Fractured Continent: Europe's Crises and the Fate of the West, with William Drozdiak
December 5, 2017
JOANNE MYERS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I want to thank you all for beginning your day with us.
We are delighted to welcome Bill Drozdiak to this Public Affairs program. He will be discussing his book Fractured Continent: Europe's Crises and the Fate of the West, which by the way was selected by the Financial Times (FT) as "one of the best political books of 2017," and it will be available for you to purchase at the end of the program today. In reading Fractured Continent, it is not surprising that this timely and widely acclaimed book was chosen by the FT for such an honor nor that our friend Enzo Viscusi had the foresight to suggest that we host Bill to talk about his findings. As such, I would like to give a special thanks to our mutual friend Enzo for his impeccable judgment.
We all have dreams, aspirations, and hopes for a better future. Following the devastation of two world wars and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, European leaders were no exception. Their dream was to create a zone of perpetual peace and prosperity, one that would lead to constructing a harmonious community of states. However, for some time now pundits have been noting that after years of postwar consensus and extraordinary achievements this utopian vision of a united Europe appears to be unraveling. It is clear that voters in Europe as well as in the United States are abandoning traditional ways of governing in favor of authoritarian, populist, and nationalist alternatives, which are all raising profound threats to the future of our democracies. The question is: How did the unified, peaceful Europe of the late 20th century turn into the fractured, discordant continent of the early 21st?
In Fractured Continent, our speaker, who has had decades of experience living and working in Europe, not only as a respected journalist but also as a leader of important trans-Atlantic think tanks, writes about how and why this European experiment is now imploding. He also tells us what this means for the United States and why the Atlantic alliance, one of the most crucial foundations of global security, is in danger. It is not just his easy access to leaders in key European capitals, but his acute observations, analysis, and perspicacity that make reading Fractured Continent so compelling.
It is a tumultuous time in contemporary European history. For a better understanding of why the European dream is becoming such a nightmare, please join me in giving a warm welcome to our guest today, Bill Drozdiak. Thank you for coming.
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for coming out here today, and Joanne, thank you for your kind words of introduction.
I have been running around for the last two months doing book promotion tours both here and in Europe, and in many respects it has been a fascinating way to take the pulse in areas that I do not often get to, such as the Midwest. Recently I just had a dinner—I will just start with this anecdote—with John Kasich, the Republican governor [of Ohio], and he was interested in finding out what was going on in Europe.
I said, "Well, what's the biggest challenge for you?"
He said, "You know, I just received a report saying that by the year 2030 truck-driving will be obsolete." He said, "You know, there are 5 million people in Ohio who earn their livelihoods from truck driving. So what do I or my successors do at a time when we have greater polarization? If you think it is bad now, what is it going to be like then?"
I thought this was a very telling comment because it is also happening in Europe and elsewhere in Western democracies that the challenges of populism are related to globalization, a backlash against that, and also the rise of these technologies that we are having a lot of difficulty in coping with.
The genesis of my book, I suppose, traces back to November of 1989. At that time I was the foreign editor for The Washington Post, and I was on a traveling tour, visiting our bureaus in Southeast Asia. I happened to be in Bangkok, getting ready to leave early in the morning with our correspondent Keith Richburg to visit the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodian border.
I get a phone call at 3:00 a.m., and I groggily pick up the receiver. It is my boss Ben Bradlee and his raspy voice, as he inimitably says: "Droz, they're tearing down the Wall. Get your ass to Berlin."
I go, "But, but, but . . ."
He said, "No buts. Get there." So I managed to get the next flight to Frankfurt and then on to Berlin, and it was just a remarkable human scene as people crossed from East Berlin into the West for the first time.
So I thought, How could I contribute? Well, I'll write a feature. I knew exactly where all of these Easterners were going to go; it was the sixth floor of the Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) shopping emporium, which happens to be a—still is—very grand place for gourmet foods because in East Germany for them it was a big event when they would get a shipment of bananas from Cuba. There I found them, just hordes of East Germans, gawking at all these foodstuffs. In fact, the lede of my story in the next day's paper wrote itself. It was a group of East Germans standing in front of a pyramid of oranges from South Africa—November, remember—and they were just in tears. They were bursting out, saying "The lies, the lies"—"die Lügen"—that they had been told that this was a Potemkin village in the West. I realized that day that they would stop at nothing less than equality of living standards.
