With the broad groundswell of right wing nationalist sentiment found both in the U.S. and in Europe, President Obama will have a hard time assisting European Union (EU) leaders in their fight against terrorism, and in dealing with economic stagnation and mass migration. In the EU as elsewhere, economic hardships and the threat of terrorism combine to make short run interests at state and societal levels more potent, often at the expense of broader collective interest initiatives. Nonetheless, focus on the collective interest is exactly what Europe and the U.S. need.
Terrorism, economic stagnation, and mass migration flows to Europe are related at several levels. Economic hardships and the fear of losing jobs are associated with more intolerant views on immigration and minority populations. This leads to perceptions real or not, that with finite resources, governments favor particular groups at the expense of others. That contributes to a condition where broader educational and acculturation programs for immigrant populations and “first generation” youth Europe in particular, fail to gain traction even when the need for such programs to help immigrants and their children to acclimate is readily apparent.
In the case of the EU, however I suspect there is more–there appears to be a fundamental disconnect between many European governments actions and effective and sustained policies for minority populations in need. Governments either do not understand or will not acknowledge how important such education, economic, and acculturation programs are to empower minority communities in order for community members to develop a vested interest in upholding state security. Two countries in Europe that desperately need such programs are France and Belgium.
Both countries share the common trait that neither are historically “immigrant societies.” While that does not necessarily preclude those countries to aspire to craft and implement programs to meet the needs of immigrant communities, that historical legacy, unlike the American experience, appears linked to resistance to or indifference about immigrant political demands and aspirations.
Some of those aspirations, such as upward political mobility, are hallmarks of the American political and cultural experience. Thus, it appears part of the problem is the lack of a historical, cultural, and public policy dimension to the discourse that paradoxically works to somehow undercut the notion of noblesse oblige, a national cultural dimension more familiar to at least some European countries like Great Britain. Thus, President Obama’s challenge in Europe is also in the realm of ideas and assumptions.
After his recent visit to the continent, the U.S. President will undoubtedly continue engaging European leaders about these issues and others such as the importance of “a new trans-Atlantic trade pact.” In addition, President Obama should also consider how to leverage one critical non-economic globalization component to the foregoing, namely what Robert Keohane and Joseph S. Nye call, “complex interdependence.” The condition of complex interdependence stems from economic interconnections; where cultural, political, and other non-economic ties are “thickened” as part of globalization to produce new synergies and outcomes, such as new political perspectives.
The notion of “complex interdependence” dovetails well with the notion of how ideas develop “staying power” as they come to maturity–what constructivists would call, idea “critical mass,” and “take-off.” In this context, President Obama could spearhead efforts to discuss the notions of inclusion and empowerment in the EU context, to revisit how those ideas, that have acquired an international consensus as part of the human rights regime, fit within evolving European institutions and processes.
New ideas about inclusion are integrative in nature and the specific threats to the EU should also be confronted with an integrative approach where interconnections between issues such as terrorism and counter-terrorism, economic stagnation, and mass migration are studied as a complex system that takes into account primary, secondary, and tertiary effects of different policy alternatives. This is a political and cultural framework that might help provide more fruitful results.