The state of democracy in Europe

Paraphrasing Hannah Arendt, we may say that we live in dark times, when the world becomes dubious. Roger Cohen agrees with this idea and argues that we are facing an “age of distrust”, in which many people feel like there is an alienation of control, and are becoming suspicious towards democracy. Despite being aware of the difficulties of the moment, Cohen is optimistic about the long run, for democracy can turn challenges into opportunities. Judy Dempsey writes that European leaders are becoming aware of this problem, and are attempting to rescue Europe from imploding by proposing a new narrative concerning migration, terrorism and globalization instead of peace, prosperity and values. This new narrative is supposed to stop the increasing populism that is characterizing European politics. In this respect, Richard Young explains why analysts should focus on Spain. From his point of view, the Spanish experience suggests that populist movements are inefficacious if they are unable to build a real political project, apt to include a wide constituency of views. However, Tommaso Segantini argues that the decline of the “extreme centre” is an undeniable fact, which should be explained with reference to the catastrophic political results and mistakes made by the political elites of the last decades. To change this, Martin Mycielski proposes to support civic movements and NGOs created and designed to defend European ideals and values. To fight populism and nationalism, EU institutions could establish a civil society development fund and get actively involved in public initiatives. But the situation is complicated, as The Economist describes: the Bratislava meeting focused on the migration crisis and the issue of security, but in its usual timid mood and it showed again the difficulty of finding a common ground on the toughest issues Europe is currently facing.

Angela Merkel’s troubled waters

As Joerg Forbrig writes, the outcome of state elections in Berlin has triggered debates over Merkel’s political future. Given the aggressively polarized political scene and public debate in Germany, it is not clear whether Merkel will retain her power in the next general election. As is well known, the main problem for Merkel is constituted by her decision concerning the migration crisis, and on this point there is great disagreement. According to Natalie Nougayrède, Europe needs Germany to succeed in integrating refugees and providing a strategy to manage public perceptions. Similarly, Nikos Konstandaras argues that Merkel’s stance against German populists who oppose the settlement of refugees is an attempt to keep the flame of principle alive: she needs to be heard as a voice of moral authority in Europe. The Editorial Board of The Telegraph, on the contrary, claims that Merkel’s decision to accept migrants was an enormous mistake because Europe is unprepared for the task, given its porous external borders, its non-existent internal frontiers, and its failure to implement a fair system for sharing the burdens imposed by migrants.

After Brexit

Christopher Howarth remarks that negotiating trade agreements after Brexit is a difficult, but not impossible task. Barry Eichengreen assesses the current sterling’s depreciation and concludes that, while this is positive, one should not expect too much from it. Indeed, in 1931 and in 1948, similar economic policies were more successful thanks to the setting up of additional trade deals, rising external demands and the internal production capacity, and declining political uncertainty. Peter Lilley argues that Brexit should act swiftly, in order to reduce uncertainty. First, paradoxically, all EU regulations should be converted into UK law. This would ease the process and provide businesses with certainty. Second, current EU citizens should be allowed to remain, and those arriving henceforth should face the same limits as other friendly countries. These changes would lay the ground for two realistic and acceptable options: either to continue free trade or to adopt standard WTO tariffs. David Babbs believes that it is essential to build a national consensus on Brexit negotiations, and the referendum result must be considered only the starting point of a genuine conversation with the public, rather than voters’ first and last chance to have a say. Despite the result that may come out of the negotiations, Brexit is still a great tragedy for Philippe Van Parijs. From his point of view, a big part of the EU populations opted out not only of the EU, but also of a major process of civilization, in which the very slowly replacing of bargaining with arguing, negotiation with deliberation, and an interest-driven diplomatic logic with a fairness-driven democratic one was taking place. Another grave consequence, for Jan Zahradil, is that Brexit will reduce the weight of liberal voices in the EU.


This Ideas Monitor is by Giulia Bistagnino and Carlo Burelli


Photo Credits CC: Bill Dickinson 



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