The inability of the European elite to bring about any necessary change in their atrophied societies is manifest in the news that French Presidet Nicolas Sarkozy is so afraid of an explosion of violence on New Year’s Eve that he has abandoned an education reform that was considered one of the cornerstones of his government’s programme after it prompted angry protests from students.
Sarkozy has often mocked his predecessors for backtracking on reforms after street protests. His volte-face last week after noisy demonstrations by schoolchildren exposed him to ridicule as well as baffling his supporters. It emerged that Sarkozy feared the protests would spill over into Christmas and the new year, spiralling into a dangerous Europe-wide student uprising inspired by the scenes of mayhem in Greece, where protests continued last week. “We don’t want a European May ’68 in the middle of Christmas,” Sarkozy told his ministers in a reference to protests four decades ago that led to the collapse of General Charles de Gaulle’s government in 1969. Sarkozy also worries that celebrations on New Year’s Eve could erupt into rioting similar to the disturbances that set immigrant suburbs ablaze in France three years ago.
“Things are heating up everywhere in Europe, in Greece, but also in Spain, Italy and even in France. The slogan of the Greek students about ‘the €600 generation’ could easily catch on here,” he said, referring to complaints by Greek students about being unable to find jobs paying more than €600 (£557) a month.
So, without reform, Europe drifts listlessly along, sunk in an economic mire, scared of offending the sort of – shall we call them “youths” – who set Parisian suburbs ablaze not so long ago. As Europe haemorrhages employment and more and more indigenous youths find that any jobs that are around have been taken by immigrants, the tinder is there to be set ablaze. Will 2009 see this ignite?