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Crisis of a Generation: The Degradation of Europe

Part 1: Europe’s Declining Stability

By Brandon Tupchong (8th)

Stability is one of the most important factors for the success of a nation. A state is built on the foundation of stability, for without it, it is nothing. Stability is the judge that can either make or break a nation. It is the reason why countries like Norway are so successful while others like Somalia are considered as failed states. 

The world generally sees Europe as the most stable, peaceful, and cooperative continent. For nearly 8 decades, this indeed has been true, with minor setbacks during the Cold War and recent Russian aggression. In the eyes of foreigners, Europe is the model continent, with scenery and cities straight out of a fairytale. However, while Europe may seem like the ideal, quintessential place to reside in, this facade has gradually fractured behind the scenes, within the governments of European countries. Slowly yet surely, it has started to rear itself into the media and the public. Europe’s stability, both politically and economically, has begun to crumble, and the world is only witnessing the beginning of a newer, darker age in Europe. 

It is impossible to mention anything related to European politics and government without bringing up the European Union. The European Union is a complex subject to talk about with various layers to it, but in simple terms, it is essentially a political and economic union between many European countries to cooperate with each other and advance the European continent as a whole. Founded in 1957, it was originally known as the European Economic Community (EEC). The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht revised it to become the modern European Union, and the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon helped shape the current iteration of the EU that is functioning today. 

The status of the European Union is a bit of an enigma. Some aspects of the European Union can be similarly compared to any run of the mill sovereign state. The European Union has a central government, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. A majority of the European Union’s members operate on one currency, the Euro, in a currency union within the EU called the Eurozone. The Schengen Zone allows for free travel between nearly all members, meaning that you could theoretically drive from Lisbon, Portugal in Western Europe all the way to Tallinn, Estonia in Eastern Europe without border patrol questioning you once. 

Despite these various features of the union, it’s generally not considered a country or a federation, but rather more of an integrated economic and political alliance. Some consider the European Union to be a global or future superpower, but it all really depends on how you classify what the EU really is. 

The European Union is an excellent concept in theory, but how does it fare in execution? Overall, the EU functions fairly adequately. Despite its imperfections, the amount of benefits and achievements that the union has brought to Europe must not be ignored. 

In terms of political stability, the European Union has overall brought much more peace and unity among the European continent than compared to the state that Europe was in prior to the EU’s founding. Any European citizen from centuries ago could not have fathomed that what was once the most war-stricken, impoverished continent would eventually become one of the most idolized places in the world. Since the EU’s creation, there has not been a single major outbreak of war on the European continent since World War II. Historically long term enemies, such as the UK and France, have gotten closer than ever before as a result of the EU. 

Regarding economic stability, the EU is the second largest economy in the world, only behind the United States. Its GDP accounts for about 1/6th of the international economy, an impressive feat. Additionally, the EU’s free trade system has allowed for much cheaper, easier trade between its member states and has also increased overall economic growth in Europe.

As much good as the European Union has provided to the European continent, it certainly has its flaws. The European public can become notably divisive on their opinions of the EU, especially at times of crisis. Criticism against the European Union and its policies is known as Euroscepticism, and small portions of the European public are quite outspoken about their criticisms. 

Some smaller faults of the EU include low voter turnout. The voter turnout to elect members of the EU Parliament has slowly declined for the past few decades, going as low as under 50% of eligible voters in 2014. The European population has become less involved with their own democracy, which is a critical sign which must be addressed for any democratic government. However, this is one of the more trivial of the EU’s various faults. 

A substantially more polarizing issue within the European Union is the Eurozone, which has had varied impacts on EU members. There are 19 members of the Eurozone spanning across a majority of the European continent. None of these countries have the same economic conditions. The Euro, being only one singular currency, isn’t flexible enough to fit the needs of the various countries within the EU. This leads to prospering countries further thriving under the Euro and declining countries further deteriorating

The two EU members that have consistently benefited from the adoption of the Euro are Germany and the Netherlands, as the Euro’s conditions fit similarly to their own economic state. This especially helped Germany, allowing the country to further boost its already strong economy through greater exports and much easier trade within the union. On the other hand, EU members with weaker economies became even more vulnerable to economic collapses, which was exactly what happened in the late 2000s - early 2010s. 

