Is the EU About to Repeat the Fate of the Roman Empire?
The author is President of the Center for Systems Analysis and Forecasting. Formerly a prominent Ukrainian poltical analyst he was forced into emigration by the Maidan putsch
In 486, the last bit of the Western Roman Empire fell, the so-called Kingdom of Syagrius in northern Gaul. The Roman commander Flavius Syagrius managed to maintain imperial power over the area that eventually become Île-de-France, Normandy and Anjou for ten years after the fall of the Holy Roman Emperor, campaigning to be recognized as its legal successor. Barbarians titled him “the King of Romans”, but he was defeated in the battle of Soissons by the French King, Clovis I, who annexed Syagrius.
The last bit of Roman civilization in Western Europe ended with that battle, plunging the continent into a centuries-long “Dark Age”.
The situation in the EU today, with its seemingly unstoppable waves of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, is comparable to the Migration Period that ruined the Western Roman Empire.
The collapse of the Single Market as the path to political breakdown
The Eu dealt successfully with the flow of refugees until recently, as was the attack on the Empire’s borders by barbarians in the 5th century A.D. But they represent the external signs of a deeper conflict. One, or even five million people from Asia and Africa can’t destabilize the EU, anymore than about a million “barbarians”, who were mostly at war with each other, could really threaten the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire had solved more difficult problems, just as the EU has absorbed even greater waves of refugees. Although it allegedly weakens the European state system, migration does not pose a threat in and of itself. It is the weakness of its civilization that prevents Europe from confronting a situation that until recently would have been seen as stimulating the economy.
The refugee issue can lead to the disintegration of the Schengen Area
The European Union’s main problem is the economy, which was the main reason for the collapse of the Roman Empire. Ancient Rome’s resources dried up, drastically reducing the state’s income. Although it didn’t have to shell out money, it had to feed its army and officials, and this caused some regions to shift to autarky.
The disintegration of a single market dissolves political integrity. Regions are no longer willing to take on the expensive burden of providing for the center that organizes the single economic and trade area. Local businessmen start to protect the population and the interests of the local economy with their own troops. Interests diverge, and conflicts arise between different provinces, who call in barbarians for help.
Anyone who disagrees with this comparison with Ancient Rome should remember the period of feudal fragmentation in Ancient Rus, when a single economic complex evolved into separate principalities.
The European Fracture
The same thing is happening currently in Europe. Contradictions between “young Europe”, turned toward the US, and “old Europe”, first appeared in 2003, when Jacques Chirac remarked that Central European newcomers who had been supporting the US’s war project in Iraq “lost a good opportunity to keep silent”.
From then on, the European divide between the “old” and the “new” reappeared during every crisis, including the current Ukrainian crisis. But it’s also about Great Britain’s insistence on a special status; the contradiction between sovereign European leaders and the Brussels “Eurocracy”, and between the rich North and the poor South of Europe, epitomized by bankrupt Greece and creditor-countries headed by Germany. The possibility of Greece quitting the Eurozone loomed suddenly, when the Greeks voted in a referendum against paying the country’s creditors. Prime-minister Tsipras feared the uncertainty that a Grexit would have brought, but the Eurocracy was quaking in its boots. They managed to scare a weak Greece with its wrecked economy, but no one knows for how long. Euroskepticism in Great Britain has intensified to the point where Parliament had to allow a referendum on succession to take place between 2015 and 2018.
I believe that the later this referendum takes place, the more voters in the UK will say goodbye to Europe. Yet Great Britain is not Greece: it has one of the strongest and most stable economies in the EU.
There are not enough resources for everyone
These and also other conflicts in the EU are based on economic contradictions between its member countries. For a while, Europe had managed to transfer its crises to a neocolonial periphery, but that was before the system-wide collapse.
That collapse was caused by the depletion of the resource base of the Pax Americana economy, in which the EU occupied a privileged position. The crisis prevented Brussels from easing economic contradictions within countries by transferring resources from the global periphery. Now that they are insufficient to stabilize the American economy, Washington has gone from sharing stolen resources with Brussels, to trying to rob its European ally.
The lack of resources that previously made Europe’s economic and trade segments profitable (more for some than others), led the Eurocracy to demand more resources from national economies to provide for Europe’s expensive needs, changing the EU from being the source of goods to being a robber.
If Europe can no longer internationalize its problems, its more powerful members become the locomotives.
France to impose border controls within the EU
As with Germany and France, the EU increasingly uses European mechanisms to shift its problems onto its “younger” partners, calling it European unity.
But the small countries of the EU are not interested in sharing responsibilities; their motivation for joining was profit. Brussels is viewed as burdensome, unnecessary for the economy and dangerous for politics. Even Germany more often solves its problems within the framework of bilateral contacts with EU members or other partners.
The EU is stuck in the systemic crisis that has destroyed many empires. The immigrant problem is a result, but not the cause of the crisis. Barbarians can only destroy an empire that is decayed from within.
A crisis can end up with destruction or renewal. Two years ago, Europe had a chance for renewal, but by adhering to US foreign policy, it could be destroyed. Now, not only Eurosceptics, but Europhobes are getting increasing support. Does the EU have enough power and time to implement the reforms that could save it? Probably not.
The Kingdom of Syagrius could also have survived the battle of Soissons.