Incentives for Europe integration are political
By Arthur Cyr
Elections in Europe, from one end to the other, predictably have generated anxiety, especially given tensions within the European Union between the austerity-preaching Germans and others, notably the Greeks. However, that is a misreading of both the fundamental purposes of cooperation on the continent and the election dynamics involved.
In France, voters have turned out President Nikolas Sarkozy and his Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the principal conservative party in the country. Analysts have emphasized this as a public rejection of the emphatic Euro-austerity measures pursued by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
There is also emphasis on likely radicalism of the incoming Socialist Party regime of victorious new President Francois Hollande. Businessweek, for instance, has described the result as "Frenchmen stormed the Bastille," a reference to the bloody French Revolution. Hollande has advocated use of domestic stimulus spending rather than regional fiscal austerity as the best road for economic recovery.
In Greece, voters likewise have opted for radical change. The previously powerful New Democracy and Pasok parties lost significant support.
Much media commentary has focused on the increased vote for the small ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn Party, which strongly opposes all immigration and employs both salute and symbol reminiscent of the Nazi Party. Golden Dawn representatives reject such associations.
Regarding both countries, alarm is overdone. In France as elsewhere in Europe, socialism has become a relatively muted movement. Hollande reflects the 2007 Socialist Party nominee Segolene Royal, and earlier French Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, in rejection of classic central themes of class conflict and nationalization of industry.
Royal stressed social policies helping those in need, while Mitterrand pursued a robust, remarkably successful policy of reconciliation with Germany. That partnership is symbolized by a now-classic 1984 photograph of Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl holding hands while surveying Verdun, site of the horrific World War I battle where nearly 800,000 French and German soldiers were killed or wounded.
By contrast, France's conservatives in the past have been self-consciously independent of U.S. policy. Notably, President Charles de Gaulle was at odds with the Kennedy administration on every major strategic policy, including nuclear weapons, the future of European integration and NATO.
In Greece, the prominent conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok parties were rejected by voters in favor of a variety of smaller parties, including Independent Greeks and Syriza, along with Golden Dawn. Given the harsh bite of austerity, this result is no surprise.
However, several factors mitigate this shift. First, the economy of Greece is small, with gross domestic product less than market values of Apple, ExxonMobil and several sovereign investment funds.
Second, grumpy Greek populism is a useful wake-up call to Euro-elitists, who regularly develop ambitious visions of benevolent Brussels managing uniform Europe. This was fantasy even before the global financial meltdown.
Third, even if Greece defaulted, the common market would survive. The monetary euro zone comprises only 17 of the 27 EU members. Moreover, powerful global corporate and consumer interests benefit from the single market.
Above all, the fundamental incentives for European integration are political and moral, not commercial and financial. The enduring vision of Jean Monnet and associates was to use economic integration to head off a Third World War in Europe.
The success of their strategy is enjoyed today. Even Golden Dawn in Greece achieved only 7 percent of the vote.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.