During the wake of the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis (often known as the Great Recession), many EU member states’ economies sharply declined and their debts increased, causing what is known as the European Debt Crisis. However, some countries had more pronounced declines than others, but none were nearly as impacted by the recession as Greece was. High government spending without much growth in the economy as a result of the Great Recession led to Greece’s debts skyrocketing to as high as nearly 300 billion dollars in debt. 

Normally, if Greece had its own currency, the government could just print more money to relieve its debt. However, since Greece is a member of the Eurozone, the country is forced to rely on the Euro and isn’t allowed to simply print more Euros to repay the debt, as only the central bank can decide when more Euros are allowed to be printed. Due to this, Greece spiraled further into debt, triggering mass protests and the collapse of the Greek economy. 

This not only caused a humanitarian crisis with its impacts still seen today, but also resulted in the Greek government being forced to accept numerous bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Even then, the Greek government still couldn’t get out of debt, and became the first highly developed country in history to fail to repay its loans on time. Although the Euro wasn’t the original cause of the Greek debt crisis, it certainly amplified the crisis to such a wide extent that it ruined Greece in virtually every aspect, from the economy to even the daily life of Greek civilians.

Other countries have also had their own economic crises further expanded due to the inflexibility of the Euro. Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and Cyprus were all forced to take out loans from the IMF to recover from their debts. Italy’s economy has declined steadily over time since the 1990s, with the recession only exacerbating the decline. Although the Euro has allowed European economies to connect with one another stronger than ever before, only certain countries have reaped the benefits of this. 

It is not just the European Union that is experiencing economic strife. Europe’s economy as a whole has overall weakened due to multiple different factors. The aforementioned Great Recession that parts of Europe still haven’t quite recovered from is certainly one of them. However, many of those factors are ones that are unpredictable and cannot be controlled, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic, which caused another global recession in the economy. The economic growth of Europe has stagnated and even decreased in some countries as a result. Europe’s future economic predictions are not in high hopes either, and a trend of continuous stagnation will dominate the European economy for the foreseeable future unfortunately.


The downward spiral of the economy in Europe is one thing, but what about the political aspects of Europe? How are Europe’s governments doing? 

I wish I had better things to say about the current state of European politics.

Europe’s political state is a convoluted mess, to say the least. Growing instability and political tensions have ravaged Europe within the past decade. Right-wing ideologies have steadily risen, and Europe has taken a much more conservative, even nationalist turn. Recently, right-wing political parties in Europe have taken control of countries. In Poland, the conservative and nationalist Law and Justice Party has had the majority in government. In Hungary, the Fidesz Party, led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán since 2010, has slowly dived Hungary into ultra-conservatism and borderline nationalism, with many Hungarians wishing to reclaim former lands of Hungary.

Last Autumn, Slovakia held government elections. The pro-Russian conservative political party ended up gaining the majority of votes, leading to Slovakia delving straight into the realm of far-right conservatism. In fact, despite being a member of numerous Western organizations, such as NATO and the European Union, the current Slovak government is opposed to Ukraine and sympathizes with Putin’s Russia. It may sound terrible for the West, but Slovakia is only one minor case in a group of many other European countries that have dived head first into the extreme right. 

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t worry about this one political victory in a minor European power. Slovakia’s recent election sets a worrying precedent for future European political elections. In the not-so-far future, other European countries will certainly see far-right movements take center stage or gain prominence in government. This directly endangers the future of democracy in Europe, too. These various conservative groups often lean towards authoritarianism, as proven with Viktor Orban’s Hungary. Within the next few decades, we can unfortunately expect Europe to lose many of its democratic values, one of the core distinguishing features of Europe. 

More powerful and influential countries often push around their smaller, more vulnerable neighbors. Russia, as it stands now, is one of the greatest dangers to both European political and economic stability. The looming threat of Russian aggression and nationalism hovers over the European continent. Russia has been terrorizing its post-Soviet neighbors for the past few decades in the hopes of regaining its old power from the former Soviet Union. Russia has acted against European governments behind the scenes, especially in said post-Soviet nations like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. A few months ago, the Moldovan government was informed of Russian plans to overthrow the current democratically elected Moldovan government and replace it with a pro-Russian one. 

Belarus is essentially a puppet state of Russia by all means. The nation’s oppressive nature has been backed by Russia since its independence in 1991. Aleksandr Lukashenko, the “president” of Belarus, is considered to be the “last dictator of Europe” and Belarus is one of, if not the least free nation in the entirety of Europe. 

