“European political systems are going through radical changes,” Paolo Gentiloni, Prime Minister of Italy, told participants in a special address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.
“Political fragmentation is a new feature of the old continent,” he added. New political groups are forming in response to widespread discontent, offering shortcuts and demagoguery. Frequently, these groups ask the right questions but offer the wrong answers.
Large segments of population are indeed dissatisfied, migration remains a hot-button issue and social cleavages remain open under the long shadow of the global and European financial crises.
“Inequality is still rising, reaching intolerable levels, even as growth increases,” he said. We cannot end up in a world with a cosmopolitan digital elite and an army of discontented workers.” He added: “Today we must answer positively and decisively the call for a stronger Europe. Our history and roots are not synonymous with protectionism.”
In another special address, Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany, also highlighted the shared challenges of migration and rising polarization in Europe. Polarization is worse than it has been in decades and, 100 years after the catastrophe of the First World War, she expressed worries that some of the lessons of history might be forgotten.
“Germany is a country committed to finding multilateral solutions. Unilateral action and protectionism are not the answer,” she said. We want an ever-closer union, she added. “Let us not shut ourselves off from the world. Let us keep pace with the best in the world and prepare ourselves to withstand the crises of the future.”
Merkel also called for a common European foreign policy. “We need to send clear, united signals to China, the United States and other large markets. We will fail if we do it separately,” she said.