Sure enough, within three weeks, Chancellor Helmut Kohl stepped forward with a 10-point plan for German unification. All of the second thoughts of other leaders like Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand were swept away because Kohl enjoyed the support of George H. W. Bush in moving toward a unification of Europe, a Europe whole and free. Sure enough, within a year it had also swept away the Soviet Union as we saw, and Gorbachev in the process.
It was at that time that in order to mollify the concerns of other Europeans that Kohl and François Mitterrand decided we need to anchor Germany in the heart of the European Union with three grand initiatives, one being to create a single currency, the euro. So they laid out a timetable that within 10 years Germany would give up its cherished Deutsche Mark and other countries as well in pursuit of a single currency.
There would be the creation of a borderless Europe so that people could travel on vacations across borders and sense the freedom of having this open Europe, and that was codified in the Schengen treaty a couple of years later. Then there was the decision to embrace the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe by expanding the institutions of the NATO and the European Union to the east, right up to the border of Russia.
At the time, I remember interviewing Helmut Kohl, and I said, "Aren't you basically biting off more than you can chew?"
Of course, Kohl, a man of immense appetites, said, "No, we're going to broaden Europe and we're going to deepen it at the same time." So basically he said, "We're going to expand it"—and now it is 28 nations—"but we're also going to deepen it in pursuit of the dream of a United States in Europe."
Over the years, this project seemed to go off the rails. I became particularly concerned as somebody who has followed Europe for much of my professional career that it was facing an existential crisis by 2015. Europe never has recovered yet from the 2008 financial crisis, and then we suddenly had a refugee crisis on top of an international crisis when Russia went into the Ukraine, took over Crimea, and it is still involved in operations in Eastern Ukraine.
So we saw that all of these challenges were coming to a head, so I decided that the best way to report a book of this sort was for me to travel as widely as possible over the course of a couple of years, and I developed a narrative approach. The book is structured in 12 chapters, 12 capitals. Each in its own way illustrates a different dimension of the crises facing Europe.
This is sort of a panoramic approach, but during the course of the reporting there were several themes that came out in a very vivid way. While Europe has recovered somewhat—there is a sense of, I think, premature optimism now that there is a little bit of growth coming in, and the election of Emmanuel Macron has given a new sense of optimism that Europe can move ahead—there are still great divisions across Europe.
In fact, I would argue that in some ways the political landscape is more fragmented than at any time in the last three decades. You have a North/South split: The wealthy creditor countries in the North, such as Germany and Scandinavian countries, are reluctant to put too much of their money at risk in order to subsidize the poorer countries in the South, who are heavily indebted and who feel that in order to put more of their people to work, particularly the younger generation that feels bereft and lost in this world of globalization, that it would—that this conflict has still not been resolved.
Now we have also an East/West divide as we see Poland and Hungary revert to more nationalistic approaches, claiming that they are being dictated to by a faceless bureaucracy in Brussels, and this is developing into a serious challenge, particularly with Warsaw. Poland gets more than $2 billion a month in subsidies from the European Union, but rather than showing their gratitude, they seem to be thumbing their nose at Brussels and saying, "We want to recover more of our national power and our sovereignty." At the same time, the Polish government is cracking down on the press and on an independent judiciary, and taking back some of the democratic values that were part of the contract of joining the European Union. This is going to be a continuing conflict because in bringing these countries into the European Union it was never thought that they would ever renege on their democratic conditions. So how this gets resolved is still open to question.
Most recently, as we see, there are pressures of regional separatism. On October 1, Catalonia announced that it wanted to become an independent state. The central government in Madrid is trying to prevent this, saying it would violate the constitution. We will see what happens on December 21 with the election there that will determine where Spain goes and whether it can stay united.
At the same time, this has infected other countries such as Italy and Belgium that have regions interested in breaking apart. Recently there were referendums in Lombardy, where Milan is located, and also in the region of Venice, where people voted by 90 percent to say "we want more power returned to us because we're tired of subsidizing the poor areas of the South."
So I suppose how Europe will deal with these different conflicting pressures is going to be a crucial factor in determining whether the European Union can move ahead and continue to thrive because I think it has been one of the great achievements in postwar history that Europe can lay to rest these conflicts, particularly between France and Germany, and develop peaceful and prosperous relations among all of their neighbors. This has a profound impact on the United States because we have been very much involved in the European project. It has been something that has been key to our own peace and prosperity.
