Historically, Europe has been plagued with conflict. For years, the ‘great powers’ of Europe – such as France, the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany – have fought over territory, power and prestige. The two World Wars both originated in Europe, accurately depicting Europe’s unstable past. Since then, however, Europe has undergone an immense transition of peace and prosperity; the longest period within the continent in over 2,000 years. Illustrating this, the European Union (EU) – a political union of European countries intended to prevent war in Europe – was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation and human rights in Europe. Since its establishment, the EU has become a primary actor in European affairs and foreign policy, collectively offering flagship advice on conflicts occurring throughout the world. This has resulted in the drafting of ongoing peace agreements within the region – such as the MINSK protocols – and externally – likening the Oslo Accords and the recent Stockholm Agreement in Yemen.
Yet, internally, Europe is suffering from political unrest amidst the rise of far-right groups. Whilst anti-immigration rhetoric has existed previously, the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe has surely exacerbated a ‘climate of xenophobia’ amongst EU member states. As populist ideas gain influence, anti-refugee policies have been invoked and consequently migrants have been subject to violent hate crimes. The tendency for migration to cause division in Europe is amply demonstrated in the UK’s decision to leave the EU, of which was based on anti-immigration rhetoric.
As such, far from a unifying force, Europe has responded negatively to political unrest, and, subsequently, there is mounting tension between EU member states. The longstanding contention between Russia and the West is one example of this division in Europe. With the EU and Russia constantly competing for zones of influence in the continent, numerous countries attempting to join the EU paradoxically causes tension rather than unity promised by the political union. As a result, Russia has been on the receiving end of multiple sanctions from EU countries, recently due to its illegitimate annexation of the Crimean region in Ukraine. This prompts the inclination that, whilst conflict is not widespread throughout Europe, it is certainly a possibility.
The situation within countries in Eastern Europe such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and North Macedonia are the closest to achieving this sense of total conflict. The impeding situation in Kosovo remains an ongoing debate in the UNSC whilst UN peacekeeping forces are present in both Kosovo and nearby Bosnia and Herzegovina. Inherent in all these political situations and throughout Europe is the protection of human rights; an issue that has been disregarded through the arrival of far-right groups and ideas. For example, in Belarus, a country where the death penalty is still active, protestors have labelled the president – of whom has served for 20 consecutive years – as ‘Europe’s last dictator’. In Western Europe, human rights protests regularly occur in Paris with the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement, the UK with Brexit, and in Spain with the Catalonian independence movement; all three of which are currently the most prominent in Europe.
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