New political culture

The wave of public disaffection toward mainstream political parties, reflected in the ascent of extremist movements – particularly far-rightist parties – is shaping a new European political landscape. The middle-class shift toward extremist parties is a result of a series of factors and parameters. The decade-long effort to shape the requisite environment for the launch of a common currency, the estrangement and elitism of political leaders, the immigration wave which was triggered by the collapse of the communist bloc, the inflow of impoverished masses from Asia and North Africa, and above all, Europe’s failure to sustain a high growth rate that could curb unemployment and satisfy the excess labor supply, have all fueled a climate of disaffection. All these factors have fanned anti-migration sentiment, cultivated fear and hostility toward foreigners, and bolstered anti-democratic and obscure forces which questioned the vision of an integrated Europe, the model of a mobile, open, and tolerant European Union which would be in a position to compete with the United States. Currently Europe – and also Greece, which nourished high expectations from its accession to this supranational and safer bloc – faces the threat of withdrawal, in the sense of rolling back to a collection of nation states. Overcoming the current crisis is no easy task. It requires no less than a renaissance of the European vision, a reorientation of politics, and inspired leaders who will undertake the task of implementing brave reforms which will enable the European economy to reverse the economic slowdown. It’s time Europe changed its political culture. The times, the nature of the ongoing crisis, and the prospect of backtracking on the integration effort all mandate that European politicians disregard concerns over political cost, adopt a clear political demeanor, try to bring about a rapprochement between the public and the political sphere, and purge politics from corruption and intertwined interests. This applies to Greece as well. Party leaders – and particularly the leaders of the main parties – should speak out to the Greek public, throw off any outside constraints, clarify the limitations and obligations we face, and set out clear-cut goals for the future. Should they fail in the above, they should know that they are merely preparing the ground for the growth of public discontent and the emergence of dark and reactionary forces.