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Europe on the Edge

Europe stands at a precarious moment. Anti-establishment political parties are on the rise, while Brexit and Trump add to the uncertainty. What explains the populist surge? And how will Europe deal with continuing large-scale immigration and its economic woes?

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?



Jonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, author and broadcaster

Guardian columnist and former foreign correspondent. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View, as well as two podcasts, Politics Weekly America for the Guardian and Unholy, alongside the Israeli journalist Yonit Levi. He is a past winner of an Orwell Prize for journalism. He is the author of twelve books, the latest being The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World.

Paul Collier

Professor of Economics at Oxford

Professor of Economics at Oxford and development expert whose 2008 book, The Bottom Billion, has become a classic. In his latest publications, Exodus and Refuge, he examines the effects of mass migration on both the host societies and the migrants’ countries of origin, and suggests practical and moral solutions for the migration challenge which Europe is facing today.

Douglas Murray

Columnist for the Spectator and Standpoint

Regular columnist for both the Spectator and Standpoint, who writes frequently for other publications, including the Sunday Times and the Wall Street Journal. His latest book is The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, which is part travelogue, part analysis of what Murray sees as Europe’s cultural death-wish.

Christine Ockrent

Belgian-born journalist

Belgian-born journalist who was editor-in-chief of the French weekly news magazine L’Express. For ten years she presented France Europe Express, a television show focusing on European issues.

Elif Shafak

Award-winning novelist

Award-winning novelist and the most widely read female writer in Turkey. Shafak is a TED Global speaker, a political scientist, and was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. She campaigns for freedom of speech, women’s rights, LGBT rights and literacy. Her work has been translated into 50 languages and she contributes to the Financial Times, the Guardian, the New York Times and other publications across the world. Shafak taught at various universities in Turkey, the US and the UK.

Luigi Zingales

Professor of Finance at University of Chicago

Italian-born Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Chicago, London, Hong Kong) and a regular commentator on populism, immigration and the state of the Eurozone economy. He is the author of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists and recently launched an academic debate in Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian equivalent of the Financial Times, about Italy and the Euro.