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Return to the Roaring 20s

EU leaders view the storm as passed, and Donald Trump’s election and Brexit as now no more than a bad dream. They were delighted by Emmanuel Macron’s resounding victory, and one of their faithful commentators went so far as to call it ‘the first decisive blow against the populist wave’ (1).

Now France’s new leaders itch to seize the moment and force through the European Commission’s neoliberal agenda, aiming initially at the labour code. Macron’s orientation is identical to that of his predecessor, although he is younger, more cultivated and not so utterly lacking in imagination and charisma.

Through the miracles of marketing and tactical voting, a slight change has been dressed up as a historic swing that will open the way for bold new initiatives. The western press, swooning over its new boy wonder, is lauding the end of the divide between right and left; this is also fromthe realm of fantasy.

France’s right and left have been taking turns applying the same policies since 1983. Now whole sections of both are in the same government and soon will belong to the same parliamentary majority. All you can say is that things are clearer.

A corrupt Spanish right clinging on to power, the neoliberals’ victory in the Netherlands, further terms in government predicted, perhaps incautiously, for the conservatives in the UK and Germany: all suggest that last year’s period of anger may have run out of steam for lack of political outlets.

Macron’s election, against a background of blue and gold EU flags, and his instant trip to Berlin signal that the main European policy orientations propounded by Chancellor Merkel will be vigorously re-endorsed. In Greece, these have just brought a 9% cut in old-age pensions; experts only disagree over whether it is the 13th or 14th such slash.

Meanwhile, though Trump’s whims and bluster caused concern for a time in western centres of government, the normalisation of his presidency is well under way (and ways to remove him are being readied should the need arise). All that is needed to guarantee the complete peace of mind of those at the helm in Europe is for Matteo Renzi to return to power in Italy.

In the 1920s the Communist International, noting that after an era of strikes and revolutions the majority of European states, especially the UK and Germany, had reverted to a default steady course, had to acknowledge the ‘stabilisation of capitalism’. Nonetheless, unwilling to abandon the struggle, it announced in September 1928 that the calm would be ‘partial, temporary and precarious’. The warning seemed mechanical coming from this source, or mere rhetoric; if you were wealthy, these were after all the Roaring Twenties. The Wall Street crash was just a year away.

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Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

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