The Eurozone released updated growth figures this morning, and the picture remains grim. Though France and Germany avoided declines in GDP, and though France beat forecasts, the numbers were thin gruel: France grew at 0.3 percent while Germany managed a meager 0.1 percent. The New York Times reports on the sour mood:
Economists say the region is flirting with entering a triple-dip recession, especially if national governments do not move quickly to create growth and jobs, such as making hiring conditions easier for businesses and investing in major public works projects. Unemployment in the euro area is stuck near a record high of 11.3 percent, while joblessness in the United States has fallen to 5.8 percent from 10 percent at the height of the crisis.
These figures mostly obscure a larger tragedy playing out on the European continent: with youth unemployment in places like Italy and Spain as high as 43 percent and 56 percent, respectively, we are bearing witness to the birth of a permanently stunted generation—a cohort that may never be gainfully employed and will exert a long-term drag on Europe’s economies.But perhaps more importantly, by failing this generation of young people, the European political order is sowing the seeds of its own destruction. It is this very sort of potential voter that is most easily swayed by the all-too-easy answers on offer from the the emergent rejectionist/nationalist parties across the continent. These parties give legitimate voice to the frustration of millions who chafe at Brussels’s bureaucratic priesthood, but at the same time they are not offering any constructive steps for reforming what’s broken.Americans watching all this unfold across the Atlantic should be concerned about more than the possible economic blowback from a cratering Eurozone. The European project is a singular achievement of postwar American leadership, and is in many ways the model of how we would like the world to function: an open, liberal, capitalist system where very different cultures and societies come together and share in the prosperity delivered by an open market.While no one would defend the particular institutional arrangement that the Europeans have built, the idea of a free, prosperous and unified Europe is as important today as it ever was. The siren song of the ascendant rejectionist parties, buoyed by the serial failures of these particular institutions, should be music to nobody’s ears. Because if we cannot get the system to work in Europe, what hope is there for it to take permanent root elsewhere?