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Europe’s New Crisis: Ungovernability

Returning to the spirit of the 1930s is not a program for government.

March 8, 2016

Returning to the spirit of the 1930s is not a program for government.

A specter is haunting Europe. It is the specter of ungovernability. Three prime ministers who hold office but not power attended the summit on Europe’s migration crisis.

Spain, followed by Ireland, and now Slovakia are unable to form governments as voters refused to give any single party or workable coalition a clear majority.

In countries where there are majorities or an executive president as in France, all too often governments do not actually govern. At best, as a result of internal paralysis, they mark time.

Paralysis all over

The case of France is a telling example. A clear set of sensible labor market reforms has been proposed. These reform measures are moderate in scope and respect workers’ rights.

However, neither President Hollande nor Prime Minister Valls can overcome the stubborn opposition within their own ruling party or in trade unions associated with their government.

The British government has stopped governing until its plebiscite on Britain staying in Europe is held on June 23.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has withdrawn pension reform measures judged necessary to control Britain’s ballooning government deficit, because the government does not want to risk more hostility from its own MPs ahead of the finely balanced referendum vote.

The Labour Party has drifted off to a left-wing version of Trumpism and cannot offer an alternative government for some time. So the general crisis of European governability will infect Britain as well.

Sweden’s Social Democratic government rules at pleasure of the center-right parties, but without a clear majority. Despite all this maneuvering, the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats are now overtaking the classic center-left social democrats in the polls.

Leftist parties have won elections in Greece and Portugal, but operate without an effective program of government.

Staying in the eurozone, as they proclaim they want, while applying traditional 20th century Keynesian left economics is all but impossible.

Germany has a government but one based on a single person, Angela Merkel. She has swallowed the once mighty Social Democrats into her broad coalition and neutered them as a political force.

EU ungovernable?

The most obvious symptom of this crisis of European ungovernability is the European Union as a whole.

There is no agreement on how to govern the inflow of refugees from the states like Iraq, Libya and Syria destroyed by Western intervention.

There also is no agreement on the governance of the eurozone. Worse, mass unemployment, especially of young Europeans, as well as the lack of new jobs, new firms and new economic ideas is turning many off the entire idea of European integration.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of politics in the form of populist, anti-immigrant, Muslim-hating, rightwing parties with loudmouth leaders saying that, if they were in the government, they would solve the problem.

Their “solution?” Closing frontiers by force, expelling foreigners, returning to national currencies and national economic trade rules.

But this appeal to return to the spirit of the 1930s is not a program for government.

In the Balkans, governments exist but won’t cooperate or even recognize each other, as in the Greek refusal to let Macedonia use its name or the refusal of Athens and Belgrade to even open normal diplomatic relations with Kosovo.

In Poland and Hungary, there are governments but the measures they propose are illiberal, protectionist and also seem to want a Poland and Hungary of national purity in the best style of 1930s politics in both nations.

What can be done?

Europe has always had some of its nations badly led – think France’s Fourth Republic of the 1950s or Britain’s decade as the sick man of Europe in the 1970s. But today, the crisis of governability seems more insidious and widespread.

There is no General de Gaulle, Helmut Schmidt, Margaret Thatcher or Jacques Delors to be seen. Most EU senior politicians practice followership, not leadership.

The one giant, Angela Merkel, is now into her second decade as German chancellor. She looks exhausted.

She has made a gigantic mistake in assuming that her generous offer to what may be two million refugees by the end of this year to head for a new home in Europe would be welcomed by other EU leaders.

As it turns out, they are not ready to open their doors and hearts to Arabs and Africans fleeing Islamist violence or economic misery.

There are strong heads of government close to Europe – in Russia and Turkey. But Europe cannot do authoritarianism in the manner of Moscow and Ankara.

Europe does not know how to summon up good politicians and good policies. The crisis of Europe’s ungovernability is going to get worse.

In that, it seems to mimic the United States, which is going through its very own prolonged period of ungovernability.


Some nations in Europe have always been badly led. The crisis of governability seems more widespread today.

The crisis of Europe’s ungovernability is only going to get worse.

Europe is mimicking the US, which is going through its very own prolonged period of ungovernability.

Unemployment and lack of new economic ideas is turning many off the idea of European integration.