As an idea, the EU has always depended for its survival on the internationalism of Europeans – western Europeans especially. Generally speaking, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, that’s an idea you could safely bank on – that most French/Spaniards/Germans would consider pride in their national identity to be a rather gauche consideration, especially in comparison to the promise of shared European prosperity.
There have been signs, however, that European nationalism has been on the rise, either due to chafing at German financial controls (Greece) or rebellion against forced multiculturalism (Britain) or both (Poland). This has been accompanied by quite a lot of handwringing from the set that views material wealth as the end-all be-all of Europe, but the encroaching menace of ISIS has exposed that participation in the Eurozone experiment has come at a terrible cost, and that the EU has been slow (if not outright incompetent) at responding to the threats that ISIS has presented.
In the first place, it seems increasingly likely that the Paris attacks were planned – like many other recent European attacks, in the Belgian suburb of Molenbeek, which sits almost literally in the physical shadow of the EU seat of government. The EU has frankly acknowledged that it is incapable of rooting Jihadism out of Molenbeek, which has given the EU as a whole a gigantic black eye. The optics of this are roughly equivalent to what they would be if multiple terror plots were hatched out of Georgetown.
Moreover, the French response to the Paris attacks has been surprisingly nationalistic in tone, especially for a country that just recently roundly sent Sarkozy packing in favor of Hollande:
How apropos that France should declare it now. “France is at war,” Hollande intoned. “Terrorism will not destroy the Republic, because it is the Republic that will destroy terrorism,” complete with sped-up deportation proceedings and an end to French citizenship for dual nationals convicted of terrorist acts. Neither victory for the French nor defeat for Europe’s enemies, in other words, will emanate from the managed technocracy of the European Union. It must not have been lost on Parisians, or anyone, that even the national government in Brussels, where the institutions of the EU reside, confessed it could not “control” the “situation” in Molenbeek — that capital’s run-down neighborhood linked to a string of terrorist plots, the Paris assaults the last. That shamefaced admission was an unforgiving analog of everything cumbersome, aloof, distant, ineffective, and weirdly dehumanized about the EU under German leadership, concerned as it is more about monetary and financial togetherness than unity of purpose on more fundamental political questions.
Indeed, France recognizes that the nature of the threat Europe’s nations now face is broader than just Islamic terrorism. From Greece at the outset to Portugal now, “German austerity” has become the all-but-irreconcilable difference pitting nationalists on the right and left against continental elites obliged to follow in Angela Merkel’s footsteps. “What we are seeing,” thundered UKIP chief Nigel Farage late last month, “is an increasingly authoritarian European Union that crushes democratic rights and then actually crows about it. Every single time there is a crisis, it is national democracy that loses.”
But the EU’s British critics are marginal, taking offshore potshots from the institution’s sidelines. A turn in France toward popular force, and against bankers’ restraint, however, would be a decisive blow to Merkel’s reign in Europe. No other nation in Europe is consequential enough to have anchored the EU as an equal partner with Germany, and no other can hold its lesser members together with an alternate worldview as firmly established as Germany’s own.
British participation in the EU, and criticism thereof, has always been a tenuous matter, but the axis of France and Germany was always assumed to keep the EU intact even in the event of a British exit from the EU during the next referendum in 2017. However, the Paris attacks may yet have driven the final splinter between France and Merkel, such that even if the EU lumbers on, it will do so with much greater tolerance of the nationalism of its member states.
If true, ISIS should not celebrate this development. They have long counted for their success on the waning national pride of Europeans to foster their training grounds in the West. If France really has turned a corner in this regard, the domino effects throughout Europe could result in a struggle that is much more difficult than they ever expected.