Populist Challenge to Future of Europe

Erhard Stackl, The New York Times – International Weekly, 06.06.2014

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Stunned by the success of populist protest parties in the recent parliamentary elections, European Union leaders are scrambling to regain voters’ confidence by promising to bring the E.U. closer to the people again. Failing to assuage voters’ anger could mean the erosion, if not the destruction, of the union in a matter of years. [...]

“The solution to the problems the French are facing has to be found inside France,” said Janis Emmanouilidis, an analyst at the European Policy Center in Brussels. “I do not see how Mr. Hollande suddenly can become a strong president. Berlin is very worried about the weakness of France.”

In recent years, an economically ailing France has jeopardized the joint German-French leadership that is crucial to the union. “This imbalance has already created problems,” Mr. Emmanouilidis said. In the past, Germany and France worked out compromises on key issues like the creation of a single market or a more efficient agricultural policy, enabling wider agreement within the union. [...]

President Hollande and other leaders, including Italy’s Matteo Renzi, now want to end austerity and invest about $200 billion to stimulate growth and create jobs. Chancellor Merkel is sharply opposed to any new spending programs.

Experts like Mr. Emmanouilidis believe the union will stick to its policy of reducing deficits. Of the 751 seats in the European Parliament, more than 400 will be taken by candidates of the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Social Democrats. There are rumors of a more formal “grand coalition” of the two main political blocs in order to fight off attacks from the far right.

“I think we are going to see more of these coalitions between all those who consider themselves as mainstream European parties,” Mr. Emmanouilidis said, including Liberals and Greens. [...]

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