ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
So France will soon have a right-of-center president. Germany - in the person of Angela Merkel - has had a right-of-center chancellor. And some would say that Tony Blair's left-of-center Labor Party is in some trouble in the United Kingdom. What's going on in Europe?
To address that question, we've invited Ivo Daalder, who is with the Brookings Institutions - currently in Italy.
Mr. IVO DAALDER (Senior Foreign Policy Fellow, Brookings Institution): Glad to be here.
SIEGEL: And Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who joins us from Brussels. Welcome back, Bob Kagan.
Mr. ROBERT KAGAN (Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Thank you.
SIEGEL: First, Robert Kagan, do you see any trend unifying any of the political developments in Europe nowadays? Is there some word that might describe what people are acting on?
Mr. KAGAN: Well, I think, it's - in France and Germany, I think, it would described as a common desire for what might be called economic restructuring, economic modernization. I think, the vote in France was, above all, about the French economy. And I think what you're seeing now is the return to what Europeans like to call the Franco-German motor within the E.U. You have two leaders in Germany and France who see economics and politics in roughly the same way. And I think, there's a lot of hope in Europe that this will allow Europe to get rolling again.
SIEGEL: And does that mean that the current leadership would regard some of the benefits of the traditional European welfare state as an encumbrance today to modernizing?
Mr. KAGAN: Well, both of them have the same ambitions and the same problems. Both leaders and what they represent in their countries would like to shed some aspects of that welfare system in the interest of greater economic success. They would like to change some labor laws. They'd like to make those laws more flexible. And I'm sure that now President Sarkozy will face, immediately, in France strenuous opposition to any such changes, but that is what they both had in mind.
SIEGEL: That's Robert Kagan. Hold on for a minute. Ivo Daalder, do you see a similar change in the commonality of change to what's happened in Germany and now in France, or elsewhere?
Mr. DAALDER: Well, there is a change, of course. Although in France, we're moving from a center-right candidate to a center-right candidate, but there was a desire, at least, to modernize economically. I agree with Bob on that point. It is well to remember, however, that when one talks about the right in Europe, you are talking about a very state interventionist political class that still believes that the government has a fundamental role in guiding how the economy is supposed to be run. And also a society that remains committed to the welfare state in ways that we, in the United States, would not recognize.
So if you have a shift and it's been really only a very small shift even in Germany, remember people have - before the election last year - were expecting the CDU, the - Angela Merkel's party of win outright. She didn't. In fact, she's now governing together with the left in a grand coalition.
So we will have to see in France whether the win that Sarkozy has, which in my view was more rejection of the alternative than necessarily support for him whether that will be translated into a massive strengthening of the right's parliamentary majority.
SIEGEL: One last issue that I'd like to hear from both of you on is relations with large - not necessarily immigrant but perhaps descendant of immigrant -minority groups in these countries. Is there a new dialogue in Europe that's being heard over the first couple of years in which relations between the majority society and - typically but not always - Muslim minority groups is now being discussed and is not on the table all the time? Ivo?
Mr. DAALDER: Yeah, it is. And frankly, it's not necessarily in a direction that we should encourage or should welcome. We now have elected leaders in France and in Germany that refuse the entry of Turkey in the E.U. on the basis of the Turks being non-Christian. That is the fundamental argument that will change the character of Europe, which is another way of saying they are Muslim and they're not Christian.
We have in the election of Sarkozy someone who is a strong believer in the traditional of French policy towards immigration, which is that new people coming in to the country need to become Frenchified. There is no tolerance in that sense for diversity within the society.
We have - in Angela Merkel - someone who, though less trident in her policies in immigration nevertheless has a stronger view on the need for people to be German as opposed to diverse. And of course, you have it in the rest of Europe as well. And you have it in Holland - you have that discussion in Italy. You have it in England. Even at the time that when - a country, a new - after a country facing an aging population will have to look to immigration in order to sustain their economy.
SIEGEL: And Robert Kagan, same question.
Mr. KAGAN: Well, I would add to that. I mean, Ivo, you've such a pessimistic view of Europe these days. I tend to be more of an optimist when it comes to Europe. I think that one thing that Sarkozy is offering in addition to what Ivo correctly describes as a kind of a desire for some Frenchified approach to this issue.
He's also talking about something that we in the United States would call affirmative action. And it will be interesting to see whether his efforts to reach out to the Muslim community in France by offering some kind of affirmative action program and allowing them, perhaps to succeed in the French society where they have not in the past. It would be interesting to see whether that's embraced it all.
SIEGEL: Yes, it's a reminder of how issues translate very differently into different cultures that, well, mainstreaming disabled children was a position opposed mightily by Segolene Royal from the left and proposed from the right in affirmative action. It's seems to be coming from the right here so.
Mr. KAGAN: It shows how difficult the terms left and right are as they cross the Atlantic.
SIEGEL: That's right. Well, Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment who's joining us from Brussels, and Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution who is in Florence. Thanks to both of you for talking with us.
Mr. KAGAN: Thank you.
Mr. DAALDER: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.