As politics fragments, Europe falls in line with trade

By | July 12, 2022

The writer is founder and chief executive of the Counterpoint research and advisory team

Voters across Europe seem increasingly unwilling to show allegiance to political parties. French president Emmanuel Macron is the latest politician to feel the extreme end of this hyper-volatility.

After an electoral cycle that was able to combine high drama and almost total misery, which culminated in the legislative elections in June, Marine Le Pen’s far -right National Rassemblement now has 89 seats in France’s National Assembly.

Next to them is a rickety leftwing coalition that spans everything from vociferously uncooperative Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s vociferously uncooperative far left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) to a handful of unhappy social democrats, through some Greens and Communists. The mainstream right Les Républicains has weakened, while the centrist parties aligned with the president have 250 seats, somewhat short of an absolute majority.

All of this points to a second fact: voters are not only changing their minds more often, they are happily spreading across the political spectrum. Or voting with their feet.

This phenomenon is seen throughout Europe, except Poland, where polarization predominates (unlike in the US), and Hungary, where polarization has given way to authoritarianism.

In Italy, for example, the brief domination (and likely alliance) of the far-right League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement seems to allow for re-disunity, making it harder for prime minister Mario Draghi to shepherd. the cats of his government of national unity. We see a similar pattern in Denmark, where three new parties are running for election in 2019.

Even Germany’s traditionally quiet coalition politics has allowed for what was an uneasy tripartite partnership between Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, the Greens and the economic liberals and conservative financial Free Democrats.

Politics in the late 20th century saw a range of dynamics driven by unified growth agreement, with increasingly unidentified parties converging on the center. Globalization has filled politics with a kind of centripetal quality as the parties have signed up to a seemingly irresistible consensus.

But, for several years now, voters have expressed their suspicion of this consensus. Today, many parties dot the European political landscape again, from the left to the far right.

Reflecting on declining public enthusiasm for globalization in many European countries, trade attitudes have been altered by both domestic developments and foreign policy concerns-in particular, relations with China (and the subsequent pressure from the US) and the war in Ukraine.

At EU level, the change is noticeable. The EU’s RePowerEU plan-which offers access to subsidies and increased public funding for gas, renewables and related infrastructure-is an example of a bloc step towards a Europe-wide embrace of the tools of soberanya. The European Commission says that “by acting as a Union, Europe can more quickly eliminate its dependence on Russia’s fossil fuels”.

The commission’s terms “important projects of common interest in Europe” – “large -scale cross -border projects with significant benefits to the EU economy” – are another example of this. They shaped the EU’s competitive strategy and its industry with state assistance, and long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finally, various environmental, social and governance measures, aimed at China and Russia, are ways of securing supply chains while engaging in so-called euphemistically as “friend-shoring”. Import bans on goods involving forced labor and penalties for human rights violations are the last weapon in the EU’s arsenal.

These cumulative measures represent a profound and lasting change in the bloc’s trading practices, regardless of what happens to war-related sanctions in Ukraine. The commission’s decision in 2019 against the Alstom-Siemens merger in the name of “serious competition concerns” is unthinkable today.

As a thousand flowers bloom on the party -political spectrum, the European trade landscape increasingly looks like a dense and disciplined French topiary – and few voices in the EU are being raised against the new conventional wisdom.

Given the shattering return of bread-and-butter (or rather, light-and-heat) issues in European politics, we may be approaching the high point of fragmentation-followed by further polarization.


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