Europe between the Cross and the Crescent

Editor's note: Moses Becker is a special commentator on political issues for News.Az, a PhD in political science and an expert on interethnic and interreligious relations. The article expresses the personal opinion of the author and may not coincide with the view of News.Az.

It has long been known that religion does not determine one's nationality and does not affect the genetic makeup of a people. However, it has a serious impact on the mentality of a specific community, both in terms of ethical and moral norms, and in the context of their attitude towards work and life in a community.

During its formation, the European Union mainly united countries where followers of Catholicism and its revised version in the form of Protestantism prevailed. It should be noted that adherents of Calvinism, Lutheranism, and the Anglican Church demonstrated higher living standards. Apparently, the influence of democratic principles, which were the basis of communal life, as well as the desire to achieve high living standards during one's earthly existence rather than in the afterlife, played a role here. Moreover, wealth was not only not condemned but, on the contrary, was encouraged. This presumably contributed to the prosperity of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, which are still "ahead of the entire planet".

In Catholic countries, where a hierarchical system of both religious and secular authority persisted for a long time, these processes were significantly slower. For a long time, Spain, Portugal, and Italy were at the bottom of the list of Western European countries in terms of technical equipment, education, and living standards. Over time, these differences have levelled out, and today the disparities are becoming less significant. Against the backdrop of rising living standards and the availability of education, there has been a noted decline in religiosity and church attendance in Western Europe (especially in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic), which has been termed post-Christian Europe. Since 2005, there has also been a sharp decline in church attendance in Poland, the most populous Eastern European member state of the EU. In 2009, it was 41.5%.

Regarding Eastern Europe, which only recently became part of the European Union, the situation is not as bright. The Orthodox part of the continent lagged behind the rest of Europe for decades. This delay was affected by a long period of enslavement of these peoples by stronger neighbours and the era of communist dictatorships, which killed any spirit of entrepreneurship and progress. An important indicator of this situation is the comparison of the GDP of the Western and Eastern parts of the European Union. For example , Belgium, with a population of 11,544,241 people, produced goods and services worth $579 billion in 2022, while Bulgaria, with 6,934,015 people, produced only $89.04 billion. Per capita GDP in these countries was $65,613 and $33,780 respectively. In Denmark, these figures were: GDP - $395 billion and per capita - $74,958, while in Estonia they were $38.1 billion and $45,236 respectively. These figures could be continued and the comparison would not be in favour of the new EU members.

It should be noted that until recently, the only Orthodox country in the EU was Greece, which limited the influence of adherents of this religion on the EU's position on a number of issues.

With the expansion of the EU, the situation has changed significantly. Now the European Union includes three more Orthodox states: Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, as well as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia, where a significant number of followers of this Christian denomination reside. Due to historical reasons, followers of Orthodoxy hold more conservative views on issues of family values, same-sex marriages, etc. They are also not enthusiastic about the EU's migration policy and strive to preserve their national and religious identity. Orthodox church hierarchs are extremely concerned by the fact that Western liberal ideology, due to economic reasons, may gain the status of the only legitimate model of social development in a united Europe, which does not envisage an active role for the church and religious organizations in public and political life, since religion here is considered strictly a personal matter for each individual.

It is clear that for proponents of traditional values, such an approach is unacceptable. They are much closer to the position of Hungary's Catholic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Additionally, considering the historical enmity between churches, Orthodox hierarchs are trying to secure a more important role in the political and social life of Europe. Time will tell how justified their expectations are, especially since, as a result of ill-considered migration policies, the European Union has encountered a new problem, namely, Islamic fundamentalism.

Followers of Islam have long shed the timidity that "guests" experience and are now vocally demanding special rights and privileges, up to the introduction of Sharia laws. For instance, Muslims make up about 20% of the population in Brussels, and nearly half the population in Birmingham and Rotterdam. More than 10 European megacities have over 100,000 Muslim residents, including London with 650,000 (8% of the population) and Paris with about one million (12%). It is worth noting that the French police virtually do not control some suburbs of the capital.

According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees , about 1.8 million people practice Islam in Germany today, with approximately 800,000 of them having German citizenship. In Austria, Muslims make up from 4.2% to 4.9% of the population, and by 2051, their share could increase to 18%.
In Switzerland, the proportion of Muslims exceeds 5%, with the highest concentration observed in major cities.
Although overall, this group constitutes only 3.4% of the population in the EU, considering its high birth rate, family reunification policies, etc., the number of followers of Islam could reach 10-15% by 2025, and 20-25% by the middle of the century. By 2050, the Muslim population of Europe, including the Western Balkans, could amount to 70 million people, or 15% of the total population.

In other words, the number of non-integratable people living by their own laws could reach that "critical" mass that will lead to an increase in xenophobia and nationalism, as evidenced by the growing popularity of far-right parties and movements. Events in the Middle East, when millions of pro-Palestinian activists took to the streets of European cities, greatly frightened the average European, who, out of fear of a mass of young, motivated "outsiders", is ready to abandon liberal values and join the ranks of far-right movements that promise to preserve their European and national identity. In other words, the European Union is on the threshold of major political changes that will soon alter the development trajectory of the Old World.

(If you possess specialized knowledge and wish to contribute, please reach out to us at [email protected]).


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