Year-End Roundup: The Grinch Who Stole Europe’s Christmas

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Dec 25, 2022 05:45 PM +05:30 IST
Year-End Roundup: The Grinch Who Stole Europe’s ChristmasUS President Joe Biden
Snapshot
  • For Europe and the world, 2022 was supposed to be a year of much-needed economic recovery, after two miserable years of the Wuhan Virus pandemic.

    However, this festive season, Europe is burdened by rising prices, bracing for strikes, and is shivering in winter when the power goes.

Christmas is an intensely visual festival in Europe. Everywhere you look, there are symbols to indicate that a season for celebrations is here; cut-outs of Santa Claus in a red suit and cap, ruddy cheeks, and a flowing white beard; boughs of green holly; cane-shaped candy with spiral red-and white stripes; sleighs; figurines of red-nosed reindeer; and pine trees decorated with stars, shiny bauble balls, and frilly ribbons.

But by far the most definitive sight of the season is the Christmas lighting. It is a stunning spectacle, and an art, in which a great deal of time, money, creativity, and effort is employed to light up the main shopping districts or central squares, in cities, towns and villages across the continent. Indeed, the switching on of these lights is done with great fanfare, to signal the start of the season.

But this year, Europe will have a muted Christmas. Goodwill and good cheer will have to compete with anxious frowns, since the continent is in the clutches of back-breaking inflation, stunted spending, poor growth, and energy shortages.

A number of cities have, therefore, decided to reduce the seasonal lights, and issued advisories asking residents to curtail electricity consumption on festive lighting to just a few hours a day. What a comedown from last Christmas, when all of Europe felt that 2022 would be a year of much-needed economic recovery, after two miserable years of the Wuhan Virus pandemic.

The pity is that these widespread miseries are of Europe’s own making, after they meekly toed America’s audacious line, when forcing Russia’s hand over Ukraine in February 2022. How, and why, that happened is explained here (American president Joe Biden’s costly gamble to cut Europe’s dependency on Russian energy, and to make his country Europe’s principal provider of both energy and security; it failed).

The net result is that the most prosperous and powerful part of our world is being made to compromise heavily with a way of life which was the envy of the rest for centuries. In the process, their primacy is also being swiftly eroded (and that of America along with it).

Inflation is currently at 9-11 per cent in Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Holland, Slovenia, Ireland, Greece, Finland, Germany, and Britain. It is 13 per cent in Italy, slightly higher in the Balkan states, over 16 per cent in Poland, and in the twenties in the Baltics. Much of it is driven by soaring energy costs, and compounded by fuel and power shortages. 

A simple map of inflation in Europe by country says it all. Note how, in stark contrast, inflation in India has reduced this month to 5.9 per cent.

Inflation in Europe
Inflation in Europe

This cost-of-living crisis has triggered a spate of strikes in various countries, hitting transportation, refining, and even health. In Britain, workers say they will take a phased break from industrial action during the Christmas season, and recommence their protests in earnest in the new year.

Unfortunately, even as Europeans are forced to somehow manfully weather these multiple problems, it appears that most leaders of their larger nations are still insulated in delusional cocoons of self-defeating irrationality. 

Germany’s Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, valiantly declared to his parliament that Germany stood firmly with Ukraine. His resoluteness is apparently a mark of European values, although Scholz failed to clarify what those values actually were, or how they might be bolstered by further propagating a proxy war against Russia, which Ukraine can never win.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak released a syrupy Christmas music video in support of Ukraine, filled with contrasting shots of cheery shoppers in Britain and bleak, dark streets in Kiev. This kitsch is the latest in a string of similar efforts by him, including a trip to Kiev late last month, a tweet declaring that ‘Britain knows what it means to fight for freedom’, and a statement before a parliamentary committee on ‘increasing our support to Ukraine’. 

There are a few contrarian voices, but they are few and far between. Former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made a startling revelation recently. Speaking to a weekly, Die Zeit, she admitted that the 2014 Minsk agreements, which stopped the last conflict between Russia and the West’s proxy regime in Ukraine, were actually a means to buy time, while the west built up Ukraine’s military strength.

“It was clear to all of us that this was a frozen conflict, that the problem had not been solved, but that is precisely what gave Ukraine valuable time,” she said, about a treaty she blessed while in office, along with her French counterpart, François Hollande.

The inference is clear as mud: the West lied about their intentions to Russia. So why would Merkel implicate herself now? Perhaps because she fears for Germany’s future geopolitically, and the damage the ongoing crisis may cause to the economy.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, went one step further. Speaking to reporters on his flight back from Jordan earlier in the week, Macron’s was painfully blunt: Europe needed to reduce its strategic dependency on America.

“An alliance isn’t something I should depend on. It’s something that I should choose, something I work with. We must rethink our strategic autonomy. Europe needs to gain more autonomy on technology and defence capabilities, including from the U.S.” he said.

This statement follows an equally forceful one Macron made in America last month, when he said that a new security architecture envisaged for Europe would perforce need to include Western security guarantees to Russia.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban showed his disfavour to the proxy conflict by dragging his heels on a European financial aid package to Ukraine. With inflation at 23 per cent in his country, he would. And while his nation is too small to sway the rest, at least he has been consistent in tactfully expressing his displeasure – whether by wearing a ‘Greater Hungary’ scarf for a soccer match between Hungary and Greece (Hungary lost territory to a number of countries, including Greece and Ukraine, in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon), or repeatedly saying openly that ‘this is not our war’.

Even in Britain, a few cracks are finally appearing in their fabled ‘special relationship’ with America. According to reports, Sunak has ordered an assessment of Britain’s support to Ukraine, to determine whether their supply of materiel and intelligence have, in fact, met the military objectives or not; and whether Britain can continue to supply Ukraine’s war efforts. This writer’s reply to both questions is a loud ‘No!’.

Some see this as a mark of caution, and a precursor to pause. Others view it as weariness, or timely recognition of futility, over pursuing this course any further. While political spin doctors at 10, Downing Street were quick to rubbish these reports, it is as much confirmation as the general public may expect, that in the inner sanctuaries of Whitehall, there is growing, silent admission that they have wrecked themselves, Europe, and the Ukrainians, in this foolhardy attempt to cut Russia to size. They have also let China off the hook.

So, this is where Europe stands this festive season: burdened by rising prices, bracing for strikes, shivering in winter when the power goes, and looking daggers across the Atlantic, at the grinch who stole their Christmas.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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