U.S. growth in the first quarter fell to 2.2 percent, a disappointment. But in Europe, that news would have caused general rejoicing.
For consider the gathering crisis on the old continent.
With negative growth now for six months, Britain has fallen back into recession. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near halfway through the eurozone crisis,” said Prime Minister David Cameron this weekend.
Romania’s government fell last week. The Czech government barely survived a vote of no confidence. In the capital cities of both countries, tens of thousands have angrily protested the new austerity.
The Dutch government also fell last week, when the Freedom Party of right-wing populist Geert Wilders abandoned the governing coalition.
Wilders refuses to support spending cuts and new taxes needed to meet the hard deficit target of 3 percent of gross domestic product set by the European Union for 2013.
The Rome government of Silvio Berlusconi is history. New Prime Minister Mario Monti says Italy cannot sustain the austerity being imposed upon her.
In Spain, unemployment has hit 24.4 percent. Half her young are jobless. “Spain is undergoing a crisis of enormous proportions,” says Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo. He compares the EU to the Titanic.
French elections are Sunday. Most observers believe they will end the career of President Nicolas Sarkozy and install in the Elysee Palace a socialist, Francois Hollande, who has pledged to impose a 75 percent tax on incomes above 1 million euros.
With a week to go, the French campaign calls to mind the 1930s.
Sarkozy, says The New York Times, is focusing on “patriotism, protectionism, French values,” attacking immigrants who do not assimilate.
“I do not want to let France be diluted by globalization,” Sarkozy declared Sunday. “Europe has given in too much to free trade and deregulation. … I do not want France to be isolated in the world, but I want frontiers respected. … France expects a Europe that protects the European people.”
The far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melanchon, defeated in the first round, is charging Sarkozy with using the language of Pierre Laval and Marshal Philippe Petain, both convicted of collaborating with the Nazis.
“To be treated as a fascist by a communist is a compliment,” says Sarkozy.
“In 2012, the issue is borders, and I will put them at the center of the debate,” Sarkozy said Sunday in Toulouse, where an Islamist fanatic recently murdered four Jews, including three children, and three French soldiers.
“Without borders, there is no nation, there is no Republic, there is no civilization,” he told 10,000 cheering supporters. “We are not superior to others, but we are different.”
Sarkozy is on “a mad path,” says Hollande. “The issue in France and in Europe is the fight against extremism.”
Greek elections are also scheduled for Sunday, with the center-left Pasok Party and center-right New Democracy having lost half of their support since 2009.
Ireland votes May 31 on the eurozone fiscal pact that calls for austerity among Europe’s most indebted nations. Polls are predicting a yes vote. But Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams has ridden a rising tide against the pact to make his party the second-most-popular in Ireland.
“The rise in political extremism in Europe,” writes Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau, “is in part the consequence of stubbornness and stupidity among centrist elites.”
Where is Europe going?
Larry Summers is probably right, “Again Europe and the global economy approach the brink.”
With the demonstrations, riots, and governments falling like dominoes, Europe’s ruling elites are losing the confidence of the people and its ruling parties are bleeding support to the more militant left and right.
What does this portend for Europe?
Probably an easing up of austerity — of the tax hikes and budget cuts for payrolls, pensions and health care — demanded by Germany’s Angela Merkel and her fiscally hawkish allies. And it probably means an effort to stimulate the dormant economies of Europe without sending buyers of Europe’s bonds fleeing for the exits out of fear of inflation or default.
But the vision of One Europe that dates back to the 1950s and Jean Monnet seems to belong to yesterday.
Transnationalism, the idea of sacrificing the national interest for the greater good of Europe, is dying. Not one of the four leading French parties in the first round of voting was making the case for Europe.
Second, the idea of a multicultural Europe open to immigration from beyond its borders seems to be dead.
Third, the ideology of Occupy Wall Street has crossed the pond.
The senior Catholic cardinal in Britain is demanding that Cameron accept a “Robin Hood tax” on large financial transactions to make “banks and large financial institutions pay their fair share,” with the tax money going to the poor.
The One Percenters are in the gun sights everywhere. Rarely was Yeats’ couplet more apposite.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
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