Europe's Drift

THE sharp rejection by voters of the French So-cialists in favor of a new conservative Gaullist coalition further confirms a general political drift in Europe toward the right. The left in France lost a hefty 200 seats, giving the Union for France 487 of 577 seats.

The French vote seems less a real embrace of the right as it is a failure of the left. The far-right National Front of Le Pen, for example, won no seats. But the left - not only in France but throughout the continent - has offered no sustaining or distinctive vision of a new Europe. Rather, in the face of mounting unemployment, and with the rise of a new strain of "soft nationalism" in nearly every country, the left has been lost in partisan squabbles, scandals, and mere comfort in the power it accrued d uring the relatively safe and prosperous cold war. Meanwhile, the postwar liberal idea in Europe of a larger community of trade, union, and transnational values is foundering. The Maastricht Treaty is in trouble.

Europeans seem disillusioned with all established parties. That was the message in the non-turnout in local German elections this month. In Italy, the Socialists under Bettino Craxi have been severely damaged by the new accounts of deep and widespread corruption. The Labor Party in Britain is status quo. Even the Social Democrats in Germany, who originally championed the rights of foreigners, want to repeal the immigration laws.

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The tone in Europe is subtly changing. Whether it is the angry squabbles between French and British fishermen, the neo-Nazi skinheads in Germany, or the increasingly bare-knuckle verbal repartees between capitals, the tone among nations seems less generous and tolerant - and more protectionist and belligerent. Politicians increasingly attack the idea of a broad, federal Europe and play on nationalist themes and sentiments.

The values of a liberal Europe are not just those of worker rights and social safety nets. Unlike the United States, the left and right in Europe already incorporate these values. Rather, a civil community is defined as much by what it actively opposes as by what it supports. Anthony Lewis writing from Oxford this week argues the dream of Maastricht and the integrated Europe of Jean Monnet ended when Europe "refused to act against Serbian aggression - when it would not lift a finger to stop mass racial m urder on its own continent."

Europe needs a federal politics that supports ethnic diversity. The left can play a crucial role. Europe must not drift back into its old power game of self-interest, bereft of civil rights. The left has often seemed too idealistic. But what if it disappeared?

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