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Fri May 23, 2014, 03:20 PM

Krugman: The danger from the right in Sunday's European election

Itís hard to imagine war in todayís Europe, which has coalesced around democratic values and even taken its first steps toward political union. Indeed, as I write this, elections are being held all across Europe, not to choose national governments, but to select members of the European Parliament.

But hereís the thing: An alarmingly high fraction of the vote is expected to go to right-wing extremists hostile to the very values that made the election possible. Put it this way: Some of the biggest winners in Europeís election will probably be people taking Vladimir Putinís side in the Ukraine crisis.

The truth is that the European project ó peace guaranteed by democracy and prosperity ó is in deep trouble; the Continent still has peace, but itís falling short on prosperity and, in a subtler way, democracy. And, if Europe stumbles, it will be a very bad thing not just for Europe itself but for the world as a whole.

Why is Europe in trouble?

The immediate problem is poor economic performance. The euro, Europeís common currency, was supposed to be the culminating step in the Continentís economic integration. Instead, it turned into a trap. First, it created a dangerous complacency, as investors funneled huge amounts of cash into southern Europe, heedless of risk. Then, when the boom turned to bust, debtor countries found themselves shackled, unable to regain lost competitiveness without years of Depression-level unemployment.


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