Right now, Europe has little to celebrate

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Andrea Mammone is a historian at Royal Holloway, University of London, who writes and comments on European politics and the far right. The opinions in this article belong to the author. Follow @Andrea_Mammone on Twitter.

(CNN)These will likely be remembered as strange times in the history of the West.

This isn't only due to the turmoil following Brexit and the incredible election of Donald Trump. The demagogue in the White House is simply aggravating an existing picture.
There is a strange wind blowing across Europe. It fundamentally challenges the European Union, its cores principles and the modern, postwar concept of democracy.
European lands and the EU are at this moment in time projecting a somewhat negative image to the rest of the world.
Think of four recent examples:
Greece being socially and economically "humiliated" by some European leaders and international institutions; far-right activists gaining votes across the continent and waving banners against the EU, immigrants and Islam; the impossibility in agreeing on reasonable quotas to relocate refugees across the continent; and the almost illiberal drift in nations such Hungary and Poland, where the far-right turn is led by (apparently) moderate center-right forces.
This overall picture shows an economically austere and a politically nationalist Europe.
But surely all is not lost, and there is some more positive news out there for the old continent. Just this weekend, the far-right Marine Le Pen was defeated in the French presidential election, to the delight of many Europeans.
While it is true that Western democracy resisted the far right, how can we forget that the leader of the French National Front got about 11 million votes, while the turnout was the lowest since 1969 and nearly 16 million French citizens stayed home or cast a blank vote?
And in June, the anti-EU and anti-immigrant party may become a massive force in France's legislative elections.
Meanwhile, in Eastern European nations, there is a worrying situation, made up by intersected problems and being aggravated by ethnic nationalism and lasting economic downturn and unemployment.
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Unfortunately, for Europhiles, there is also this aspect to be considered at the moment.
The recent attempt by the Hungarian government to close down the Central European University because of its perceived opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orban along with the rise of anti-immigrant, neo-fascist groups in the country should be of concern to everyone.
As these sentiments creep further across the continent, those who would like to return to the outdated days of national protectionism and see the return of economic nationalism are emboldened.
The genesis and evolution of the European integration was instead to bypass nationalistic divisions and create a porous European world -- and possibly an all-inclusive citizenship.
What can be done to stop the nationalists gaining further ground? A new direction is needed to relaunch the European project based on values of commonalities, culture and cosmopolitanism.
But this needs vision and that vision has to be shared by Europe's citizens: Signing official declarations or economy-friendly policies are clearly not enough.
Anti-EU stances will not be challenged by austerity. If there is to be a sincere European public sphere, then it must be built from the ground up. This is the only way to build true popularity and a renewed sense of belonging.
Despite everything seeming bleak, there are some glimmers of hope for those who look hard enough.
The anti-corruption and anti-government protests that have been happening in Romania since January turned out to be a non-nationalist and pro-EU civic moment.
One of its leaders, doctoral researcher Sergiu Spatan, told me that corrupt politicians see the EU "as an obstacle." This surprisingly active Eastern European society is willing "to be part of a more powerful union, with stronger political ties, and not just with economic interests," he added.
"Seeing the impotent dances of the bureaucrats in Brussels at the sight of the new waves of nationalism and populism," Sergiu said, "is infuriating and discouraging."
According to Florin Lobont, a history professor at the West University of Timisoara, this group is "becoming a growing force in Romania and are connecting with other similar organizations in Europe, particularly in France, Malta, Spain, the Netherlands."
After the recent gains for right-wing nationalists and anti-Europeanism in Hungary and Poland and other neighboring nations and pressure from Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it would be nice if a positive wind of change rescuing Europe's inner soul will blow from the east.
Here's hoping the EU leaders in Brussels will recognize the opportunity staring at them.