"Many Europeans were living in a Fool's Paradise"- Interview with Professor Walter Laqueur about Europe's demography, Euro Islam and Europe's relations to the U.S. -
Dieter Farwick: The title of your newest book The Last Days of Europe: The Changing Face of a Continent sounds provocative to many Europeans. You paint a very bleak picture.
Europeans were more accustomed to the optimistic views of your American colleagues – such as those of Charles Kupchan in his book The End of the American Era (2003) and Elizabeth Pond’s The Rebirth of Europe; a Continent on the Way to World Power (1999). These books corresponded with the euphoric European voices that spoke of Europe as a powerhouse independent from the United States and building one pillar in the desired multipolar world.
What has changed in such a short period of time ? Facts and figures or perceptions and illusions?
Walter Laqueur: I am not sure one can generalize. There was not that much optimism in France and Italy ten years ago. But it is true-- many Europeans were living in a fool's paradise and many still do.. On the surface life was pleasant, civilized and easy, there were no major wars, no one was starving. But if one looked below the surface, the critical signs of decline were obvious. As for the American Euro-optimists---. there was a great deal of wishful thinking. They were unhappy with the Bush administration and they thought Europe was moving in the direction of their dreams. But dreams they were.
Dieter Farwick: It is no coincidence that you start with the demographic facts and figures that have been available for years but have obviously been neglected. What is the trend for Europe’s greatest countries, including Russia? What are the most important implications of shrinking and ageing societies?
Walter Laqueur: Europe has been shrinking for the last decades. The French demographers realized it and the Germans too (Herward Birg for instance). But who was listening to them? Fellow professionals. Europe no longer reproduced itself. Some countries are shrinking rapidly (Russia for instance but also Italy, but all European societies are becoming much older. In another fifty years The US will have more than 400m inhabitants whereas the population of Europe will be smaller than that of Pakistan and probably also Nigeria. Who will work in European factories?. Who will serve in European armies –people aged forty and above? This trend has political and economic consequences Europe's place in the world is becoming less important. According to the UN statistical department the population of Yemen will be larger than that of Russia before the end of the century. This prediction could be wrong, but the population of Turkey certainly will be larger. Where will the borders of Russia be? Not where they are today. Will Russia be able to keep the Far East and Siberia?
Dieter Farwick: The demographic development is tightly interwoven with a phenomenon that is often referred to as the “sneaking ‘Islamization’ of Europe.” There are catchwords, such as: Ghetto, parallel or even anti-society.
What are the risks and dangers of this development? Is “Euro-Islam” the best course of action?
Walter Laqueur: Again, most politicians closed their eyes. If they had visited schools and kindergarten in the big cities they would have been aware of the trend but politicians were too busy. Certain regions of Europe will have Muslim majorities from the Ruhr region to the west, the big cities of Holland, Belgium sand Northern France—certainly as far as the younger age groups are concerned .It may be true even with regard to a city like Malmö in Sweden. To talk about integration in these circumstances is pointless .Why should the new majority make an effort to be integrated.? The situation in Britain is different, about half of the new immigrants are not Muslim.
“Euro Islam”--I do not see it, or better I see it only as as transitional stage.. There is a process of assimilation and secularization in the Muslim communities. Muslim women in Europe will be emancipated. But I fear the young generation is attracted more by the negative aspects of Western civilization than by European values. In any case this may take several decades.
Dieter Farwick: Europe is neither an ethnic nor a religious or cultural entity. The present 25 member states of the European Union – in 2007 rising to 27 members and later even more – still give priority to their national interests and agendas. Why is there a successful common market but no “Europe speaking with one voice” – as the six founding nations called their vision?
Walter Laqueur: Countries begin to cooperate closely only when facing common dangers or major crises. At the present time there is no clear and present danger. Why give up their sovereignty, their old institutions etc when there seems to be no urgent need to do so? I suspect the impetus to closer European collaboration will come only following a major crisis. That it is needed here and now has not yet entered public consciousness.
