Paul Greenberg

Others may have taken a three-day weekend for Memorial Day, but the news never stops. Especially out of Europe, which continues to produce more bad news than it can safely absorb, which may explain why it was the origin of two world wars during the last century. Europe has long had enough calamity to export it worldwide.

And let's not forget the made-in-Europe world wars that weren't formally called world wars at the time. Like the one the American Revolution was part of -- a sideshow in the conflict between Europe's various colonial powers at the time. That little war, though no war is little to those fighting it, was in large part a civil war between Tories and Patriots on these shores. It would birth to a new nation and phenomenon that now occupies center stage in our time. No matter how much Americans would like to be obscure again. For the tragedy called history can be unkind to those countries assigned its leading roles, much as they would like to avoid star billing.

I was shocked, shocked this week to learn that Europe is still composed of quite different nationalities with quite different temperaments, each competing against the others, and that behind the mainly verbal notion of a European Union lie the same old, ever-seething antipathies. The more Europe changes, the more it remains Europe, more's the pity.

And yet Europe's political elite sounded surprised (don't they always?) by the news that their continent is still full of different interests that often clash. Violently. A uniform currency, a central bank, a common market and a nominally common parliament may constitute progress, but those still new institutions are scarcely enough to disguise Europe's multiple disparities and competing national ambitions.

No wonder that continent is being stalked (again) by the Russian bear. That all too familiar creature is just out of hibernation and on the prowl again, its appetite restored. And weakness, division and uncertain leadership always invite predators.

So no wonder this weekend's elections to the European Parliament were characterized by a resurgence of old nationalisms and new neo-fascist parties. Hard times produce hard hearts. What with America's abdicating its leading role in the world under this president (but be sure to call it Leading From Behind), it's so much easier for Europe to blame its problems on the Other (immigrants, Jews, Muslims, bankers, name your favorite scapegoat) than to address them.

Looking at the election results this week, France's prime minister gravely announced: "We are in a crisis of confidence." But when hasn't Europe been? Even when all seemed just fine and dandy on the surface.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.