This brings me to the latest challenge affecting Europe and also the United States, and that is the approach of the Trump administration toward what is going on in Europe. Since 1945 we have had 12 American presidents, six Republicans and six Democrats. Each has made the Atlantic alliance the foundation of American foreign policy. Now we have a president who says, "Europe is not a strategic ally but a commercial rival of the United States," and the Trump administration seems to put the emphasis on Europe as a threat in an economic sense to the United States and a burden in terms of our security guarantees.
When I have been traveling around Europe recently, the reaction has been so swift and stunning that it makes me wonder whether this alliance will be able to survive many more years into the future because in Europe there is an attitude now that if America has elected a president who is saying these things, we think the credibility of America is shattered. I have heard this from people like Germany's former foreign minister Joschka Fischer, Sweden's former prime minister Carl Bildt, and many other prominent Europeans who say "we need to start acting on our own."
Chancellor Merkel herself has reluctantly reached this conclusion. I interviewed her several times in the context of this book, and since May, after her last meeting with Donald Trump, they have not had any contact whatsoever. It was so disastrous that she said, "Perhaps the time has come for Europe to take its destiny in its own hands."
In a way, it is understandable, because for 70 years for a continent as wealthy as Europe to outsource its security guarantees to a country like the United States has never occurred before in history, so it is an anomaly, and perhaps it is time that this is wound down in such a way that we find a peaceful resolution—that as America retreats inward, Europe finds a way to develop its own security guarantees. That is going to be difficult. In Germany, the key central country, there is a great reluctance to invest in the defense sector. They feel in many respects that the pacifist sentiment has become ingrained in the culture, and they think that they already do enough in terms of economic reconstruction and aid to the rest of the world.
I think in terms of the new optimism that one has heard, largely generated by the election of Emmanuel Macron, the big challenge is going to be whether Germany will live up to Macron's hopes that they can join together—France and Germany—as the new axis to push Europe forward, and this is going to require a heavy investment by Germany in developing security and defense guarantees for the continent in the face of a retreating United States.
How this is resolved is really open to a lot of challenges and questions. At a time when populism is still on the rise—and I do not see this going away despite the defeat of Marine Le Pen in France and populist forces in the Netherlands; they are still very strong if anything. A populist party will be part of the new government in Austria, and we see its forces rising elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
I suppose the strongest impression that I gained during the two years of my travels was the sudden and remarkable decline in public confidence in the mainstream governing parties across all of Europe. You can look at Britain, where there is a great erosion of support for the Conservative leadership and great distrust toward the Labour Party, led by an unreconstructed Stalinist, Jeremy Corbyn; you see it in France, where Macron took advantage of the vacuum in power by leaving his own Socialist Party, which is now in ruins, and defeating the candidates from the conservative wing, which is also trying to rebuild itself. The latest election in Germany showed both Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats lost something like 14 percent of the vote.
So people are moving away from the governing parties because they feel neglected and also distrustful toward the centrist parties, and they are looking for new departures, whether they be from extremist parties from the right or from the left, as we have seen with the rise of Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece.
The challenges facing Europe politically are intertwined with the economic crisis, and how this is finally resolved is really going to depend, I think, not just on Europe but also American leadership, because my old friend and mentor Richard Holbrooke always contended that America was integral to the success of the European project, that we standing behind Europe were going to be an important factor, that America was indeed a European power and needed to remain so in order to help bind these other countries together in the challenges that they face.
I think 2018 is going to be a critical year, indeed I think a hinge moment in history, when a lot of these forces are going to come together, and whether Europe will realize that it has to take its "destiny in its own hands," as Angela Merkel says, or whether it starts to dissolve and we see the slow erosion of the European Union, which I think would be a disastrous development because as I mentioned it has been so successful in burying the ghosts of history, the demons of nationalism, and building a peaceful and prosperous order for Europe.
If the European Union is sent into reverse and deteriorates, I think it could unleash a lot of the old power struggles that have led to conflicts and wars over the centuries, and this would be a disaster, not just for Europe but also for the rest of the world.
With that, I am happy to take some questions and hear some thoughts and comments from you as well.
QUESTION: Jim Hoge from Teneo Holdings.
