Europe—Early Spring of Discontent
“… Europe is in deep trouble. The Continent is set for a winter of grave dissent.” That’s what we published in a Nov. 8, 2005, article. As it happened, the federal elections in Germany resulting in the formation of Angela Merkel’s coalition government tended to take center stage in European politics during much of winter. The demonstrations of discontent in Europe’s leading national economy were, for the moment, postponed.
The ball kept on bouncing in Merkel’s favor as winter progressed and foreign-policy opportunities seemed to enhance her reputation at almost every turn. However, this foreign-policy gloss only served to temporarily mask the burning domestic issues that had brought down the previous German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.
As winter wanes and spring shows its first blossoms across a still-chilled landscape in Europe, those issues are returning with a vengeance. Once again people are hitting the streets in Germany in protest at certain reforms to the German social welfare system attempted by Schröder and now mooted by Merkel’s coalition government.
But discontent within the European Union is not just restricted to the revolt of German trade unions and labor movements in that country. France and Britain are experiencing their own “early spring” of discontent.
Last Tuesday, violent mass demonstrations broke out across France, reminiscent of those that spread like a rash throughout France last November. On the same day, about 1½ million people gathered in the streets in some of Britain’s major cities as members of certain labor unions went on strike over intended pension scheme adjustments. In Germany, where work stoppages have plagued the country for several weeks, labor unrest continued, showing no real signs of abating.
While the labor unrest in Britain will probably have minimal overall effect in that nation, the disturbances in France and Germany could have crucial impact on the political leadership in each of those countries. In particular, early indications of cracks in the German coalition government could fracture the temporary stability in Europe’s key nation, adding to the increasing social unrest at the heart of the European Union.
“In France, [Dominique] de Villepin’s political career is at stake. The prime minister had hoped that labor reforms would raise employment rates just as the 2007 election neared. But his plan thus far has backfired: Existing social tensions have been exacerbated instead” (Stratfor, March 29). Such a situation could prove disastrous for de Villepin’s prospects to take over the leadership of France when an ailing Jacques Chirac finally steps down.
In Germany, Merkel’s conservative coalition partner and leadership competitor, Edmund Stoiber, is already turning up the heat on his conservative rival. Sensing that Germany’s endemic structural economic problems are about to become headline news once again, Stoiber is indicating that he is quite prepared to make political life very uncomfortable for Merkel. This week he directly involved himself in the arena where Merkel has shone, that of foreign policy. Speaking unilaterally, stepping aside from any public sense of unity with Merkel on the issue, he stridently called for the EU to refuse any prospect of closer alliance with Turkey.
Added to this, Merkel’s vice chancellor, Franz Müntefering, deliberately went against Merkel by publicly withdrawing his support for some of her more significant planned economic reforms. As Stratfor opined, “His statements represent a serious blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel and could cause a fracturing of the German government. … Müntefering went so far as to say that … ‘step by step, the coalition agreement is being split.’ … There is no doubt … that Müntefering has dealt Merkel a terrible blow by sidelining the labor reform legislation” (ibid.).
If Merkel fails to rise to the occasion, as Schröder did, finding herself unable to sell needed reforms to German labor, she may well lose her popular support in Germany overnight.
Put simply, Europe’s early spring of discontent could spark a rash of rolling social unrest that contributes to the weakening or even fall of both the French and German leadership, thus paving the way for that which Stratfor describes as “a fundamental shift in the government.”
Should such a fundamental shift occur, it could translate Europe’s current wave of economic nationalism quite readily into national socialism!
It happened 70 years ago under similar conditions. Herbert W. Armstrong declared it would happen again. He predicted that a demagogue would arise, once again in Europe, under conditions of social unrest and economic disruption.
It certainly appears that the seeds for such disruption are now being sown as winter blends into spring in Europe.
Watch France and Germany as the political situation in each of these key countries in the EU heats up.