From the July/August 2020 issue of Discern Magazine

Forged in Crisis: Europe’s Moment of Truth

The European Union teeters on the brink of implosion again. What will its leaders learn? Will Europe again be forged in crisis? How will it affect you?

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One of the European Union’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet, famously stated: “Europe will be forged in crises.”

In the last decade alone, the EU has faced and survived a series of three existential threats: a debt calamity in Mediterranean countries, a tidal wave of refugees and the saga of Britain’s determination to leave the multination bloc.

All three threatened to sink the European project, but many fear that the coronavirus pandemic could be far more destructive, obliterating any chance of reaching the EU’s desired goal of “ever closer union.”

As the epicenter of the coronavirus traveled from China to Europe, it began tearing apart the alliance’s fragile framework. Chancellor Angela Merkel described the trial as Germany’s greatest challenge since the end of WWII. Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta warned of the “deadly risk” Europe faces. Likewise, Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa said: “Either the EU does what needs to be done or it will end.”

French President Emmanuel Macron warned that inaction could be the death of the EU.

Every nation for itself

In the initial phase of the crisis, the EU struggled to show a united front in the face of the pandemic, with the 27 member states squabbling over economic rescue plans and medical supplies.

When Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, bitterly warned that “the germ is back,” he was not referring to the actual coronavirus. He meant the divisive, narrow national self-interest and the lack of European solidarity that pose a “mortal danger to the European Union.”

French politician Marine Le Pen went even further, claiming that the European Union itself was the first victim of coronavirus, citing a lack of solidarity in combating the outbreak.

Despite the warnings, national borders were sometimes closed suddenly as countries prioritized their own citizens and voting electorate. Germany and France commandeered or blocked the export of vital medical equipment, such as protective face masks and ventilators, even as Italy clamored for assistance.

While the situation has in part reversed, L’Express exposed that France initially seized 4 million masks belonging to a Swedish company being sent to Italy and Spain. Such “Germany first” and “France first” decrees undercut the much-touted EU principle of free movement of goods in the single market.

Solidarity or self-interest?

As the focus of the pandemic and concurrent shutdown has shifted to the devastated economic landscape, old wounds left by the previous eurozone financial crisis have been ripped open. Stereotypes have been resurrected about an indebted, profligate and mostly Latin Southern Europe receiving no solidarity or aid from a hard-hearted, largely Nordic and Germanic Northern Europe.

When Italians felt they had been left alone by the eurozone’s frugal members (including Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland) in the early phase of the pandemic, confidence in the European project shrank. Polls swung wildly negative in Italy, as 88 percent of Italians felt Europe was failing to support their nation, while 67 percent judged EU membership as a disadvantage. Italians filmed themselves burning EU flags on social media and uttering the phrase, “We save ourselves.”

Even the former president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, spoke of a “cowardly Europe.” The otherwise pro-EU Italian newspaper La Repubblica bluntly labeled it “ugly Europe,” and nearly 70 percent of Italians stated that Germany was trying to “strangle” them.

The anger prompted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to offer a “heartfelt apology” to Italy, acknowledging that “in the early days of the crisis, in the face of the need for a common European response, too many have thought only of their own home problems.”

European economic woes

Every country in the world is experiencing a sharp economic slowdown unleashed by the pandemic. But the decline will be particularly punishing and destabilizing in Europe, because nations on the continent entered the COVID-19 crisis in a near recessionary condition.

Confronted now with ballooning unemployment and the steepest falls in business activity ever, the EU has plunged into the deepest economic recession in its history. The 27 member nations—with a population of 446 million and wealth of over $20 trillion—are already showing more than a 7 percent drop in gross domestic product, with some economists stating the “breathtaking collapse” could be double that devastating figure.

Governments from Berlin to Rome are looking for ways to revive their economies from the fallout of what The Wall Street Journal termed “medically induced economic comas.”

Germany, the eurozone’s economic powerhouse, kept most of its factories open and has more fiscal firepower to recover quicker. Harder-hit Spain and Italy, deeply dependent on tourism, were in financial difficulty even before facing the daunting destruction of the virus.

They are now loudly calling for cash in the form of grants, not loans that need to be repaid, or the issuance of perpetual debt, like the kind used in wartime efforts that have a never-ending repayment horizon and ultralow installments.

Known popularly as “coronabonds,” these financial instruments mutualize the debt throughout the EU. To conservative Germans, they represent a nightmare scenario of a “transfer union” where their taxes keep disappearing into the bottomless pit of the south, sapping Germany’s industrial vigor.

Killing democracy

In this make-or-break moment, the European project is not only suffering from a north-south financial rift, but is also being tugged east and west. The actions of the EU leaders in the western half have undermined their position that the crisis is pan-European and requires a joint response.

