Op-Ed #3: Populism and the Future of Europe

Populism and the Future of Europe

Banner Future is Europe

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not before”

-Rahm Emanuel

The Euro Crisis, Immigration Crisis; since it’s inception, the European project has faced crisis after crisis. Today the crisis facing the European Union (EU) is Populism. Despite the fear that the rise of populism has brought, now is the time for the EU to act.

While populism can be found across the globe from the United States, India, and much of Latin America; populism has been most prominent in Europe. Populist leaders like Viktor Orban, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders have captured the headlines and inspired the rise in populism across Europe.Populist parties in Poland, Italy and Belgium have seen electoral success. Populist groups fared well in this years European Parliamentary elections. Populism has undeniably taken hold across Europe.

But why has Populism gripped Europe tighter than other regions?

The reason for this is the EU itself. The EU as an institution is the perfect scapegoat for populists to rally against. Populist movements rely on pitting the‘corrupt elite’ against the ‘ordinary people’ . The EU fills the corrupt elite role as the role and purpose of the EU is not understood by the European public. As Time’s correspondent Vivienne Walt argues, populists and nationalists cast E.U. executives as disconnected elitists out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Related, populists claim the EU takes away national sovereignty. Populists leverage this by painting the EU as undemocratic. This rhetoric is often used, as shown by this tweet by Nigel Farage, one of the populist leaders behind Brexit.

The Future of Europe

All is not lost. In fact, now is the time for action by the EU! Ironically, populism may have provided the spark to spur deeper European integration. The problem of a ‘democratic deficit’ ‘has dogged the EU for decades, a claim often used in populist playbooks. However, with the spotlight of populism, European wide issues have been brought into the pubic sphere for debate.

This is the EU’s chance to pursue deeper integration, become more democratic, and finally defeat the populist surge. As demonstrated with the Eurozone Crisis, in times of crisis, the EU can increases its mandate. An example of this is the recently introduced European Citizens Initiative (ECI). The ECI allows European citizens to directly influence EU policy making. This mechanism has been seen as a great step towards solving the EU’s democratic deficit.

Only if Europeans know they are being heard will they feel like they belong to Europe, care about Europe, and engage with Europe.

– Manfred Weber, Leader of the European Peoples party (EPP)

Now is the opportunity to make this a reality.

Populists have engaged not only the public on EU level policies but brought the attention of national leaders to debate. French President Emanuel Macron has lead the debate with some calling him the leader of Europe. Macron has supported the creation of an EU army, European minimum salary, and has called for a European Renewal. The renewed spark of debate around the future of the EU and Europe in no small part has been thanks to the populist groups, who have increased the salience of EU integration.

 There is now a clear reaction by Europeans against the rise of populism. The populist movement within Europe seems to be stalling. Within the EU,  populist parties fell short of expectations in the last European Parliament elections. Further, the populist parties within the European Parliament are divided. Nationally, populists have lost out in key states such as Austria. Locally there are now challenges  to the populist strong holds.

While unlikely to be gone overnight, populism in Europe may have caused its own demise. The EU should take this opportunity and address populist claims head on. By doing so, the EU is poised to see a renewal in public interest and debate, something long awaited by many.

The Future is Europe

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