How Europe’s crisis resolves itself as yet remains unknown.
But with Sunday’s returns from France and Greece, the mega-trends on the Old Continent are unmistakable. And for the European Union, they are ominous.
Nationalism — be it economic nationalism or ethnic nationalism — is ascendant. Transnationalism and multiculturalism are in headlong if not irreversible retreat. The European project is itself imperiled.
To be sure, no one should underestimate the commitment of Europe’s elites to the vision of One Europe as challenger to the United States. In the capitals and corporate headquarters of the continent, these elites are, almost to a man and woman, devout Europeans.
Yet their ability to keep Europe on course until its peoples have yielded up their sovereignty and agreed to submerge themselves in a single entity is now in question. From Paris to Athens, the radical left and the nationalist right are resurgent. Marxists and patriots dream different dreams than the disciples of Jean Monnet.
Consider what the French electorate just said.
In the first round of voting, communists and radicals took 11 percent. Their leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, endorsed the socialist Francois Hollande, who went on to win Sunday.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who ran second in the first round with only 27 percent, raised his total Sunday to 48 percent. Though Marine Le Pen of the National Front had refused to endorse him, Sarkozy openly courted her voters.
As Marine put it, they call us racists, protectionists and xenophobes. Then they come asking for our endorsement, echo our words and seek our votes.
The near 30 percent the National Front and far left combined pulled in the first round is unprecedented in the annals of the Fifth Republic.
In Greece, the returns were equally dramatic.
PASOK, the governing center-left party, ran third with 13 percent of the vote. New Democracy, the center-right party that is in coalition with PASOK, ran first but won only 19 percent.
These two parties saw their combined support sliced in half since the last election and may be unable to form a government that can continue to impose the austerity the German-led eurozone is demanding as the price of Greece’s bailout.
The parties that gained most were the communists with 7 percent, Syriza, a radical-left party, with 17 percent, and Golden Dawn, a far-right party that has called for land mines on the border, with 7 percent. All three will bedevil any coalition that accedes to German demands.
What is causing the collapse of the center in Europe?
The austerity being imposed by Germany and her hard-money allies in the north of Europe on the indebted nations of the south of Europe.
Across the continent, voices are rising to demand that a growth package be attached to Angela Merkel’s fiscal pact.
But a growth package means tax cuts and spending increases. How do Europe’s nations provide these without adding to deficits and national debts, which mean new borrowing and the higher interest rates that are a primary cause of the present crisis?
The debtor nations seem to be saying this:
“Yes, we have been addicted to the narcotic of deficit spending. But we cannot survive going cold turkey. If you force us into it, our people will rebel and throw us out. Before we can give up the drugs, we need a new fix.”
From inception, the European project was built on a Faustian bargain.
If the nations of Europe would surrender their sovereignty, let their identities be diluted through immigration and open borders, and submerge themselves in a larger and more inclusive Europe, their peoples would be rewarded with an unparalleled prosperity.
Surrender your souls, and we will make you rich, secure and happy, said the eurocrats to the peoples of Europe.
After two terrible wars, Europe’s peoples took the bribe.
Free-riding off America’s defense, enjoying a prosperity produced by internal free trade and the explosive growth of their welfare states, financed at low interest rates once the euro was accepted as the common currency, they came to relish the good times.
Now the bill has come due. Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain must sacrifice and suffer to pay for these good times. Their public sectors must be pared back, pensions reduced, retirement age advanced. They must work harder and longer for all the years it takes to put their fiscal houses in order and pay back what they owe.
The left is saying is: We want our pensions restored, our public employees rehired. If our leaders need more money, take it from the rich, take it from the banks, take it from the big corporations.
The right is saying: We want our countries and culture back. We want our borders closed. We want no more immigration from the rest or Europe or the rest of the world.
Let France be France again. Let Greece be Greece again.
Tribalism, radicalism and socialism are the growth stocks of the new Europe.