Bill, could you talk a little bit about the Russian-EU relationship? Putin seems to be on a sustained campaign to fragment Europe. He has elections coming up, things at home are not all that favorable for him at the moment. It is a scenario for further foreign adventurism. What should we expect?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: This is one of the chief strategic challenges facing Europe. When I spoke to Chancellor Merkel, she told me that over the course of two years she met or spoke with Putin on 70 occasions. She speaks, of course, flawless Russian, and he served as the Dresden station chief for the KGB for five years, so he also speaks pretty good German. During the last years of the Obama administration, President Obama basically decided to outsource the West's policy on Ukraine and Russia toward Merkel, so she found herself as the chief interlocutor with Putin.
One thing she said was quite striking. She said, "You know, I've tried to make Putin understand that picking a fight with the West is the last thing he needs to do." She said, "One of the great achievements of Germany is to establish peaceful and prosperous relations with all nine of its neighbors." Yet he seems to think that he can only provide security for Russia by destabilizing all of his neighbors.
She told him: "I said if I were sitting in Moscow, my biggest challenge is China encroaching from the East and Islamic radicalism coming up from the South. I would try to reach out to the West and find some support." So she was trying to encourage him in this way.
But Putin rejected this analysis. I think it is partly his effort to shore up support for his autocracy—some would say kleptocracy—by playing the nationalist card against the West. How long this goes on, we will see. He will probably get reelected for another four years, but already people are talking in Moscow as well as in Germany and elsewhere about what follows Putin.
Some experts I have spoken with say it could be much worse, that we could get an even more belligerent, nationalistic leader who would come after him. He has so swept aside the potential leaders, such as Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated right in the shadow of the Kremlin, who was a very charismatic, democratic-minded person and would have been a terrific leader, I think, of Russia, and others who have been either assassinated or sent into political exile.
So there is no clear succession line that follows Putin, but I think he will continue to probe the West. I think there is a stalemate now in Ukraine, but he is engaging in these hybrid warfare techniques. I saw firsthand what he is doing in Latvia, where in the capital Riga half the population is ethnic Russian. So the way in which they play upon the information game and radio, television, fake news, is going to continue, and the meddling in elections as we have seen in France, Germany, and probably in Italy next year.
I am afraid that I am not very hopeful, but I think that is one of the long-term challenges of Europe finding some kind of a modus vivendi with a more stable and democratic-minded Russia, but I do not see that on the horizon right now.
QUESTION: Warren Hoge, International Peace Institute.
Bill, I want to ask you about migration, which up until the past year was the biggest problem facing Europe. You have a divided, fractious Europe that you correctly describe right now. A lot of the reason why right-wing parties have done so well in places like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Austria has been because of anti-immigrant sentiment. Those people are still beating down the doors, particularly in Italy and Greece.
What is Europe going to do about them? Can Merkel come up with any way to convince the other Europeans that her approach, which was to accommodate them, is the right approach?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: It is very pertinent, Warren, your question, because Merkel has put forward a plan, and the European Union has adopted it, which will be unveiled at a summit I think next week or in the coming days, with African nations. Their idea is that the way to stop the flow of immigration from Africa and North Africa and the Middle East is to develop a Marshall Plan, create better economic conditions in these countries so that the younger generation will not feel impelled to leave and then struggle to find their way into Europe.
It is open to question whether this is going to work because the World Bank recently concluded in a report—right now there are 65 million people on the move, many of them looking for ways to get into Europe. As you rightly point out, the stream is no longer out of Turkey and into Greece but is more coming up from Libya into Italy and also now from Morocco into Spain. A lot of these people are from sub-Saharan Africa who are fleeing the effects of climate change, meaning spreading drought, and also civil wars, and that is going to continue.
The World Bank report says that probably within 15 years there will be 250 million people who are leaving. The favored destination is probably going to continue to be Europe. So it is a race against time for Europe to develop these policies to encourage young Africans and young people in the Middle East to stay at home and develop their own countries.
Unfortunately the best instincts are counteracted by political pressures at home. An example is that after Tunisia had the Arab Spring revolution, which has been one of the few countries that has been moderately successful in transferring from an autocratic regime toward a democracy, they appealed for help from the European Union. The feeling was, "Okay, let's open up our markets and encourage Tunisia to ship their oranges and tomatoes into the European Union." This was blocked by Spain and the Netherlands, who grow tomatoes, and their powerful farmer lobbies said: "No. We can't afford to do this. We'll lose our own markets."
As a result, the political pressures have stymied this effort. I hope this does not happen with the Africa initiative. So it is going to take a lot of political courage for these leaders in Europe to stand up to their lobbies and allow funding and trade to be expanded with these African countries and give them something to live for because right now the situation is so desperate in a lot of these countries that they are willing to risk their lives to flee and find their way to Europe.
QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.
You have not said anything about Brexit or at least talked about it at all. Negotiations appear to be at something of an impasse over the Irish frontier situation. The British government is falling apart over this. What do you think is going to happen? By your omission in your general remarks, is it possible you think that it does not make that much difference in the vast scheme of things?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: You are right. In continental Europe, people are saying, "The Brits are gone and we've got to start thinking about our own fate, how we develop this." So the negotiations for many continental Europeans are something of a sideshow. Even for the British people, there is not that much attention. They have looked at some of these studies saying that they are going to suffer great economic consequences, but those consequences have not been felt yet.
But I think these negotiations are extremely difficult. They were on the brink of a breakthrough the other day, but then they announced that that fell short. Theresa May's government is propped up by these unionists in Northern Ireland who have blocked the best possible compromise that came up recently. So I do not know how they find their way out of this because the Ireland issue is one of the keys to solving this.
A lot of people say that as time goes on there will be more buyer's remorse, and is there a way to have an election in Britain that would call a second referendum so that they can unwind all of this because I think a lot of people would like to see Britain stay in. But the longer these negotiations go on, the more difficult it is going to be. Tony Blair has come back from the political dead to try to launch a program to get a second referendum going, but unfortunately Tony Blair these days in the aftermath of his decision on the Iraq War is one of the most despised men in British politics. So he will not be the person to lead.
There has been talk that David Miliband might leave New York and go back to Britain. I think he would be a fine leader who believes in Europe, but so far there is no sign of political leadership. [Editor's note: Don't miss Miliband's recent Carnegie talk on the refugee crisis.] It comes back to what I said about the bankruptcy of the political center in all of Europe, starting with Britain, that they have not found the kind of strong leadership that is necessary.
These negotiations will continue, but it is going to be very hard to meet the March 2019 deadline unless there is some remarkable breakthrough. There could be some miraculous turning of the mind where some political development happens. Let's say May's government collapses, they have a new election, and some constellation of forces that is relatively pro-European emerges in such a way that they have a second referendum.
I think if they did have a second referendum, there would probably be a small majority in favor of staying within the European Union because it was only 52-48 the last time around, and it was all because young people failed to turn out in the numbers that were expected. But that was because Cameron was so foolish as to schedule the referendum the week of the final exams for university students and on the eve of the Glastonbury Festival, so they were either feverishly studying for their exams or out getting plastered to enjoy the end of the school year.
QUESTION: Anthony Faillace.
How would Europe handle Catalonia clearly deciding to leave? Also, is there some point where Europe does countenance these separatist movements if they were within particular linguistic or cultural boundaries? What is the problem with four or five more countries in Europe if you have 28?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: Very good question. I think this backlash against globalization reflects a desire on the parts of many people to be governed closer to their daily lives. That is the appeal for a lot of people in Catalonia.
I would say the main grievance they have is that they are being compelled to subsidize the rest of Spain. That is what they believe, and there is some justification for that. Since the financial crisis, I was told that they lose about €12 billion a year going out to Madrid, and they complain that they do not get much back in the way of reinvestment. These grievances are continuing to build, particularly among young people, who complain that the reason they have not been able to find jobs and that Europe has not done anything for them is because of their future being taken away from them by Madrid.
The regional separatist issue is going to continue to grow. I think at one point Puigdemont, the Catalan leader, was appealing to the European Union to come in as sort of a mediator in this, but the European Union refused to do so, which I think was a mistake. It could have played a role because both sides are so stubbornly dug in right now, particularly Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, who comes from a very hard conservative wing that will not tolerate any talk about a more autonomous Catalonia. This suggests that they need some kind of outside intervention, but right now I do not see it happening.
We will see what the outcome is I think on December 21. The polls show that the independistas will fall short, but there will still be a lot of continuing grievances, and it is going to be difficult to govern Spain I think, particularly given the slim majority that Rajoy has. So this is also going to distract Spain from playing an active role in the European Union.
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.
You began your talk by mentioning the United States and the changed defense relationship with Europe. Could you comment on NATO, and what the impact all of this is having?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: I think NATO has been very slow to respond to both the new security environment and also the political phenomenon of the United States turning inward. I think a clear sign is that they just created a special task force on what to do about cyberwarfare. Well, this has been going on for a number of years now, particularly Russia becoming a very avid and skilled practitioner of cyberwarfare. For NATO to respond so slowly is rather disturbing.
