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Europe’s Political Stress Tests

PRINCETON – In recent years, the European Union – or, more accurately, the powerful countries of northern Europe – has been subjecting its weaker members to social and political “stress tests” in the name of fiscal rectitude. As a result, southern Europe and parts of Eastern Europe have become a kind of political laboratory, with experiments producing strikingly varied – and increasingly unpredictable – outcomes in different countries. At the last EU summit, Luxembourg’s prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, even suggested that the risk of a “social revolution” should not be excluded.

While that outcome remains unlikely, it is increasingly clear that many European countries – and the EU as a whole – need to renegotiate their basic social contracts. But European elites, preoccupied with short-term fixes, have not considered the long-term need for such revisions – to their own detriment.

Indeed, despite significant variations by country, one trend is becoming increasingly apparent across the EU: voters, regardless of their political orientation, are ejecting at the first opportunity leaders who implement austerity. But, beyond this overwhelming opposition to austerity, countries’ experiences vary widely.

Greece has seen the rise of an overtly fascist party, Golden Dawn, which proudly celebrates the legacy of former dictator Ioannis Metaxas. Although Golden Dawn has existed for roughly two decades, only in the last year did it gain enough support to enter parliament. Moreover, its poll numbers continue to climb.