Europe is too gloomy for its own good

“You see, no hope’s a dangerous thing.”

— W.A.S.P. “My Tortured Eyes”

Last year’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as president of the U.S. shook the world out of complacency and sent analysts and experts into a frenzy of attempts to explain what was behind these two events.

For Trump’s election there is the partial explanation of the Russian intervention. For Brexit, the fact that the tabloid newspapers have, for years, portrayed Eastern Europeans as benefit scroungers who at the same time “steal” jobs from the British may have played a role.

But what about the rest of Europe?

There are parliamentary elections in three major European Union member states this year: the Netherlands, France and Germany (in chronological order). Victory for extremists in any one of these states could seriously upset the fragile balance of power that still keeps the EU together.

Those trying to destabilise the EU are hard at work. The story of the small Macedonian town where teenagers were hard at work fabricating stories to feed to Trump supporters in order to get “clicks” and money is well known.

This phenomenon seems to have become so widespread that this site gets daily invitations to “write opinions for money” from various dubious organisations. Under the guise of “work from home,” invitations to commit misinformation or even disinformation abound. Of course, these invitations are promptly deleted here, but how many people, elsewhere, accept them?

This is an unprecedented propaganda war and the dark side — the liars and the cheats — seems to be winning it. Of course, things are not helped by the lack of the essential ingredient for optimism: hope.

Research by the Pew Institute, highlighted in a recent study by European rating agency Scope Ratings, shows the degree of pessimism among people in the developed world: 85% of the French participants believed their children would be worse off than they are, followed, in Europe, by 68% of the British who believed the same thing, and 66% of Italians.

Americans aren’t much more cheerful, either: 60% of them believe their children will be worse off than they are, while 58% of Germans fell the same about their children. In Asia, the Japanese, with the world’s highest debt, are perhaps unsurprisingly the most pessimistic: 72% think their children will be worse off.

Those who believe their children will be better off are in developing nations: the most optimistic are the Vietnamese, with 91% of respondents, followed by the Chinese, with 88% and the Ethiopians and Nigerians, with 84%.

In a way, this is normal. Globalisation lifted millions out of poverty, but these were mostly in developing countries. In the developed countries, wealth inequality has increased because of wage stagnation and asset price inflation.

But lack of hope so close to important elections is indeed a dangerous thing. Even the German vice chancellor, Gabriel Sigmar, has admitted as much. In an interview with Der Spiegel quoted by Reuters, he said that it was “no longer unthinkable that [the EU] breaks apart,” adding: “Should that happen, our children and grandchildren would curse us.”

Somebody must do something to bring back hope to Europe, and fast. As I was writing last week, eyes are once again turning towards the ECB’s Mario Draghi.