Belgium – Brussels – Europe is in a fragile state, unable to understand let alone harness the forces of change. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the technological disruption triggered by the internet revolution have catalyzed globalisation. And that is only the beginning. Climate change combines with a demographic explosion, conflict, and poverty to add to migration flows from the Middle East and Africa, which have only just begun.
The Arab Spring that promised to end authoritarianism in the Middle East has led to the dissolution and weakening of states in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, allowing Islamic State to raise and threaten Europe. Angela Merkel’s (Mutti’s) promise to take in 1 million migrants has weakened her politically both at home and in the European Union, where unemployment is high, especially for young people. The peoples and leaders of Europe appear overwhelmed, especially when one adds unemployment into this mixture of compounding challenges. These factors undermine the project of European Integration, from the periphery to the core, as governments are seen unable to stand up to the challenges, resolutely and efficiently. After an “almost Grexit,” we are now faced with Brexit, and we face the threat of Italexit and perhaps Frexit.
The common denominator in BREXIT, Donald Trump’s victory in the United States and the unlikely victory of François Fillon in the centre-right primaries in France is their social base of support. Brexit voters were to be found in the former industrial heartland of the North of England, as well as the former mining towns. The cleavage is both economic and cultural.
The blue-collar turns against the white-collar and the college-educated against the masses of the less educated. Those who feel entrapped in their locality turn against the passport-holding cosmopolitans. In some respects, the middle-aged and elderly vote in the hope of making a change, while the young of all political persuasions abstain unless they are the socially empowered elites of Oxford and Cambridge. The former and rapidly declining national centres of industrial development, like Glasgow, East Yorkshire, and Northern Lincolnshire, seem ages and cultures apart from the service-based, global, and EU integrated metropolis of London.
Similarly, Donald Trump transformed the Republican Party into a vehicle for the fight against globalisation. He led a movement promoting an anti-liberal answer to several divisive issues, which, in turn, brought to the fore the broad division of the country along the lines of income, religion, ethnicity, and gender. Again, there are direct comparisons with Brexit experience that underscore the social foundation of the Trump movement. Trump represented the America left behind by globalisation. Like in the Brexit vote, education is a good indicator of voting preference, with Trump emerging as the champion of the non-College educated whites, who are older and feel can’t catch up with the rapidly changing and globalising economy. Uniquely, Trump also accentuated a gender gap in voting, representing men more than women.
The significance of the Trump presidency in Europe, especially after Brexit, can bolster the momentum of the populist far right, although Austria recently avoided crossing the Rubicon, opting for the pro-European Alexander Van der Bellen. However, Matteo Renzi resigned after a failed constitutional referendum in Italy and the future of the third largest economy in the Eurozone is uncertain. 50% of Italy’s youth is faced with the inability of socialist governments to generate jobs.
France voted to extend the state of emergency for six more months, to cover the national holiday (July 14) and the forthcoming Presidential elections. Over the last year, Paris is no longer the second most visited city in the world as visitor numbers have tumbled by 50% since the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015. The incumbent President, François Hollande, has reached an abysmal 4% in the polls; Manuel Valls will contest for the nomination of the Socialist Party, but his appeal is in the single digits.
Leading the polls at this point is the winner of the centre-right primaries, François Fillon. Fillion emerged as the underdog of the centre-right primaries to convincingly beat the Mayor of Bordeaux and former Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, as well as former President Nicolas Sarkozy. He is running on a platform of radical reforms and job creation that will take precedence over public spending. His primary opponent is Marine Le Pen of the Front National, leaving the rest of the race to the left-leaning Emmanuel Macron. The most likely scenario currently is that the far-right candidate will be defeated by François Fillon, while the Socialists will suffer a detrimental defeat. However, it is astounding that Le Pen is expected to secure as much as a 44% share of the vote. And that is hardly surprising given that the political agenda over the last 18 months has been dominated by successive terrorist attacks and the lack of security. Public opinion is extremely concerned about Jihadism, terrorism, migration and unemployment, a mixture that imbues the electoral campaign with some of the socio-cultural traits of the US Presidential elections. In sum, it is fair to say that France goes to the polls with concerns similar to those of the British and American electorates.
Is our faith in democracy waning? Yascha Monk thinks so, as he pointed out in a study reviewed by the New York Times, democracy is in danger. And I agree. As I wrote in a book published in 2014 – Ukraine: prémices de guerrefroideen Europe? – living in a democracy appears to be less significant than security of all kinds:
“Ainsi l’ordre mondial va changer sur le plan géopolitique, économique et la balance of power, même le centre du pouvoir va être transférer des économies matures vers des économies émergentes ou émergées. La plus grosse erreur de l’Ouest et de la communauté internationale serait de pousser la Russie à se tourner vers des États totalitaires, qui ensemble, créeront un bloc d’États solidaires et homogènes sur le plan de la gouvernance, où les règles du jeux changeront pour favoriser le droit du plus fort et non le respect de l’état de droit, ce qui changera considérablement les acteurs dominants, ceux qui siègent aussi bien au Conseil de Sécurité que dans les instances internationales, mais aussi sur les marchés financières et économiques. Une nouvelle guerre froide entre les grandes puissances sera une guerre nucléaire sans retour, une guerre d’énergie et de l’eau. Celui qui dominera, qui occupera l’espace du Rimland sera celui qui aurait des ressources militaires, financières, énergétiques et humaines ainsi que les infrastructures performantes et efficientes.”