Europe’s Green Slide Toward Irrelevance

  • Date: 04/06/19
  • Jakub Grygiel, The American Interest

If the European Union continues on its green path, it will slide into geopolitical irrelevance

Elections for the European parliament, regardless of the results, are always a celebration of the EU project. Blue flags with the 12 golden stars are omnipresent when a “European electorate” casts its vote in what is considered the largest election in the world outside India. But the most recent elections are important for a different reason: They are part of a longer trend that is pushing Europe toward global irrelevance.

Two election results in particular are striking, not because of their novelty but because they demonstrate the resilience of certain political forces that are leading to Europe’s withdrawal from the global chessboard.

First, the rise of the “greens” in Europe. While not a new political force, the “green” movement is no longer an afterthought. In Germany it is now the second-largest party, replacing the Social Democrats. These results reflect a continent-wide drift toward environmental concerns instead of “social justice.” Essentially, they show the greening of the Left; the social justice warriors are now climate change worriers.

It is possible that this is just a momentary uptick in the political importance of the greens, driven by fashionable protests to save the planet. Over the past few months, for instance, teenagers across Europe happily joined a movement that invited them to skip school on Fridays to advocate for drastic policies to change the climate and save the planet. Of course, it remains to be seen whether truancy or the planet was the real motivation for these actions. But, in the end, the electoral gains of the “greens” mean that European states will come under pressure to impose even higher costs on the economies by phasing out coal and reducing emissions.

Beyond the added burden this will place on already weak economies, the increased heft of the “green” political bloc will also increase Europe’s (and especially some states’) dependency on Russian gas. Various environmental think tanks, for example, have called for the elimination of coal in ten years in order to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Germany plans to dramatically decrease its reliance on coal in the coming years, and the decline of the Social Democrats (SPD) at the hands of the Greens will reinvigorate the pursuit of this goal. The outcome is that Germany, having already abandoned nuclear energy, will increase its dependence on Russian gas, pushing it toward a posture that is even more pro-Moscow. The rise of the “greens” in Europe, and in Germany in particular, is a huge victory for Russia.

Other countries in Europe, notably Poland, will likely resist abandoning coal for domestic reasons but also because of security concerns. Such a policy will pit Poland as well as other Central European states from Slovenia to Bulgaria against EU authorities, creating another line of fracture in Europe. The choice is to be coal-free but Russia-dependent, or to be anti-“green” but strategically independent.

A “greener” EU will weaken Europe. As Europe cuts its emissions, hostile powers are making it more dependent. Moreover, while European societies are enthralled by the environmentally friendly truancy of their teenagers, Russia is arming, Iran is belligerent, and China is buying its way into the Continent. The“greens” claim they are concerned with global challenges, but in effect they are turning Europe into the weakest link in a rapidly accelerating great power competition.

If the European Union continues on this path, it will slide into geopolitical irrelevance while being at the forefront of a nonexistent global fight to solve global challenges. […]

The EU elections, then, did little to arrest Europe’s long slide toward geopolitical impotence. Each European nation will have to make its own calculation as to how to adapt to this reality: by ignoring it, accepting it, or by seeking its own strategic independence through a different configuration of alliances.

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