Europe's postwar model is stability and order, cooperation, and human rights. The image is of skilled executives meeting around Swedish-built conference tables, drinking bottled Alpine water, and making corrections and compromises on behalf of an idealistic project.
For usually placid and stable Europe, 2011 brought upheaval and austerity serious enough to challenge 60 years of these assumptions. Pushed by the winds of globalization, Europe is in an uneasy transition.
The year started with Arab revolutions shattering Europe's cozy status quo with Arab autocrats. It ended with a euro and banking debt crisis that has European capitals making contingency plans for an unsettling breakup of the eurozone if the crisis deepens.
In between came 365 days of the unexpected: The tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan shocked Germany into declaring an end to nuclear energy. Debt and banking crises and market uncertainty over Europe's resolve caused first the Irish and Portuguese governments, then the Greek and Italian ones to fall, creating fears about European cohesiveness. France and Britain (along with the United States) launched airstrikes on Libya to support the Arab Spring and preempt a massacre. Europe paused for a fairy-tale royal wedding in London.
By May, the ripples from Tahrir Square, along with a lack of jobs and futures, brought a new kind of nonviolent youth protest to Madrid that also caught on in Athens amid fears about the future of Greece. Years of anti-Islam sentiment in Europe boiled over into a demonic shooting spree at an idyllic summer camp for the youth wing of Norway's Labor Party. London erupted in riots by have-nots who wanted to have.
To be sure, some major moments brought cheer: the arrest of Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic for genocide after years on the run, the end of the Muammar Qaddafi regime, and reviled News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch's comeuppance in a British phone-hacking scandal.
But 2011 closed with euro crisis summits and disillusioned rank and file. Can new German-engineered rules further binding the eurozone hold the monetary union together? Is there enough political and economic capital to create a new "mutuality" – the buzzword at year's end – to weather the upheavals?
Ordinary Europeans without a clear program, especially the young, started to speak in 2011. Is there a game change ahead for them at Europe's smooth conference tables, or will their new political energy be channeled into the populist pull of the far left and the far right?