OPINION

Europe in limbo

Europe is in dire need of new political ideas and methods of managing its economic and social problems. The dangers that its countries face – individually or together – are tangible and provoke various fears, whereas the solutions are complicated, painful and with no guarantee of success. This is most evident in the recent electoral results of several countries but also in the way the European Union is functioning as a (restive) whole. We are witnessing the strengthening of extremist parties, which, notwithstanding the great differences between them, are challenging the dominance of the center. The centrist parties are trying to push each other out of the center by adopting platforms that have very little difference between them other than some center-left or center-right ideological spice. Last week we had the inconclusive national elections in the Netherlands and the main parties are trying to forge a coalition. But, despite the great majority they hold, they still seem incapable of adopting strong measures. In Italy, on the other hand, Romano Prodi squeaked into power with the slimmest of majorities and is governing with such diverse partners that it seems unlikely he will be able to adopt the difficult reforms his country needs. Coalitions are a forced ceasefire in an ongoing political war, so even in a grand coalition parties are usually loathe to adopt measures that will cost them in the next elections (which are usually early). Whatever they do, though, the fact that they are in government means that the center parties, with their complicated messages, will lose votes to the extremist groups, whose message is, if anything, simple. These groups are often based on a single issue and spring up from the needs, the fears and the bigotry of society – so they have a ready base of voters. When all these voters at the extremes unite on a single issue, along with parts of the center, they can swing the whole nation. Also, as governments keep an eye on the political challenges at home, they push a harder line in the EU, which may hold up the rest of the bloc. The problems are mostly common to all countries. Each faces merciless competition from other countries while trying to solve domestic problems that will determine the nation’s future. In Greece, the government appears to have realized that the less it does the greater its chances of re-election, while the opposition is concerned mainly with chasing its own tail. But if we stay frozen, we run the risk of waking in a very different and dangerous world.