What Will Happen to Europe?
Europe is swirling in a maelstrom, and it is hard to see what can save the mother continent of so much we cherish. The sovereign debt crisis -- national governments which cannot honor their promises to repay holders of their bonds -- is spreading from the original PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) to neighboring nations.
Italy is the worst new case, but France now has a "negative" bond rating by all three of the major rating services -- Fitch, Moody's, and Standard & Poor's. Belgium, Holland, and Austria, countries associated with the relatively prudent finances of Germany and Britain, each have two negative ratings (although in the case of Holland, one is just a "negative watch") from the three bond rating services and only one "stable" rating.
At least as troubling is the reaction within Europe to the sovereign debt crisis, as when Chancellor Merkel visited Greece last October and was mocked as a Nazi. This sort of blame game also includes attacks on the bond rating services, as if private firms which have an interest in providing accurate information to subscribers and clients would deliberately try to hurt national governments.
Soaking the rich, almost always politically safe and economically stupid in a crisis, is becoming the policy in nations like France, and France's new socialist government is already witnessing its most productive citizens renouncing their citizenship and moving to Belgium, Switzerland, and Britain. The same sort of exodus is happening in Spain, where, last July, affluent Spaniards pulled a whopping $94 billion out of accounts in Spanish banks. Rather like the flight of productive Americans from California to Arizona or from New Jersey to South Carolina, this exodus of the hard workers and high earners is bound to aggravate animosity within Europe.
Politicians governing major European nations are unusually weak now. Although the multi-party systems of most European nations seldom make the parliamentary governments of Europe as strong as in our two-party system, national governments in Europe are unusually weak, as shown by the percentage of seats held by the governing party has in national governments: United Kingdom (47%), France (48%), Germany (38% -- counting the CDP and CSU as the same party), Italy (47%), and so on.
This reached the macabre in Belgium, which took 535 days between the last general election and the formation of a government, and which ended up with a six-party cabinet. Only outside pressure finally resolved this crisis, although this can hardly be said to mean that the Flemish and the Walloon nationalities which make up Belgium agree on much of anything these days. While Belgium is an extreme case of a nation made of two unhappy nationalities, Europe is pocked with these separatist movements.
France alone has eight separate movements which want to secede, and several have serious reasons, like the two Celtic movements in the Basque and in Brittany or the Corsicans, who speak their dialect of Italian, not French. Scotland and Wales have relatively serious separatist parties, but perhaps more revealing are the English nationalist parties who want to kick the Welsh, Scots, and Irish out and have their own nation (rather like the New Flemish Alliance in Belgium, which wanted to withdraw their relatively more productive people from the Walloons in the other half of the nation).
Crises are often overcome with courage, tradition, and belief, but Europe seems limp these days. The continent is increasingly agnostic -- except for the young radical Muslim men who roam the streets and terrorize European women -- and the demographic trend away from having children means that those historic social glues of faith and family are very weak these days. Old Europe, demographically, is dying.
Europeans also seem inclined to view America and Israel, those nations whose values have most closely mirrored the greatness of European civilization, as the source of their problems. Shocking nostalgia for monsters like Stalin and less overt but no less real nostalgia for Mussolini or even Hitler show how many Europeans really feel. The Holocaust, the Gulag, and the Cold War should have demonstrated forever the failures of brutal statist collectivism and rejection of Judeo-Christian values, but the ugly reality is that this is precisely what many Europeans seem to want.
What will happen to Europe? It seems almost certain that it will gradually descend into a sort of third-world debacle -- or, rather, much of California or most of Detroit today. The snippets I hear from Americans in Europe are simply appalling, and the principal problem is less on account of the immigrants who came to Europe than it is the Europeans themselves, who seem to have given up and taunt the rest of us -- Americans and Israelis, as prime examples -- who have not.