In Georgia, the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been supported by Russia. Russia has even been willing to wage war on Georgia just to back these two separatists. The Russo-Georgian War of 2008 was the first European war of the 21st century, as a matter of fact. 

However, these three countries’ power combined pales in comparison to Ukraine’s influence on the world stage. Russia has taken advantage of Ukraine’s power and proximity to it. As a result, much of Ukraine’s politics have been influenced by Russia. Under Ukraine’s former President from 2010-2014, Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine became subservient to Russian command. When Yanukovych was removed from office during the Euromaidan Revolution, Russia responded to this by swiftly invading and annexing Crimea. This eventually snowballed into the current Russo-Ukrainian War, ongoing since 2014. Russia has taken control of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, creating puppet regimes in the region. Additionally, Russia further escalated the war in 2022, additionally occupying much of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts along with Donetsk and Luhansk. 

Back to focusing on the European Union. The Russo-Ukrainian War was an event that could’ve been predicted years before it happened, as Russia openly debated over Crimea’s status as Ukrainian territory beforehand. Despite this, the European Union ignored the warning calls. When Russia first invaded Ukraine back in 2014, the EU was still fairly apathetic over the war and only called for a few sanctions on various Russian groups and individuals. Only when the war went into its current extreme in 2022 did the EU start to show more concern over the matter. Much more devastating sanctions were placed onto Russia, which although led to the slowdown of the Russian economy and collapse of the Russian ruble, didn’t actually affect Russia severely in the long term, as Russia simply traded with neutral or friendly countries like China and India. 

The EU’s slow and initially ineffective response to the Russo-Ukrainian War led to much unnecessary conflict, death, and damage to Europe in its entirety. The EU’s economy only grew by 0.3% in 2023 and also caused major losses of over 100 billion Euros largely due to the war and affected Russian trades. The European Union’s number one enemy, Russia, has grown more powerful indirectly due to the incompetence of the European Union itself. How ironic. 

Additionally, in the Russo-Ukrainian War, Russia has blocked Ukrainian ports from shipping grain to the rest of the world. Ukraine is notable for being one of the major “breadbaskets” of the world, meaning that it produces lots of grain. Russia’s embargo on Ukrainian grain doesn’t just impact Ukraine, but the entire international community. This causes the already detrimental food crisis to be further exacerbated and worsened, not only jacking up food prices through the roof, but also causing malnutrition among poorer nations. Combine this with the COVID-19 Pandemic’s influence on food prices and now food has been more costly than ever before across the world. However, the food crisis isn’t the only problem that Russia is instigating…

The Doomsday Clock, created by the nonprofit organization, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is a symbol of how close we as people are to world destruction. If the clock reaches midnight, then it signifies that the world has ended. At its inception in 1947, it was originally set at 7 minutes to midnight. The farthest it has been from midnight is 17 minutes, when the Soviet Union collapsed back in 1991. Want to know how far the clock is from reaching midnight in 2023? 90 seconds.

The world is 90 seconds away from world destruction. According to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the main factor to why the Doomsday Clock is at the closest it has ever been since its inception is due to Russia’s threat of nuclear weapons against Ukraine. The threat of nuclear weapons has loomed over Europe, especially Ukraine, within the past two years. Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has continuously put the entire world at risk just to secure its power over the European continent. Europe’s political instability has threatened the future of humanity as a whole. 

Whether Europe completely falls on itself and collapses within the next coming years or if the 21st century has simply just been an unlucky century for Europe so far, one thing is certain: Europe has declined in terms of stability. Democracy in Europe is at one of its lowest levels since the Soviet Union established puppet governments over Eastern Europe. The economy has seen steady declines as a result of economic depressions, stagnation, and sanctions. Europe’s future looks quite bleak based on its current state and future predictions.

The unfortunate part about all of this is that Europe is one of the last strongholds of true stability and democracy. Taking it away would lead to Europe being no different from the rest of the world. However, even though Europe is going through quite the era of tumultuous strife, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Europe will forever remain at this state. There is some hope that the future generations could repair the damage caused by their ancestors. As to whether Europe will be saved from its current situation is up to the current state of European society to decide. This will be the main focus of the second part of this two-part article, how Europe’s society has evolved and changed over time into its modern form and if Europe really has declined as a result of these changes to stability and society.

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