Peace in Africa might be seen as a solution to racism in Europe – the argument goes that racism is a reaction to, but not created by, immigration. And yet immigration comes from African and Middle Eastern countries in difficulty. It follows then that racists are heartless people who care not to help their fellow humans.
But solving problems in Africa to reduce emigration to Europe implies that our involvement in Africa is tainted not so much by humanitarian motives as selfish social ideals about protecting our own society. This might even argue for the National Front unless we can differentiate between a logical limit to open border immigration and limitations based on race.
Helping Africa then is a good thing if it helps Africans survive and prosper – even if there is an element of self-interest – trade is a part of a social solution to poverty and hardship in all countries. But even if protectionist, there can also be a humanist element, it is not necessary to be one or the other. Solutions in Africa are humanist when we recognize that it is simply right to help others. But we must also balance helping others with eradicating poverty and homelessness on our doorstep. There is a generous welfare system in Europe but often great hardship in Africa.
How then can we limit immigration and be humanitarian – immigration is not exclusively an issue for the right or the far right. And perhaps it is possible to understand Brexiteers desire to control immigration even if leaving the EU is a high price to pay. Europe should have a clear policy on immigration, with closed and controlled external borders to account for the concerns of the right, but also as a logical protectionism that will consolidate a European identity. The danger is not to fall into a European nationalistic extremism.
Much of the Brexit argument has been about numbers control. While this argument may be appealing, it is too easily tinged with talk of race and culture, countries, who is in and who is out. If we control our borders we cannot also refuse our humanitarian mission.
What about the maintenance of a European culture? Is there is one, should it be maintained and promoted? And is there not a danger simply of falling into the white Christian trap? It depends which bits of culture we want to retain. Focusing exclusively on religion does not help, but there is no logic in Turkey joining the EU – it should remain our main and most valuable partner.
What then is the culture to maintain in Europe? What is Europeanism? It is not the seemingly increasing racism and xenophobia of the Baltic states, who like Hungary and Poland attach strong allegiance to Christianity but oppose Muslim influence with a certain violence. While the wall on the Hungarian border shocked westerners, secure borders are perhaps the solution to a strong and effective Europe. But it should be one which refrains from violence and maintains its roots in humanitarian values.
Europe has to work hard to remold its identity, it is a great shame that it will be doing so without Britain. France and Germany are good leaders but they always benefited from the balance of the level-headed Brits. It is a great shame that Britain has chosen to abandon the European project, but what does Britain really think about the future development of Europe even from outside the Union? Many Britons did not vote for Brexit and would like to remain. But how do we consolidate views across 27 nations?
What is the vision for European relations with Russia which is right now on a sort of war footing, cyber-attacking the US in favour of Trump, unilateral action in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. Russia is intent on creating a bad-boy image, but also a strong one which, to our advantage, keeps the Russian mafia under control. But the consequences for trade and prosperous exchange with Russia are at their lowest – especially in the face of fears of Russia seeking to intervene in European politics.
If surrounded by an external “threat”, Europe should not be defined by what it is not (not Russian, not Muslim, not Christian) and try to heal the post war trauma from which it is still suffering. The political integration project has received a vote of no-confidence with Britain’s vote to leaves the EU. So what is left? How do we integrate? Who are we? Who are the Europeans and what do they stand for, with or without the British? Cultured and inventive but still trying to find our way, hampered by our history and yet striving for a better world.