Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Europe Continues its Post-Political March

In an editorial in the French daily le Figaro, Pierre Rousselin analyzes the recent win by the right in Greece’s national elections and comes up with some interesting conclusions.

On the one hand, Rousselin sees the Greek result as part of a larger wave that has swept much of Europe: everywhere one looks, the socialist left is in decline while the centre-right is in ascendance. There are exceptions, or so it would seem. Britain is ruled by the leftist Labour Party, but as Rousselin points out, it isn’t really that leftist anymore. Germany has a Social Democrat government, but as recent regional elections in Hamburg demonstrated, that won’t likely last beyond the next federal vote. And then there’s interminably socialist Sweden which is, well, Sweden.

On the whole, however, Europe is becoming solidly centre-right. But Rousselin’s interesting points are hidden a bit more deeply in his editorial. The basis for Rousselin’s conclusions is economic. He sees politics in terms of economics, which then divides nicely between the socialist left and free market right. Now, in this regard, I think Rousselin is correct to see something of a convergence in Europe. Indeed, Rousselin suggests that this convergence is itself the source of a possible new “European identity.”

There is a problem though. Rousselin seems to have forgotten all about another element: foreign affairs. In this area, there is a strange divergence in Europe. In all western European countries with centre-right governments, foreign affairs tilts noticeably to a pro-American stance; that is, in all countries except France. France is the sole West European nation where the centre-right is as hostile to the US as is the left.

This brings us to another point in Rousselin’s piece. He contends that in Europe the great ideological debates are dead – the free market has won. He argues that in this regard, Europe is different from the US where such debates continue. What Rousselin is essentially saying is that Europe is post-historical. It has emerged from the nasty arguments between left and right that still trouble the US. Given his tone, it seems that Rousselin thinks this is a relatively desirable thing, and in some respects, given Europe’s recent history, it is. But once again, I think Rousselin may be jumping the gun a bit. There are differences between France and much of the rest of Europe, and there are even differences about the place of nations within the grand new “European identity.” The centre-right governments in many European nations do have some reservations about the EU, especially one dominated by a Franco-German alliance (assuming such an alliance will hold, and I doubt it will).

In part, I agree with Rousselin about the post-political European situation, but I’m not convinced it’s as certain or as desirable as Rousselin. If there is one point I would make against Rousselin it is that he sees Europe through an economic light only. If he were to undertake a properly political analysis, he might find that things aren’t so clear.

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