Where Is Europe Headed?

The World and I, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Where Is Europe Headed?


In the wake of the contradictory results of the German and French elections, political observers are asking whether the western half of Europe is tilting to the left or right, or settling in the middle.

Europe's Left applauded the Social Democrats' victory in Germany, but the SDU won a majority in the Bundestag by only the narrowest of margins, and with the help of the Greens. At the same time, the Christian Democrats received 38.5 percent of the popular vote--the same percentage as the Social Democrats--while the communists failed to reach the critical 5 percent level.

Earlier in the year, French voters gave President Jacques Chirac a large conservative majority in their parliament. In addition to France, center-right parties currently govern in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

At apparent variance is the situation in eastern Europe, where Hungary and Poland now have center-left regimes while the communists hold about 25 percent of the seats in the Czech parliament. However, all of these countries are eager to participate in both the European Union and NATO.

Just what is going on?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's narrow escape from defeat, according to Jack Tierney of the Institute of World Politics, is a symptom of western Europe's growing fears of crime, economic decline, and diluted national identity. The Right has attracted voters not because of its racist or violent tendencies but because voters feel that the mainstream parties in countries like Germany are out of touch or even corrupt.

The policies set for the European Union by the socialists, suggests Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation, are not permanent--conservative governments have it in their power to change the EU's direction. Whether European conservatives will seize the opportunity remains to be seen. …

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