A New Era of Empires: Europe Is Afraid of Being Left Behind in History

For all occasions Russian liberals have a collection of repoussed phrases that don’t change over the years, they are for them axioms that don’t require any proof. They include: “Stalin is bad”, “The West is good”, “All empires collapse sooner or later”, etc. And so, there is unpleasant news for the domestic adherents of liberalism: the latest mantra isn’t an axiom for a “good” West any more. Moreover, from now on the leaders of European liberals categorically disagree with them, calling for the construction of an empire called the European Union.

This was recently explicitly declared by the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who until this summer was the official head of the liberal democrat faction of the European Parliament for ten years. And after his group was forced to merge with euro-deputies representing Emmanuel Macron’s movement “Le Republique en Marche!”, the Belgian remained the main speaker of the “Renew Europe” faction created on this basis.

Among other things, it is impossible to forget that Verhofstadt is still considered to be the official Brexit negotiator of the European Parliament with Britain. So one shouldn’t perceive the words of this person as just someone’s private opinion. The former Prime Minister of Belgium is a recognised ideologist of modern European liberalism and one of the main “ice breakers” of the establishment pushing the formula for the creation of a United States of Europe.

Verhofstadt shared his imperial dreams, speaking from the tribune of the annual conference of the British Liberal Democrats that took place in the resort town of Bournemouth in the South of England. Having stood out with a t-shirt containing obscene phrases in regards to supporters of Brexit, the Belgian literally said the following: “The world of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation states or countries. It is a world order that is based on empires”.

He also listed those empires that will drive the world: USA, China, India, and Russia. Respectively, according to the speaker, the European Union in this future “world of empires” must build a unified superstate that is based on the principles of liberalism, freedom, and parliamentarism. Standing ovations in the hall followed.

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This thunder of applause from the public calling themselves liberal democrats is especially indicative. In principle, the idea that the European Union is already an empire or is building one isn’t new. Back in 2007 this was cautiously, with reservations, voiced by the then head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. However, he added that the EU is “the first non-imperial empire”. At the time these statements caused confusion in a certain part of the establishment. But then a series of various publications, statements, and books followed that justified the idea of a unified liberal empire under the name the European Union.

This is not the first time Verhofstadt has declared this either. In 2008 he published reflections on the future of the EU, having specified that “a new era of empires” approaches. And, respectively, Europe has to take a worthy place in this rank, otherwise it will be left in the bin of history. And after the presidential elections of 2016 in the US, during which the hated by liberals Donald Trump came to power, the Belgian directly suggested: “Let’s become an empire, an empire of the good and not of the bad”.

So far, however, these statements and remarks have mostly been met with awkward silence by the bulk of Europe’s liberal community. In the same Britain the opponents of Brexit have long accused their opponents of being guided by nostalgia for the imperial past of the country.

The same label was applied to supporters of Brexit by Europeans and Americans. This is exactly how the chief negotiator of the European Union with Britain Michel Barnier, the former French Foreign Minister, explained their motivation. And the title of the Washington Post said: “Britain clings to imperial nostalgia as Brexit looms”. I.e., inertia acted: after all, we remember that this word is abusive, and therefore it can not be applied to “yours”, it can only be used to “strangers”, to the opposite camp.

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This is why the latest speech of Verhofstadt, which was met with an ovation, is also indicative. The liberal democrat public of the Albion does not just shy away from the word “Empire”, they welcome it, confirming their aspiration to be a part of a unified civilisation that will be capable of competing with Russia, the USA, or China as equals. Like saying that otherwise the Europeans will not survive.

In all fairness, it is necessary to note that the establishment of Europe doesn’t completely shares such emotions.

The head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker living out his political age, carefully commented on Verhofstadt’s words: “I don’t like this expression — ’empires’ … It sounds rather aggressive, military”. At the same time, Juncker in general supported the ideas of the leader of the European liberals about the need to build a unified force in order to confront growing competitors. I.e., he in general shares the train of thought, but asks to refrain from using terms that are still harsh to the ear for representatives of the mainstream.

But, judging by the growing applause in the liberal environment for slogans that are read by Verhofstadt and his colleagues, it becomes an irreversible trend. Ideas of European imperialism cease to be a priori condemned by this crowd, and the age-old mantra “all empires fall” is gradually disproved by it.

Russian liberals will have to do something about it. After all, if their Western colleagues renounce the dogmas that have become established in this community, then they will have to restructure themselves here in Russia. Because we all remember that, from the point of view of the domestic adherents of liberalism, “the West is a priori good” and it is never wrong.

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Vladimir Kornilov

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