Fractured Continent

Issue section: 

This book examines the present state of Europe and its relationship with America at what the author sees as a crucial time for the world. His perception is that with the EU in possible danger of breaking up and Trump’s America retreating into “America First” isolationism threatening to tear up trade agreements and military treaties, the world is at a point where decisions will lead to either peace or calamity in the next century.

As a journalist he has travelled for 40 years covering everything from the fall of the Berlin Wall to wars in the Middle East, and the Arab Spring. Mainly though, he has lived in Europe, Germany in particular. He believes NATO and the EU are the continent’s greatest achievements and essential to a liberal democratic world order. He also admires Angela Merkel.

He describes the rise of populist nationalism, the rising gap between rich and poor and a disenchantment with the main centrist governing parties in various countries as a serious danger.

Drozdiak clearly dislikes Marine Le Pen and also the illiberal nationalist governments of Hungary and Poland.

He deals with ten EU countries, a chapter for each, then three surrounding neighbours and America — developing his themes in a narrative populated by the most famous politicians of forty years, many of whom he clearly knows.

The book is undeniably well written by a journalist who has honed his craft. It is unencumbered by graphs and charts though stuffed with facts and statistics which he incorporates into the story. It is more readable than many worthier academic works, with stunning description and some astute character assessment.

In terms of language, Le Pen and Golden Dawn are described as xenophobic or far right nationalists. The only Nazis are in WW2.

Refugees who have fled to Europe escaping wars are mentioned in several chapters and are seen by many as the threatening factor which will fuel a populist nationalism. They are variously described as “an enormous wave” a “tsunami”, “foreigners on rickety rafts besieging Europe” and with other similarly nasty expressions. Only in the chapter on Greece does he give some idea of the imprisonment in camps with dreadful hygiene and inadequate food and little clear future for people who have fled wars.

In contrast, politicians struggling with all this, particularly Merkel, are humanised with anecdotes, some admittedly amusing. Then there are “people” who are shocked by corruption or austerity, annoyed by Germany’s deflationary policies or “voters” who do not turn out often enough or who unreasonably blame politicians for unpopular but necessary policies.

While he makes frequent reference to high youth unemployment, the working class only briefly appears twice, once in France, criticised for being constantly on the streets complaining about government policies and then in Greece to be roundly denounced and blamed almost entirely for that country’s financial mess. This despite Drozdiak’s description of the huge yachts of rich tax dodgers off shore!

He worries about British exit from the EU leading to more countries leaving, perhaps Italy or Spain. And a potential second cold war with Russia or even a third world war.

While Drozdiak manages to describe in great detail many of Europe’s problems and indeed those of Trump’s America, he never provides any underlying explanation for all of them collectively and so of course has no idea for their solution.