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A crisis of politics hounds the European ruling class

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Issue 2581
German chancellor Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel (Pic: European People’s Party)

Until this week the Tories looked like the weakest government in the European Union. (EU). That’s impressive given the competition.

The Dutch prime minister took a record 225 days to form a cabinet. And the Spanish state is bitterly fighting a Catalan bid for independence.

Italy’s political establishment is so threadbare that even Silvio Berlusconi—banned from taking office due to a fraud conviction—is attempting a comeback.

But what really sent a shiver down the spines of the entire European ruling class was the news on Monday that German chancellor Angela Merkel was faltering.

Attempts to build a new coalition government after last month’s elections had reached an impasse. Merkel said she would rather call new elections than form a minority government.

It’s always possible that Merkel was bluffing to bring her prospective coalition partners to heel. But the mere possibility of failure was seen as a dangerous sign of instability in German politics.

And Merkel’s problems reverberate across Europe. She is the longest-serving head of state in the G20 after Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and led the European Union (EU) through its economic crucifixion of Greece.

There are common factors behind the political paralysis of European states.

Merkel’s woes are often blamed on her decision to welcome refugees in 2015. But the decision came only after the refugees themselves had already made it a fact by fighting to cross borders.

Merkel’s party rapidly turned back to racist scapegoating.


The same pattern played out in elections in France, Austria and the Netherlands just in the last year.

And it’s telling that the Tories picked Theresa May to get them out of their Brexit crisis last year. She built her career as home secretary on attacking migrants.

There’s also an underlying economic failure. Recovery from the 2008-9 Great Recession is still slow and patchy almost a decade on.

Then there’s the rows thrown up by Brexit—this week over the EU’s “divorce bill”.

May apparently convinced pro-Brexit ministers to offer £40 billion to the EU on the forlorn promise that the EU will give some guarantees in return.

But she was promptly attacked even by pro-Remain Tory MP Robert Halfon. “I cannot believe the public would accept such a huge amount when we need money for our schools, our hospitals, and our housing” he said.

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget had not been released as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday. But it was never going to alleviate the suffering caused by years of austerity or the turmoil at the top.

More than ever there’s a need to pose an alternative to their failing system—and to fight to make it a reality.

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