It also shows that NATO fell asleep after 1989 and the expansion, when it seemed that Western democracy was triumphant, and the United States' attention to NATO flagged as well. As George H. W. Bush said, "Europe is whole and free, and now Europe is fixed as a strategic problem and we can turn our attention elsewhere." That is what has happened. NATO has basically become complacent and now has only awakened to the challenge of a more aggressive Russia in just the last couple of years.
I do not see the famous two-percent rule that everybody is pushing for the European countries to live up to. That will generate a little bit more defense spending, but just buying hardware is not going to be a way to strengthen NATO.
When I was in Denmark, the minister of defense said: "You know, the Americans are pushing me to buy these F-35 super-duper fighter planes. If I buy four of them, that consumes 80 percent of my budget. I think we in Denmark could contribute much more to Western defense by developing—we have a bright, skilled set of soldiers. We can develop special forces that could operate in different areas of the world. That could be much more effective than us buying four fighter planes to supplement it." This is the other thing. Buying military hardware—even if you force the Germans to buy a couple more aircraft carriers or something for several billion dollars, that does not necessarily strengthen European defense. So I think there has to be more emphasis on developing a coherent, effective strategy in dealing with these new forces.
It is not just the threat from Russia, it is what we have been talking about, immigration issues. Where has NATO been when all of these refugees were pouring in? This became a security threat to Europe, a threat to destabilize the whole continent, and yet NATO said, "Oh, we don't have a role to play in all this."
Well, they do, because the fact that Europe did not secure its periphery in establishing a borderless Europe opened the way for these refugees to come in. So I think that NATO has to make itself relevant to the lives of people in Europe and show that it deserves to continue to be in existence by dealing with these challenges. The first place they could start would be having naval patrols and setting up a policy that would deal with the challenges of immigrants coming in.
QUESTION: Don Simmons.
I have a question about Turkey. Erdoğan becomes more authoritarian. More and more Turks seem to be concluding that Europe was never seriously going to consider their admission to the European Union. There is the friction with the United States involving the cleric in the Poconos. The one bond I can think of between Europe and Turkey seems to be the economic deal in which the Europeans financed a large number of refugees who otherwise might come into Europe.
Do you see these strains getting worse to the point where Turkey withdraws from NATO?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: It has certainly been heading in that direction. Erdoğan has developed a closer rapport with Vladimir Putin. Recently he was at the summit in Moscow with the Iranian leader Rouhani and Putin to decide how to reshape Syria after its civil war. I think Erdoğan's hubris in thinking of himself as the new Atatürk who is going to reshape the Middle East on his own if necessary is something that is driving him away from not just the European Union but also NATO.
The one saving grace could be, you mentioned the economic relationship. I think that is rather fragile because if he gets angry, he is capable of saying, "Okay, I'm going to tear up this economic agreement, open the floodgates, and send more refugees into Europe."
But I do think that there has been, at least in the past, a very strong relationship between the militaries in the United States and in Turkey. He has made great efforts to change the leadership in the military, so that has probably had a bigger effect in weakening this relationship, but certainly in the past it has been one of the stronger factors in keeping Turkey anchored in NATO.
I am not sure where that is going to go now particularly because Erdoğan has seized the levers of power in so many different ways, including the military. He is moving his own people into the leadership there. So I think that is also a risk in the reshaping of the greater Middle East that we see going on now.
QUESTION: Richard Valcourt, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.
The subtitle of your book in part is "the Fate of the West." Some have seen policies that have been set down by Angela Merkel and others as suicide of the West. We also have for many years comments of people in the foreign policy field saying that nationalism is dead, and now we call it populism that has risen all over Europe. In that populism or nationalism we have seen also the demand by certain countries in Eastern Europe to say, "No, we do not want our cultures, our demographics upset by a flood of refugees from countries that are not going to assimilate with us," and they have been criticized heavily for making those comments. Yet, at the same time, they see what is happening in Western Europe.
How do you reconcile that desire to be separate countries with their own cultures of historical importance and then this tide of refugees that you in fact said earlier took them in and said nothing, creating a lot of problems in Western Europe?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: That goes to the heart of the issue facing Europe. We already see in Germany Chancellor Merkel moving to the right on the refugee issue, partly to mollify her Christian Social Union partners in Bavaria. But there is a realization in Germany that it is going to be extremely difficult to integrate these people.
