* Executives in Davos fear Europe may lurch to right
* Upcoming European elections create risk, uncertainty
* Toshiba boss not worried about deflation
By Paul Taylor and Paul Carrel
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 22 The risk of a lurch
to the right in May's European parliamentary election is vexing
top global chief executives, who worry that the vote will make
the bloc harder to govern just as they want it to reform.
High unemployment, austerity fatigue and still anaemic
growth offer the perfect backdrop for fringe parties to prosper
at the election.
Some pundits predict a group of anti-euro parties including
the National Front in France, Britain's UKIP and the Dutch
Freedom Party, along with Greece's anti-austerity party Syriza,
could capture 20 percent or more of the seats.
That could pressure the European Union's main party groups
to tack right and challenge Europe's ability to integrate
further, given new powers the parliament will have to rule on
the majority of EU legislation.
For CEOs at the annual gathering of the global elite in
Davos, the May election looms as a big risk for Europe's
economic outlook even if a euro zone break-up has been averted.
Axel Weber, UBS chairman and former Bundesbank
president, cited potential gains by Eurosceptics in the
elections as a risk, which he said could complicate the
political process in the EU.
"Just think of how the Tea Party has made governance
difficult in the U.S.," he told a session at the forum on
Wednesday entitled "Is Europe back?"
Recent polls show France's anti-immigrant National Front has
gained support since the 2012 presidential election in which
party leader Marine Le Pen came third with 17.90 percent of the
vote, the best first-round score in its history.
Pierre Nanterme, a Frenchman who is chairman and CEO of
global business consultancy Accenture, was concerned
about high unemployment fuelling a "rise of the extremes".
"I'm extremely concerned at the result of the European
election. We need to be extremely careful because if we are not
creating a more inclusive environment, people are going to ask
what is the purpose of Europe."
Euro zone unemployment remained stuck at a record high in
November, the latest month for which official data is available,
with 12.1 percent of the bloc's labour force out of work for the
eighth month in a row.
In Greece, the jobless rate is running at 28 percent. In
Spain it is at 26 percent.
However, Finland's Europe minister, who is running for the
European parliament himself, said a surge in support for
anti-Europe populist parties in the election had been
exaggerated and would not prevent a "moderate majority" from
moving forward with EU integration.
Alexander Stubb, minister for European affairs and foreign
trade, said he expected Eurosceptical far-right and hard left
groups would win from 10 to 20 percent of seats in the EU
assembly, compared with 12 percent in the outgoing parliament.
"It will be less than many commentators would expect, but
more than they had in the last parliament," he told Reuters in
an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Stubb said there would still be a solid pro-European centre
that would unite on pivotal issues, while he doubted that all
Eurosceptical parties would find much in common with France's
National Front or the anti-Islam Dutch Freedom Party of Geert
Atsutoshi Nishida, chairman of Toshiba Corp, said
the European economy was recovering, though it "may take time to
recover fully". He believed euro zone policymakers had learned
from Japan's experience and would avoid deflation.
"I am not concerned about that," he told Reuters. "European
countries have been learning a lot from Japan. They have the
know-how to escape from the trap of deflation."
For Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of French oil
major Total, Europe needs to change the way it
perceives of itself regardless of the outcome of the election.
"Don't take it as being provocative, but I think Europe
should be reconsidered as an emerging country," de Margerie
said, and must "go back to competitiveness."
"Today we are just trying to fight against those who are
making sometimes the same product at a cheaper cost. We cannot
compete like this. We have to upgrade the skills of our
engineers, workers, at all levels and force them to bring new
products to the market.
"And also, let's stop making the difference between south
Europe and northern Europe because in that case Europe is dead,"
de Margerie added.