The outlook for Europe is grim. As the European Union strays away from its core values, populism wreaks havoc throughout the continent.
Optimists who would like to pretend that last week's Dutch election marked a defeat for Geert Wilders and his merry band of racists are dead wrong. Mr. Wilders may have failed to lead the polls, but his ideas certainly made an impact on European politics. Desperately seeking to cling to power, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte showed complete disregard for universal values. Like Mr. Wilders himself, Mr. Rutte built his election campaign around xenophobia. In addition to making hostile statements about Turkey, he denied landing rights to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and prevented Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya from entering the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. While a Turkish minister and her close advisers were treated like terrorists, the mayor of Rotterdam announced that the special forces, which had been deployed to the Turkish consulate, had orders to shoot Kaya's personal bodyguards. To add insult to injury, the Dutch government violated the Vienna Convention to detain Turkish diplomats. The whole episode proved that the Dutch government would arbitrarily restrict the liberties of a NATO ally's officials instead of respecting the rule of law.
The pre-election spat with Turkey gave Mr. Rutte what he wanted all along. According to exit polls, 34 percent of the incumbent's supporters voted for him because they approved his Turkey policy. In other words, the fact that Mr. Wilders failed to win the election is immaterial. At the end of the day, millions of Dutch voters sided with racism.
And how did the European Union respond to this disturbing situation? Did they stick to their principles and call for justice? Did European leaders condemn the Dutch government for violating the Vienna Convention and betraying their values? Of course not. Instead, the Europeans urged Turkey and the Netherlands to de-escalate the crisis, whilst refraining from issuing warnings to the Dutch government. Here's why they went along with this reckless act of aggression: The European Union, like Mr. Rutte, succumbed to the populist storm. Having failed to get over Brexit and fears of disintegration, the EU leadership opted to ignore a blatant violation of the law instead of pissing off the Dutch. In other words, they were caught in a whirlpool of lawlessness. Moving forward, it would be best to just accept that things will get worse in Europe and racists will keep winning.
To be clear, what we are going through today are only consequences. The European Union entered this dark road in 2013 precisely because their policies were misguided. Like a shirt that is buttoned incorrectly, one mistake led to another and Europe ended up where it is. The problems European leaders face today are the result of what they did – or, indeed, did not do – when the Middle East was trying to pave the way to democracy. Their failure to support the Arab Spring came with a heavy price tag.The transition in Tunisia, followed by Mohammed Morsi's rise to power in Egypt, had helped the Arab Spring gain momentum – before the dream was crushed by a bloody military coup. At the time, Brussels not only failed to speak up against the overthrow of Egypt's democratically elected leader but also built a close relationship with junta leader Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi. At the same time, European leaders proved unwilling to take steps to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Having handed over Syria to Russia and the United States on a silver platter, the Europeans exclusively concentrated on refugees and illegal immigration.
Sadly enough, the European Union's Syria policy has been reduced to an effort to prevent immigrants from reaching the continent. They mistakenly believed that the fire would not spread to Europe if they could keep refugees away from their territories. And the easiest way to deal with the problem was to let the Turks deal with refugees, while ignoring their calls to form a safe zone in northern Syria. The passive and reckless attitude of European leaders not only failed to address the refugee crisis but also further aggravated regional problems. Ironically, the refugee crisis triggered a sociological crisis in Europe and, along with the ongoing financial crisis, gave rise to racism and xenophobia.
Here's the bottom line: Today, the European Union pays the price for a series of irresponsible and unprincipled decisions made by their leaders in recent years. Their lack of vision created a vicious cycle that cannot be undone. At this time, the Europeans seem unable to overcome this challenge. At the end of the day, EU citizens themselves will end up paying for their leaders' mistakes.