When the first wave came in 2015, Germans were very proud of themselves, that Merkel had taken this bold and rather rash decision to allow everybody in. In the Munich train station people were there applauding, offering them food, clothing, and shelter. But as time has gone on, two years later the realization is that it is going to be very difficult to integrate them. Initially they thought: Oh, this will be easy because these are well-educated Syrians. Some of them have engineering backgrounds. All we have to do is teach them German. It turned out that their educational standards are much lower than in the West.
This problem of integrating them has become more acute. Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the prime minister there, is saying, "I told you so."
I recount in my book one of the first—Orbán has been against allowing in refugees from the start. There was a clash in one of the early meetings at the European Union summit in which Orbán said: "Mark my words, Chancellor Merkel. I am building a fence to keep these people out, and you will be forced to do the same thing in Germany."
She stared at him and said, "I grew up looking at a wall in my face, and I am determined I am not going to have to live through that again." Germany has not built a wall, but it is stepping up deportations of refugees; it is trying to integrate those that are there now and trying to keep them out.
I think that attitude is shared in other places that took in a lot of refugees, such as Sweden. So there is a strong agreement to curtail the number of refugees because they just cannot cope with more of them.
You mentioned the East. Certainly in Poland and in Hungary they have not taken any refugees to begin with, but it is striking that in the areas even in Eastern Germany where there are not many refugees, the forces of populism are stronger than ever. So it is this fear-mongering that has helped to fuel the populace to rise.
I would hope that the fuel that has driven the populist ascendency will start to diminish as the centrist governing parties start to try to curtail the immigration flows and that there will be less public animosity about it.
QUESTION: Ed Marschner.
I wonder if you would share with us some of your European interlocutor's views of the significance for them of the phenomenon we call Donald Trump.
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: I got a very good account from Chancellor Merkel. One week after the election, so last November 15, President Obama made a farewell tour and visited Germany and met with Merkel. First they had a private dinner the first night, and it was so engaging that they decided to cancel their plans the next night and had a second private dinner. I got a very good account of what transpired, that basically she was saying, "I can't work with this man."
She had not yet decided to run for another term. Obama said, "You've got to run. You are the last person who can show leadership in the West and deal with him."
She said, "No, I don't think I can do it because he stands for everything that I am opposed to." Sure enough, Obama managed to persuade her, and five days later she announced she would run as the leader of the Christian Democrats for an unprecedented fourth term.
But I think after the first meetings—she had a couple of meetings with Trump and then the last one in Sicily. It was then that she came back to Germany and said, "You know, I think it's time for Europe to take its destiny in its own hands," and since then there has been no contact with the White House. So it is clear that there is no relationship there whatsoever. If anything, Macron has stepped into the breach, and he has tried to engage with Trump in a dialogue because the French see a way now of increasing their profile as one of the few voices that can deal with Trump.
But it is curious. I think they have absorbed this now. On my last trip to Europe at a couple of conferences, it is almost as if America is treated as an afterthought. They are focused much more on where does Europe go from here. I think we are entering a phase . . .
I end the book, the epilogue is called "A Post-American Europe?" But I think we are moving in that direction, that the Europeans realize that 70 years of this close rapport with the United States is a historic anomaly and that is probably coming to an end and that America has other concerns that it is going to have to deal with, and a lot of European voters are not looking to the United States for any more leadership and want to see Europe find its own way.
QUESTION: Helena Finn, Columbia University and former colleague of Bill's in one of my previous lives.
This is a big picture question, Bill: Given the rise of China—anybody who watched the congress meeting in China, the pomp and circumstance, the power, the unity—is it really a good thing to see these European institutions that we have secured for 70 years erode in the way you describe what is going on with NATO? It is all well and good for Europeans to develop their own defense mechanisms, but should they not be coordinated with us?
You did not even mention the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which somebody described recently as being "put in the freezer."
The European Union is getting weaker and weaker with the departure of the United Kingdom. Should we not be encouraging perhaps in a whole new way greater and closer ties just to create a counterbalance in the world with the countries with which we have very strongly shared values?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: Thanks, Helena, for that. I agree. I am very much an Atlanticist at heart. I would like to see this relationship sustained. But I am also a reporter who is looking at this and trying to convey what I see, the forces on the ground and in what direction that they are moving.
I have to say that there are very few trends that would seem to support, let's say, a revival of Atlanticism. You mentioned TTIP. Partly it died because there is very little if any support in Europe for it, not just the Trump administration turning its back on it.
