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The European Player Is Getting Old

The European Player Is Getting Old

Monday, 29 July, 2019 - 12:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
It is not surprising to see Iran capturing a British flag carrier in response to the tanker seized in Gibraltar. Iran knows that Britain is no longer the former Britain. And that Europe is no longer how it used to be. One can also say that the NATO spirit is not at its best.

The international game is similar to football. Your chances of winning are subject to your fitness, youthfulness, skill, patience, unity and good distribution of roles among team members. The chances of the European player are reduced, not only in scoring new points, but in maintaining previous gains.

The journalist searches in vain for an exceptional European figure. Democracy does not like strong men. Social media removes the auras of contestants, if any. It draws them into the field of scandals and rumors. That era, when great events gave birth to extraordinary men, has ended.

France will not find another Charles de Gaulle or a magician like Francois Mitterrand. It is now easy to exhaust the president living in the Elysee Palace. This is the story of France and that of other countries. Angela Merkel is preparing to leave without Germany being promised a top-level chancellor. Nothing suggests that Germany can give birth to a man like Konrad Adenauer, who pulled it out of the rubble and pushed it into the path of democracy, prosperity, and stability. It does not seem able to have a leader like Helmut Kohl, who seized the historic opportunity created by the collapse of the wall and reunited Germany without a single drop of blood.

Britain suffers from the same disease. Boris Johnson himself knows the story. It is not enough to sit in Winston Churchill’s office to become like Churchill. It is not enough to sit on Margaret Thatcher’s seat to deserve the title of the Iron Man. This is a very normal European time fit for ordinary or less-ordinary men - but more dangerous ones. This is the era of leaders born through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

Europe did not expect what happened. In fact, no one expected it. The Berlin Wall collapsed and East Germany threw itself into the motherland.

The wall collapsed, so did the model and the Soviet Union. Europe opened its arms to states escaping the Soviet Union. NATO has also opened its arms. Everyone thought that the American era had begun and that the world would live in the custody of the only superpower. Europe looked at Yeltsin’s Russia and saw it twirling. Red Army officers sold their uniforms on the streets of Moscow against a handful of dollars.

Europe did not notice that Russia was deeply troubled by the dictates and advice of Western ambassadors and was preparing to avenge the scene of the Soviet suicide. Europe did not realize what happened on the last night of the last century. Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation and departure, putting sick Russia into the custody of a colonel, who was living close to the German wall at the time of its collapse, and quickly destroyed his confidential documents before leaving. The colonel was Vladimir Putin. A man who has mastered, in the corridors of the KGB, the art of hiding feelings and directing severe blows with a silk glove.

Europe looked like a ground-breaking human dream. A train with diverse compartments, traveling towards progress and prosperity and resting on a huge legacy of revolutions, discoveries, ideas, and lights.

It is a continent that has learned from two world wars about dangerous fanatics and adventurers, and the threat of using force to manipulate maps, erase features and impose others.

A common dream, a unified currency and open borders that have become a safe passage for the flow of goods, travelers, and ideas. Conflicts were limited to quarrels over budgets and prices of cheese and wine before Yugoslavia exploded to remind Europe of the demons of identity crises and the smell of blood.

Europe was quietly pursuing its dreams and differences, as China rose from its long sleep. Deng Xiaoping’s heirs transferred Mao Zedong’s tomb to actual retirement place, and launched the largest reform and modernization workshop in history.

The country, which was teeming with the poor who were holding on to the “red book”, decided to grab its destiny and change its location and future.

Under the strict supervision of the Communist Party, hundreds of millions of Chinese have left poverty, and the country has entered into a frantic race to grasp and deeply engage in the technological revolution.

Then, the Europeans woke up one day to discover that China has become the second-largest economy in the world without even embracing a system similar to that in which they live. In recent years, Europe found itself faced with three troubling players. An American president who runs his country and the world via Twitter and calls on the Old Continent to pay for its continued protection and doubled defense budget; a Russian president, who sees no embarrassment in annexing the Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine to punish the NATO for getting closer to Russia; and a Chinese president, who launches the "Belt and Road" offensive, refreshing the Silk Road and the dream of the Chinese era.

Meanwhile, the face of the European Union was wrinkling. Its countries live at different speeds, economically, politically and culturally. The elections sent different signals. Part of the Europeans was tired of the dream that many believed to be irreversible. The extreme right has emerged in more than one place and the populist waves have pushed disturbing voices to the European Parliament and governments, taking advantage of the failure of integration policies and the continued influx of refugees.

Britain, which De Gaulle had doubted the sincerity of its European feelings, struck the toughest blow, by choosing divorce under the name of Brexit. Europe looked like a group of islands or boats preparing to sail in different directions. Boris Johnson’s arrival was clear proof. The European player has grown old. Getting old is a punishment and a date with sunset and disintegration.

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