions as well. Yet, if you allow me to define political will as the inverse of the distance between a solution and its actual implementation, I can safely say that the absence of any noticeable political will when it comes to devising and implementing concrete, pragmatic, sensible solutions remains a hallmark of a Europe that revels in ‘muddling through’. Europe loves to shoot itself in the foot, then calmly reload and shoot itself in the other foot. Europe delights in being the prisoner of one ideology or another, rejecting pragmatism as intellectually and morally unworthy of interest. Europe rejoices in crossing the fine line dividing political correctness from cowardice time and again. This unfortunate state of affairs prevents me from harbouring any new feelings of optimism. To the question ‘do you think Europe is in worse shape today than it was five years ago’ (‘in better shape’ wouldn’t qualify as a serious question, would it?), my response is: ‘Europe is, today, in a worse shape than it was five years ago, and it is in better shape today than it will be five years from now.’ Whenever someone asks me to sign a copy of The Decline and Fall of Europe I have adopted the habit of handwriting this little sentence above my signature: ‘In the hope that I am completely wrong.’ I believe I shall continue this habit if I am asked to sign copies of Europe and the End of the Age of Innocence . I sincerely hope that I am utterly wrong in my assessment of the state and destiny of Europe and that things will work out for the best. Let the reader form his/her own opinion in the following pages.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    Francesco M. Bongiovanni. ‘The Decline and Fall of Europe’. Page 4. Palgrave Macmillan. 2012.

  2. 2.

    Philippe Houllebecq ‘Submission’, Editions Flammarion, 2015.

  3. 3.

    Francesco M. Bongiovanni. ‘The Decline and Fall of Europe’. Page 4. Palgrave Macmillan. 2012.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesco M. Bongiovanni
    • 1
  1. 1.

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