chapter  1
18 Pages

Policy disasters in Europe: an introduction: Pat Gray

A study of major failures We appear to be living in a new age in which our older fears-of totalitarianism, global war and economic collapse-have been replaced by more diverse, less predictable anxieties, which neither markets nor governments seem able to resolve (Beck 1992, 1995). Indeed recent years have offered some unusual spectacles: the great monetary crisis of 1992, which stripped many European governments of their reserves as they struggled to protect their currency from the speculative attacks of the world’s money markets; the impotence of established and emerging institutions of the European Union to prevent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, or handle its consequences; the extraordinary ‘mad cow’ scare, which started in the UK with a handful of cases of BSE, but spread across Europe, disrupting diplomatic relations and the integration process. A nation such as Belgium, previously seen as a model of consociational democracy, entered a prolonged and agonizing institutional crisis prompted by unprecedented allegations against the police and criminal justice system following the uncovering of a murderous ring of paedophiles. In the former GDR the momentum of German reunification stalled on the dislocation caused by currency union and large-scale privatization, while in Italy massive political renewal failed to halt the deepening divisions between North and South, or the relentless advance of ‘corruption politics’. In Britain, the ‘Arms to Iraq’ affair generated a public inquiry into the inner workings of the British state which contributed to the collapse of the conservative regime after eighteen years in power. These events might be excused on the grounds that they are exceptions within a wider picture of competent governance; yet even successful and stable nations such as Holland experienced a similar crisis of confidence in essential components of their administrative systems from apparently small beginnings.