And so, in the east, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used the crisis to grab emergency powers to effectively suspend democracy. Riding roughshod over Europe’s most basic principles of the democratic rule of law, Hungary’s “coronavirus bill” allows Mr. Orban an open-ended right to rule by executive decree.

“This is the time to kill coronavirus—not the time to kill democracy,” lamented Vera Jourova, vice president of the European Commission for Values and Transparency. Still, the distracted EU states issued only mild disapproval of Hungary’s moves.

Merkel’s legacy moment

At the EU’s headquarters in Brussels, many key governance positions have changed recently. Leaders untested in their new roles—EU Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Christine Lagarde at the European Central Bank—are viewed as lacking either the experience or the stature to take the helm during the crisis.

That leaves the EU’s longest-serving leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to take on what former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi called a “human tragedy of potentially biblical proportions.”

After almost 15 years leading Europe’s biggest economy, Mrs. Merkel began the year as a lame duck leader declining to seek a fifth term. With a political record damaged by the backlash against her open-door refugee policy and with her political party frayed, the 65-year-old chancellor with a doctorate in quantum chemistry found what may be her legacy moment.

Calmly presenting the grim facts of the pandemic and stoically warning her fellow citizens how many may fall ill to the disease, Chancellor Merkel also referred to her East German background. Having known the restrictions of the Communist state, she was reluctant to restrict the freedom of movement and would only do it because it was absolutely necessary.

Not an outstanding orator, she has not relied on martial words or gestures, but has continued to hammer home the messages that it is in “the interest of everyone, and of Germany, that Europe emerges stronger from this test” and that “the answer can only be: more Europe, a stronger Europe and a well-functioning Europe.”

Who leads next?

Mrs. Merkel’s approval ratings have rebounded through the roof, but in a recent national poll, the highest approval rating of any German politician belongs to a man fairly unknown outside of Germany but considered a leading candidate for her job.

Markus Söder, the charismatic 53-year-old native of Nuremberg known for his political instinct, is the minister president of Bavaria and chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the smaller sister party of Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The coronavirus infection rate has been comparatively high in Mr. Söder’s Bavaria, and his decisive, take-charge style of crisis management in his home state—he was the first state-government leader to issue lockdown orders—has made him a favorite among conservatives.

His style of law-and-order leadership and rhetorical excellence are extraordinarily popular—and could shape the country’s post-Merkel future.

While he has been considered a potential chancellor candidate before, the self-confident Mr. Söder—named Germany’s “strongman” by Foreign Policy magazine because of his record through the current catastrophe—may have people nearly beg for him to run for the national office this time.

Europe in prophecy

Again Europe is being forged through crisis. ... The stage is being set for events prophesied in the Bible thousands of years ago.Again Europe is being forged through crisis. It is simultaneously experiencing a pandemic nightmare and economic implosion, a leadership vacuum consisting of inexperienced office holders and veteran but lame duck leaders, political strongmen trying to attain wider office democratically and others attempting to rule through decree and emergency powers.

The stage is being set for events prophesied in the Bible thousands of years ago.

Throughout the book of Revelation and the writings of the prophet Daniel, the eternal God—the One who declares “the end from the beginning”—has revealed an end-of-the-age political and economic system to be led by a charismatic leader.

The beast in the Bible

In the Bible, both the structure and human leader are represented as “the beast,” which devours opponents. This horrible beast described by the apostle John is the end-time resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire (Revelation 13:1-8; 17:8-18; Daniel 7:15-27).

This “beast” mirrors the prophetic details Daniel identified more than 600 years earlier of an “image” with two legs of iron, but feet of iron mixed with clay, in an unworkable and fragile combination (Daniel 2:40-43). This odd combination of iron and clay aptly describes many inherent weaknesses of Europe today.

In a time of future crisis, the human leader of this beast system is handed emergency powers by a coalition of 10 kings (or leaders) to rule not democratically but by decree (Revelation 17:13).

This beast power and system—paired with a powerful religious leader—will bring on a brief, illusory period of peace and prosperity that will amaze people everywhere: “And all the world marveled and followed the beast. … And they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” (Revelation 13:3-4).

But this “beast” power and system—in combination with a powerful, miracle-working, false religious leader—will plunge the world into a hellish nightmare.

While it remains to be seen who specifically will fill these roles, we know this time setting is still in the future because this beast power will fight against Christ at His return (Revelation 17:12-14, 17). Without the intervention brought by the return of Jesus Christ, the result would be worldwide annihilation and no flesh would be saved alive (Matthew 24:21-22, 29-30).

As the outlines of this catastrophic period in human history become clearer, the return of Jesus Christ to usher in a kingdom of peace and replace an empire of war will be that much closer.

Study more about the Bible’s warnings for the end time by downloading our free booklet The Book of Revelation: The Storm Before the Calm. And learn more about the peaceful government of God to follow it in our booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.

About the Author

Neal Hogberg

Neal Hogberg is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and attends the Dallas, Texas, congregation.

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