What’s happening to Europe? The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was seen as a triumph for liberal democracy. True, the ‘end of history’ narrative didn’t play out across the world as many predicted. But in Europe political liberalism seemed unshakable, supported as it was by international business and transnational organisations such as the EU and NATO.
But now Europe stands at a precarious moment. Anti-establishment and anti-EU political parties are on the rise. Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump add to the uncertainty. And while Marine Le Pen didn’t sweep to victory in the recent French presidential election, the new president Emmanuel Macron faces an uphill battle to fix the French economy and reform the EU’s institutions. If he fails, Le Pen could be well set to win the presidency in 2022.
How can we account for this surge of support for far-right and populist parties in Europe? Conventional wisdom has it that it is only in times of economic hardship and high unemployment that these groups begin to gain ground. That may be true of France, which took a serious knocking in the 2008 crash and has a high rate of joblessness. But the Dutch sit comfortably high in all the OECD rankings for income levels, employment and life satisfaction. And look at Poland, a country initially seen by the west as a post-communist success story. Although it has been largely unaffected by the Eurozone crisis and has no immigration as such, a xenophobic, authoritarian government is now in charge.
In this major Intelligence Squared event, we brought together a star panel to explore the reasons behind the rise of populism in Europe and to discuss where the continent is heading next. Is far-right politics the new normal? How will the continent deal with the effects of continuing large-scale immigration and its entrenched economic woes?