A bad election trifecta
There were three elections today conducted in the shadow of Europe’s austerity measures and impending recession: France, Greece and Serbia. All three saw good showings by anti-austerity, less pro-European forces. The outcomes of the first two will reduce further the role Europe plays in world affairs, at least for the next few years. The third suggested that Serbia will continue in its current policies, which are nominally pro-European but still export insecurity, in particular to Bosnia and Kosovo.
In France and Greece, opponents of German-style austerity had a good day. Francois Hollande’s victory over Nicolas Sarkozy guarantees a tug of war between Paris and Berlin. The parliamentary election outcome in Greece is not so clear yet–it will be several days before it is decided who will head the governing coalition and which parties will participate. But the good showing of smaller, anti-austerity parties of the left and right in the Greek parliamentary elections guarantees continuing uncertainty about whether Greece will implement the tough austerity required to obtain International Monetary Fund money. The bankers are worried.
The anti-austerity advocates in both Greece and France may well be correct that growth is Europe’s real need, rather than fiscal retrenchment. But Germany remains adamant about austerity, so the election results ensure continuing quarrels and painful adjustments inside the euro zone, which is already headed into recession.
So long as Europe remains focused on its own internal problems, it can play only a limited role in the rest of the world. The Americans will be fortunate if the Europeans manage to maintain any significant number of troops in Afghanistan into 2014. The prospects for enlargement beyond Croatia, which is supposed to gain membership in the European Union next year, are dim. Europe’s role in the Arab awakenings is already minimal. In Asia and the Middle East, it has condemned itself to a predominantly commercial role, though it leads the nuclear talks with Iran.
In Serbia, ethnically nationalist parties performed well. The presidential outcome will be decided in a run off two weeks hence. Moderate nationalist President Tadic did not do particularly well but seems have edged out his rival Tomislav Nikolic, who in the past has bested Tadic in the first round. Whoever wins, Belgrade seems determined to continue its quixotic effort to prepare for membership in the European Union even while laying claim to Kosovo, whose independence is recognized by 22 EU members, and supporting Serb separatism in Bosnia. The leader of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, campaigned openly for Tadic. These policies are incompatible, but only a few marginal figures in Serbian politics are willing to say what is obvious: Kosovo is lost and a united (but decentralized) Bosnia is in Serbia’s interest. Partition would mean the creation of a rump, radicalized Islamic state on Serbia’s border.
So what we can look forward to is a weaker Europe less willing to enlarge or play an expanded role in world affairs generally. The Balkans will be left increasingly to their own devices, which have repeatedly proved not only inadequate but also dangerous. Washington, preoccupied with other matters, will occasionally weigh in to restrain its friends–especially the Kosovars and the Bosniaks–from making big mistakes, but otherwise it will try to leave matters to a Europe that doesn’t really care if the Balkan road to the EU is a slow one.
Maybe we’ll muddle through. Maybe not. But the election trifecta means that the European Union and its attractiveness to non-members is weak and growing weaker. That’s not good.