Dieter Farwick: You write in your book that Europe was fixated on the US and disregarded developments in the Asia-Pacific rim. What were the reasons and what are the consequences?
Walter Laqueur: Europe was fixated in its political thinking on America because America was the big brother so to speak, first it was the great example to be imitated, and later it became a rival and even opponent—economically and politically. And as a result of this fixation Europeans were not aware that other centers of power were emerging above all in the Far East and South Asia as important (if not more so) as America
Dieter Farwick: The European members developed the so-called European Defense and Security Program. The European Reaction Force was seen as the tool to gain the European Union military capabilities in order to conduct military operations independent of the US. With shrinking defense budgets and reduced military forces, this force only exists on paper. Did most European countries turn a blind eye to the worldwide challenges ahead?
Walter Laqueur: How many years has a Rapid Deployment Force been discussed, and how little progress...When the United Nations asked for a peace keeping force in Lebanon, how long did it take to get a few thousand soldiers together. All this is based on the belief that in the 21th century military force is no longer needed. More wishful thinking, another delusion. More Euro-centrism--ignoring the world outside Europe...As one of the Euro-optimists is putting it, Europe will lead the world through its moral example, the rule of law. (Mark Leonard)..
Dieter Farwick: You are one of the world’s leading experts on terrorism which has to be seen in connection with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and Europe’s dependence upon politically fragile regions for its energy supply. What could and should the European countries do more to cope with these huge challenges?
Walter Laqueur: Spread of weapons of mass destruction. As far as terrorism is concerned it is my impression that there is some cooperation in Europe at least as far as the exchange of intelligence is concerned. But with regard to the broader issues it seems that Europe has accepted that proliferation is inevitable. This is tantamount to accepting that nuclear (or biological or chemical ) weapons will be used in local wars—or by terrorist groups, There is much talk about the need for more diplomacy even though diplomacy has led nowhere. This is yet another manifestation of Europe's weakness and indeed irrelevance.
Dieter Farwick: Putin wants to turn Russia again to a superpower – not just an energy power. What are his chances of achieving this ambitious goal and objective?
Walter Laqueur: Yes, Putin is trying hard and for a number of years he (or his successors) might succeed. But Russia is rapidly shrinking. Moscow prospers, the rest of the country is depopulated. More than 10.000 Russian villages disappeared during the last decade and this process continues.. In other words—a colossus based on oil—on feet of clay.
Dieter Farwick: You write that Europe’s fall is not yet a done deal. While the decline of its relative power on the world stage is irreversible, there are still chances to avoid a total collapse. What is your view about the idea to form a new nucleus within the EU with a limited number of countries that want closer cooperation and integration?
Walter Laqueur: Nothing is inevitable .There could be events beyond our imagination. Great powers could collapse within a short period. The fate of the Soviet Union is an example. In politics we are dealing not with absolute certainties but with probabilities. But this does not provide much comfort for Europe. For the misfortune of other great powers would not benefit Europe but on the contrary harm it as it depends so much on exports and foreign trade. Today the US still provides something like a safety net for Europe, if this safety net goes Europe would be on its own. A new nucleus within the EU—certainly, a new impetus could come only from a small group. But at the moment I do not see much readiness to take such initiatives—all governments are preoccupied with their own domestic affairs
Dieter Farwick: You were born in Germany, you live in the States and in Europe. You can touch and smell the atmosphere on both sides of the Atlantic. What are the crucial distinctions between the lone superpower and the failing European Union?
Walter Laqueur: America faces enormous problems not only in the economic field. But there is far more optimism than in Europe that it will be able to cope. Its experience in the Middle East is teaching Americans that there are limits to its lone superpower status. Obviously there will be greater reluctance to get involved in future. This means not greater freedom but greater disorder in world affairs. At this time I do not see any other power to cooperate with America or to compete with it or to take its place.