Also, I think there is a deepening sense that Europe does not want to follow the lead of the United States. This has been going on for some time. I think we saw initially back to the decision to go into Iraq, which was opposed by then-Chancellor Schröder of Germany and President Chirac of France. Schröder told me: "Bush never apologized to me. He insulted me. But we turned out to be right, and he was wrong." There is a lot of that attitude: "Why should we follow the United States into these misbegotten adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere when we have a lot of problems in our own backyard to deal with?"
In the Midwest when I was traveling around, the dinner I had with Governor Kasich, I heard a lot of thoughtful people saying, "You know, I like Europe, but why should we still be protecting them 70 years on when they are wealthy enough to deal with it when we have so many other problems at home?"
I just see that the ties have become much looser. You may recall when you were serving in the Foreign Service we had something like 375,000 troops in Germany. A lot of these troops would come back to the United States, to Montana or Alabama, wherever they would be, and they would always say, "The two years I spent in Kaiserslautern were the two best years of my life," so they had these strong memories, and they became forces in their communities to help elect members of Congress who had an abiding support for the trans-Atlantic relationship. That is all gone now. The American forces in Europe are down to about 30,000, so you do not have a strong base of support of Americans who have experience in Europe. I think that is a big factor in the weakening of the fiber that holds us together.
You mentioned the Chinese are moving in in a big way. That is the other striking thing. My next book is going to deal with how Europe finds its own way, and one of the big sections of it will be the remarkably fast rise of China as a force.
With the One Belt One Road initiative, they now have bought up the port of Piraeus outside Athens. They are building a high-speed railroad right into the heart of Europe so that they can ship their goods straight across Asia to Greece and then right into Central Europe. They are buying up a lot of small companies that are engineering marvels in Germany, so much so that the German state is getting alarmed about the hollowing out of their industry. And this is going to continue.
So it is a new challenge that America faces, and if we turn our back on our European friends and treat them as commercial rivals rather than as allies, then this is only going to accelerate.
QUESTION: Thank you. I am Krishen Mehta.
You have outlined 2017 as being a very tumultuous year for Europe and for the years preceding them, too. What are some indicators that we can look toward 2018 and 2019 that will give us an idea as to whether the fractured Europe as you have outlined will come together or will further disintegrate? Are there more referendums, elections, events that might happen?
For example, China has committed to the rebuilding of Syria. I wonder whether that might have an impact. The German Marshall Plan in reverse in African countries might be a force of stability. So what are some indicators we can look to in 2018 and beyond that will give us clues as to where things are headed?
WILLIAM DROZDIAK: I did mention that I think 2018 will be a very critical year, a hinge moment in history perhaps, and we will see, I think, further estrangement in relations between the United States and Europe. How Europe decides on whether it wants to move forward with more efforts to integrate and let's say solidify the eurozone, I think that is going to be difficult because Germany has a lot of second thoughts about that. Also, in Eastern Europe they fear the creation of a multi-tier Europe, that there would be a Europe of different speeds and that they would be left behind.
So you are going to have competing forces within Europe, which may lead to further paralysis because a number of countries are saying: "No, we can't give more central authority to Brussels. We need to retain our own sovereignty and pull back power to the national capitals."
It is going to be much more difficult for Macron and Merkel to push ahead with a plan to revive Europe over the course of the next year. I think a lot of people are saying, "Let's pray for a miracle in Britain, that the Brits come to their senses, and maybe move ahead with a second referendum." If that should happen and Britain should show its remorse by deciding to stay in the European Union, that would have a huge positive boost for confidence.
It is not just for the European Union, it is also for NATO because if Britain pulls out of the European Union, it is also going to raise questions about how committed are they as Europe's greatest defense power to the protection of the European continent. I think this would be the most positive development.
But if it goes as things are now and they proceed along the path to pulling out of the European Union and the European Union stays divided, then I think we are going to see more and more political extremism on the far right. But even more worrisome is the social unrest and concern among young people, particularly in Southern Europe, where you get a sense that young people have been unable to find sustainable jobs since the financial crisis in 2008. Now there is talk about a "lost generation" of young people who are now turning 40, no jobs, they can't start a family, and that is becoming a real social crisis for much of Europe.
JOANNE MYERS: I thank you for a very sobering but excellent tour of Europe. I want to remind you that his book is available.