Europe’s Trapped Politics

PARIS – When the last European Parliament election was held, in 2009, it seemed that Europe’s citizens were all facing the same dangers. Across the continent, governments were busy coping with the consequences of the global crisis that had erupted the year before. Five years later, on the eve of another European Parliament election, the situation could not be more different.

Back in 2009, Europe faced a widely shared imperative to rescue distressed banks, fight recession, and contain a sharp rise in unemployment. There was also unity on a policy strategy: emergency stimulus, followed by fiscal consolidation.

True, there were differences among countries, but most observers regarded them as less important relative to the common challenges. After all, unemployment in the southern eurozone was only marginally higher than in the north, and public debt/GDP ratios seemed to be on a convergence path.

Of course, everybody suspected that Greek public finances were in worse conditions than reported, but no one imagined that Greece’s official data were as detached from reality as they turned out to be. There was apparently less divergence within the eurozone than within many of its constituent countries.