In After Europe, Ivan Krastev argues that the refugee crisis is Europe’s gravest threat

Europe is in crisis and Ivan Krastev is worried. As at the end of the Habsburg dynasty a century ago, “Europeans are living at a moment when paralyzing uncertainty captures a society’s imagination” the Bulgarian political scientist argues in After Europe. Torn between hectic activity and fatalistic ­passivity, this is an age “when what was until now unthinkable – the ­disintegration of the union – begins to be perceived as inevitable.” It is now possible to conceive of a post-European world.

Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, believes that “the disintegration train has left Brussels’ station,” dooming the project of ever-closer union, which in any case seems “less inspiring than at perhaps any other moment in the last 50 years.”

The EU, once a postmodern, postnational secular vanguard, appears not as the future but an outlier in the world order. He sees a Europe shorn of its centrality in global politics that has lost the ­confidence of its citizens, and with it, the belief that its political choices can shape international events.

Although the crises of the Euro-zone, Brexit and the revolution in Ukraine have challenged the EU, Krastev is clear that it is the refugee crisis that has “turned out to be ­Europe’s9/11,”as he provocatively states. Opposition to liberal­ migration policies“ is the defining characteristic” of far-right populist parties and it is“ liberalism’s failure to address the migration problem, rather than the economic crisis or rising social inequality” that explains the public’s turn against the existing political, economic and social order.

Sad state of the Union

The refugee crisis has provoked “an identity crisis on both the left and the right,” upending “the very arguments the European Union has used to justify its existence.” How can universal rights be reconciled with the fact that we exercise them as citizens of unequally free and prosperous societies, Krastev asks. Indeed, Europe has faced a fundamental dilemma: It needs migrants “to ensure… prosperity” and yet such openness “erodes the trust Europeans have placed in their political system.” Especially in Central and Eastern Europe,­migration “threatens to annihilate their cultural distinctiveness.”

And yet there is something a little unsatisfying about isolating the causes of the rise of far-right populism in Europe in the refugee crisis alone. Must it be an either-or matter?Surely the global recession, its subsequent austerity, and the ­refugee crisis feed off one another. If Europe were to find a way to shut its co

mmon border tomorrow, keeping out every last migrant and refugee, that alone would not be enough to save the European project, if its underlying economic problems, including youth unemployment and wage stagnation, were left untended. It’s not that the refugee crisis wasn’t the singular event that unhinged Europe – it simply isn’t the be all and end all.

And for a book so clear in its diagnosis, After Europe is frustratingly foggy when it comes to solutions.“ I believe that in order to regain legitimacy, … what is necessary is that five years from now Europeans are ­capable of traveling freely in Europe, the Euro is on track to survive as the common currency of at least some of the member states, and citizens are able both to elect their governments freely and to sue them in Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights.” That might not sound like much, but it would be nice to know how to get there.

Krastev has only broad suggestions: Flexibility, compromise, and conciliation between East and West, between liberalism and populism. In the end, the best he can say is that saviors oftentimes come from the unlikeliest of places. We’d better hope so.

“Survival is a little like writing a poem,” Krastev concludes: “not even the poet knows how it’s going to end before it does.”

Ivan KrastevAfter Europe

Combined Academic Publishing, May 2017, pp 128, €15.99