I remember twenty years ago when I encountered Europeans in the supermarket, on the street, or in restaurants, how impressed I usually was with them. I recall thinking to myself that I could identify a European amongst a crowd of Americans very easily even without hearing anyone speak. They dressed better, appeared healthier, and had a prouder attitude than Americans, or so it seemed to me at the time. I surmised that they hadn’t yet been crushed by the vicious form of predatory capitalism which had overrun the United States and still ate real food as opposed to the junk food diet which had made the U.S. the fattest country in the world.
The economies of most European countries in the mid to late 90s were doing well. Trade was flourishing. Banks were lending and people were setting up businesses. These were the pre-Euro days, before the EU and the EU commission and central bank ruled everything.
How times change. Europeans these days look depressingly similar to Americans. They have grown obese. Many have the look of someone who’s just been sucker punched and is looking around him thinking, ‘what just happened?’
Americans, unhealthy as they are, at least have made an effort to quit the smoking habit. Europeans have kept their smoking rates steady, in spite of all the studies and anti-smoking legislation that have occurred over the past five decades. If you’re otherwise very healthy, you might be able to mitigate some of the effects of smoking. But if you’re fat and smoke, you’ve got a problem.
But its not just the skyrocketing obesity that has changed Europe. The Europeans I see and meet don’t possess confidence anymore about their countries, the future, or even themselves. More and more, I notice people with a cynical attitudes who live only for the moment.
What happened? Globalization, the European Union, and immigration have combined to squeeze the life out of much of that continent. And furthermore, these forces are still increasing, despite some of the recent gains made by anti-EU parties in the elections.
Globalization meant that multinationals bludgeoned their way into every facet of European life. All of the most loathsome of American corporations now do big business throughout Europe, including the fast food conglomerates and big box chains. McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Taco Bell and all the rest can be found in all European cities. Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and Marlboro are sold everywhere. This has an effect not only on people’s physical health, but on culture itself. Every week, a news story is published about yet another traditional facet of European life which is falling by the wayside. Last year, I read an article about the ‘disappearing Irish pub’ in its homeland. Around the same time, another article appeared chronicling the demise of the traditional fish and chip shop in the U.K. France, home to such an old and proud culinary tradition, recently had to pass a law specifying exactly what constitutes a restaurant. The reason? A large number of restaurants nowadays, even mid-tier, well-established ones, are simply re-heating food brought in from elsewhere. In other words, there is no cooking going on in the restaurant’s kitchen.
Some may argue that there are other forces at work besides globalization, and they may well have a point. In Ireland, the police have increased DUI patrols, thus contributing to the decline of pubs. In England, many fish and chip shops simply refused to adapt to changing tastes and simply went bankrupt out of laziness and incompetence.
The EU has been a disaster. It’s stunning to think about, really. This experiment which less than twenty years ago was being heralded as the dawn of a glorious new age for Europe has crashed and burned with a rapidity that I would not have thought possible. How quickly everything unraveled! Those that stayed away from the Euro , like Norway, are doing quite well. Others that kept the EU at arm’s length, like Great Britain, are hanging on. Those that jumped in with both feet are now struggling for their very existence: Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Spain. The rest of the EU is a mixed bag, but what is without debate is the fact that all of those countries gave up a significant amount of their sovereignty to a centralized governing authority run by a bunch of lawyers, banksters and apparatchiks who have no accountability.
Mass immigration, formerly an American phenomenon, has become a huge issue in Europe. For a number of reasons, many governments in Europe have opened their doors to large numbers of immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The resulting and predictable dilution of native culture along with tension with locals that sometimes flares into violence has further undermined Europe’s stability. When you consider the the secular and liberal culture of a place like Holland or the Scandinavian countries and contrast that with the deeply religious and conservative culture of many Middle Eastern and African countries from which these immigrants come, it’s hard to imagine how these new neighbors are going to live forever in peace and harmony.
This three-pronged assault on the physical, cultural, and political integrity of Europe has taken a terrible toll. Poverty, suicide, and despair are on the rise. Europe is so entangled now in so many different messes, it’s difficult to know where to begin the housecleaning. This recent anti-EU backlash is a good place to start. Countries regaining their sovereignty from the EU and rapacious corporations can be followed by a healthy reinvigoration of the native culture.