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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Divided EU Between South And North

It is going to be fashionable in 1996 to talk of southern Europe as "a zone of crisis," an area stretching from Spain to Turkey where just about everything that could go wrong seems to be going very wrong indeed.

Consider the facts. Spain's Socialist Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, has been forced to call early elections for March because of a string of shameful financial and security service scandals that have discredited his government. Nothing so damaging to Spain's stability and international image has happened since the attempted military coup of 1981.

In Italy, the chaos that has typified the political scene for the last four years is worse than ever. Prime Minister Lamberto Dini tried to resign last week but was told by President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro to stay in office. Nobody seems sure whether new elections would help matters or just add to the confusion. Meanwhile, Dini's predecessor, right-wing business tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, is due to stand trial Jan. 17 on charges of tax bribery.

One of the strangest parts of southern Europe at the moment is Greece, where Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou has been clinging on to life and political power in a hospital for the last six weeks. The normal processes of government have all but ground to a halt, while the anti-Papandreou press in Athens has occupied itself with the publication of nude pictures of the prime minister's wife.

The Dec. 24 elections in Turkey produced a stunning victory for the pro-Islamist Welfare Party, a movement that is ostensibly committed to reversing 60 years of progressive secularism in Turkey. This does not imply that militant Iranian-style Islam is about to conquer Turkey, but it does mean that a new political force has arrived on stage and the traditional secular establishment is going to have to rethink its lines to accommodate it.

Southern European countries that are members of the European Union face one challenge in common. It seems pretty unlikely that Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece will be able to meet the Maastricht Treaty's conditions for participating in a single European currency by 1999. That raises the prospect that these countries will be relegated to a kind of EU second division, while prosperous northern states such as Germany and the Netherlands go off on their own.

Looming in the background is the threat of massive instability in northern Africa, everywhere from Algeria to Egypt. Disillusioned electorates in southern Europe are finding more and more to complain about in the form of illegal immigration and Islamic radicalism that bring political violence and random crime onto their streets.

What we have here is the emergence of a long-term trend in which the big dividing line in Europe is not one between east and west but between north and south. Already former Communist countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia are gravitating to the northern camp, leaving behind Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and most former Yugoslav republics to wallow in the unstable south.

Publicly, of course, no government minister in a northern European state is willing to admit that such a continental split is taking shape. Privately, however, officials from Germany, France and the Benelux countries are already planning for a two-tier Europe -- believing, of course, that this is in the best interests of Europe as a whole.

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. All I say, is, 1996 will be a year for watching southern Europe.