How the Middle East crisis affects European societies

Employment and Social Affairs

Estimated time of reading: ~ 3 minutes

The crisis in the Middle East has already created tensions within European societies. What happens in the region, for historical and political reasons, casts a long shadow on European security and social stability. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Houthi’s driven crisis in the Red Sea, as well as the new potential clash between Israel and Iran, created a ripple effect that reaches far beyond geographical borders. The social dimension of these threats comes from terrorism, as well as migrant pressure and economic instability. There is also an issue related to political tensions within the EU members and in their own societies. Terrorism is, of course, one of the main issues when talking about the impact of the war (and potential wars) in the Middle East. In the last decade, groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) exploited the chaos in the region as breeding grounds for radicalization and recruitment. As we all witnessed in the years, especially from 2015 to 2017, foreign fighters, radicalised online, pose a direct security threat to Europe through potential attacks. The recent terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall in the Moscow region reminds us how difficult it is for intelligence agencies to prevent those kinds of actions and how deadly they can be, even with a few people actually participating in them. As for the migration issue, the refugee crisis triggered by the Syrian Civil War exposed the vulnerabilities within Europe. In the past decades, the large influx of migrants has strained resources among the EU members and fueled anti-immigrant sentiments, giving momentum to the growth of far-right parties and populist movements that threaten European unity and social cohesion.

The economic impact of Middle Eastern instability is worsened by the other emergencies that have affected the continent in the past few years, i.e., the COVID pandemic and the energy crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This conflict in particular showed us how limiting energy supplies of natural gas and other sources can rapidly affect economies depending on them, such as the European ones. At the same time, disruptions in oil production due to conflict can lead to similar price hikes, impacting energy security and overall economic health. Additionally, the flow of illegal goods and weapons, often facilitated by regional instability, can further undermine European security. This is not the case for the Israel-Hamas war at the moment, but it can become a real issue if the conflict spreads all over the Middle East regions, reaching, for instance, the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

However, the EU can count on potential ways to mitigate these risks. European nations can work together to develop a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, focusing on deradicalisation programmes while also strengthening intelligence sharing. Addressing the root causes of conflict in the Middle East, through diplomacy and development aid, can foster long-term stability. On this matter, the EU should speak with one voice only to avoid making conflicting statements on sensitive issues that can evolve into a lack of credibility on the international stage. At the same time, EU countries should promote social integration and foster a sense of shared identity among their citizens. Investing in education, cultural exchange, and combating xenophobia, Islamophobia, and antisemitism can help build a more resilient society and overcome the negative impact of tensions in the Middle East.

Written by: Francesco Marino

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