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Is Europe really on the brink?

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"Now, with the current crisis still unresolved, Europe lacks most of the motivating forces that once propelled it toward unity," wrote British historian Timothy Garton Ash in the September/October issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. "Even if a shared fear of the consequences of the eurozone's collapse saves it from the worst, Europe needs something more than fear to make it again the magnetic project it was for a half century."

In October, the Nobel Committee gave the 2012 peace prize to the EU. The prize is an obvious acknowledgment of Europe's longest-ever peace. It is also a morale builder, an affirmative prod that EU nations and peoples not break up at this fragile moment in history.

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Few saw a crisis coming. Five years ago no one could imagine Italy and Spain teetering on the brink of insolvency, or that "bailout" and "austerity" would be household words from Gdansk to Palermo. It would seem science fiction to say that in 2012 an openly neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn in Greece, would capture 7 percent of the vote in a European election. Or that right-left extremes in France would garner nearly 40 percent of the vote, as they did in balloting this spring.

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