Politics blog: Populism will hurt the UK, not the EU
Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, thus beginning an arduous two-year process to exit the European Union (EU). Pundits have suggested that the United Kingdom’s (UK) monumental invocation of Article 50 would stir up populist support within other European countries. By examining the political climate of EU member states with upcoming elections, and by highlighting the fractured nature of domestic politics in the UK, it is clear that Europeanism is not under threat from populism; rather, the UK is.
Many EU member states have either resisted the rise of populism, or are in the midst of fighting it. In the recent Dutch election, the far-right populist PVV party was expected to dominate the political landscape of the Netherlands, however, their party was decisively defeated by the incumbent governing party. Additionally, most of the gains for parties in the election went to centrist and green parties that favoured more European integration over less integration.
In France, the far-right Front National’s presidential nominee Marine Le Pen has been declining in popularity while centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron’s support increases. Macron attracted support from the major left and right parties on his pro-EU platform. Macron, a former minister in Francois Hollande’s government, has acquired high profile endorsements from actors on all sides of the political spectrum including former Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party is under threat of being defeated in the upcoming general election. Although the anti-Islam party Alternative for Germany is rising in popularity, the real threat is coming from the Social Democrats—their traditional left-wing adversary and junior coalition partner. The October election may signal the end of Merkel’s remarkable tenure, but it will likely not spell doom for Germany in the European Union. If the SPD wins the election, they will likely form a left-wing coalition with the Greens or continue a tradition of a big tent coalition with Merkel’s CDU.
Within the UK, the future of the relationship with EU will be divided along regional lines. Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose citizens voted heavily in favour of remaining in the EU, have already engaged in the political backlash against Westminster’s decision to leave the EU. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced her intentions to develop a second independence referendum for the people of Scotland. In early March, Northern Ireland held an election for their devolved assembly in which pro-UK parties lost their majority in the Assembly to nationalist parties favouring independence or reunification with the Republic of Ireland. These reactions represent the first steps towards resisting policy that is widely unpopular within the devolved parliaments of the UK.
The titans of Europe, notably France and Germany, will be able to survive the far-right populism that is currently plaguing much of Europe. The Netherlands has often served as a bellwether of European public opinion, and it is showing no signs of decline in its support for the EU. The UK is being torn at the seams by citizens who either adamantly support or oppose the Brexit decision. In the end, Brexit will not spell doom for the European Union, but it will for the United Kingdom.
– Photo is a screenshot