Europe’s leftist policies, and the increasingly unpopular politicians who put them into place, are under siege as voters make their displeasure known across the continent in a grassroots revolt. While ignored by American media, Europe’s cities have recently been filled with average citizens shouting “enough is enough!”
As in the period before WW1 and WW2, politicians have made major miscalculations. Christopher Munro Clark, the author of “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,” notes, “Since the end of the Cold War, a system of global bipolar stability has made way for a more complex and unpredictable array of forces, including declining empires and rising powers — a state of affairs that invites comparison with the Europe of 1914.”
His book is a riveting study examining the causes of World War I and the political failures which contributed to the calamity. German leader Angela Merkel makes the book required reading for her ministers.
Comparisons to 1914 draw derision from Europe’s current brand of liberal leaders, though, who accuse their opponents of being alarmist.
Her choice of book is instructive — it speaks to the fear now haunting liberals that the rise of Europe’s populist voter, much like the surprise victory of Donald Trump, fed by an apparently insoluble migration crisis and economic inequality, is marking a possible end-of-era moment.
But led by France’s Emmanuel Macron, the continent’s pro-EU liberals are trying to restore stability after their unpopular policies created political uncertainty and spawned rising grass roots opposition.
Opposed to them is a bloc of nativist leaders, with Italy’s Matteo Salving at the front, which is busy fashioning battle plans for next year’s European Union parliamentary elections. They have even turned for advice to former Donald Trump aides.
The opposing camps are intent on framing the coming electoral contest as a defining moment for a multinational bloc weakened by a toxic migration crisis of their own making, economic weakness as the Trump administration attempts to protect American industry from unfair European subsidies, and a Russia that is looking at the division with opportunistic hope.
Identity is at the center of the coming electoral fight, and the first serious skirmish will come in the Austrian city of Salzburg where EU leaders are scheduled to meet beginning September 19 for a two-day summit to discuss, once again, Brexit and how to handle immigrants as a bloc. The leaders will disagree on the two main issues on the formal agenda, reflecting starkly opposed visions of Europe.
At Salzburg, Macron will market his ideas for liberal reform and revival, arguing for greater political and economic integration of countries that are now seeking more independence. The conservative nationalists want a brake on further integration as part of their vision of the bloc reversing course to become a looser grouping of nation states, all of whom would be freer from the radical left-wing edicts of the EU and less hedged in by EU treaties.
The key champions in the struggle for mastery between liberalism and conservatism sparred last week in a war of words, giving a flavor of the electoral contest to come. Italian Prime Minister Salving and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched an anti-migration manifesto, naming Macron as their main adversary.
Their goal is to give each nation control over their own borders and more sovereignty in day-to-day decision making. Something that has often been taken over by EU bureaucrats.
The conservative populists are doing a better job than their opponents of presenting a united front as they ally with like-minded movements for the 2019 European election. This week, the leader of France’s right-leaning National Rally, Marine Le Pen, will unveil a campaign poster featuring her standing next to Matteo Salving. Her aides talk about riding a “Salvini wave” into the EU-wide polls next year and say he will be enlisted to appear in campaign events.
Like other populists, France’s are optimistic about the European election. They note Marie Le Pen’s supporters surged to a first-place finish in France in the 2014 EU election, before the migration crisis struck.
And one fact none of the liberal leaders can ignore: while they regularly attack the American president in an attempt to gain political points from their dwindling liberal base, their historically low poll numbers cannot be ignored. Trump’s approval rating remains twice as high as that of his liberal European counterparts and currently one of the highest among any leader in the western world.