OPINION

The European dilemma

Jacques Chirac’s victory at the second round of the French presidential elections was guaranteed, thanks to the support of his fierce political adversaries, including communists, Trotskyists and socialists. The electoral result is, therefore, devoid of interest. But the nascent transformation in European societies is as deeply radical as were the (socially) flawed economic policies adopted in the wake of the famous 1991 Maastricht treaty. And the growing nationalism and right-wing extremism fanned by the implementation of these policies essentially dismantled the contours in which Europe’s urban class grew after World War II. Until 1989, the Soviet threat and concerns about enhancing the influence of communist parties in Europe mandated a system of mixed economy with a strong welfare state. That was a system which created wealth while ensuring political stability. The 1960s saw many leftist reactions to the system, including some serious tribulations in Germany, and especially in France, in 1968. Those times saw demands for more participatory democracy; some of these were satisfied, helping to achieve a functional equilibrium. The leftist movement may be in a permanent state of political unrest, but accumulated experience over two centuries has enabled the ruling elite of the time to come up with a framework for dealing with it – generally during periods of political normality rather than after European conflicts, which bring a dramatic change in parameters, as Greece has painfully experienced. But the current break with the new European status quo has not been caused by the democratic leftist parties which took part in Europe’s reformist process. Rather, it has come from the nationalist parties in each country that have been pushed to the political fringe, promoting their states’ national characteristics that have been invoked in the past during wars for the survival of nation states. Hence the break is a deep one and its consequences are more substantial. Should the current mentality permeating European Council decisions continue, then Europe may well see the rise of some very dynamic movements. European states, however, are more politically restless than the disparate American population. As a result, implementation of the current model will prompt growing resistance which will reinforce the power of extremist parties. The standard counterarguments center on the view that present circumstances leave no room for an alternative mode of economic management. But this was the main delusion which blinded the enthusiasts of the communist approach of the economy. History, however, took revenge upon those who tried to impose such ideas. Western countries did not fight a fierce battle against the communists only to be forced to adopt, later on, a rigid ideology which perceives the individual as a production unit. The reasons for Jean-Marie Le Pen being in the runoff of France’s presidential elections have not withered after Chirac’s victory. Unless the social dimension becomes the fundamental axis of European policy, and unless the EU develops its own economic model, Europe will pay the price of growing political instability and a tarnished urban class.