Europe’s Darkest Hour: The Danger Comes From the UK and Italy

Two political developments threaten Europe: A no-deal Brexit that would certainly hurt the British economy but would also be painful on the continent, and an out-of-control deficit in Italy. Taken separately, Europe could handle the issues. But the problem is that they come together.

The power of Eurosceptic politicians is definitely on the increase across Europe. It has always been so in the Visegrad group of countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) where populists are firmly in government, running increasingly “illiberal democracies”. Hungary’s battle against philanthropist George Soros is a good illustration of what is wrong in those countries.

Yet the threat to Europe seems relatively minor. After all, those countries were always on the periphery of Europe. They were latecomers to the European Union and, because of the Soviet legacy, it surprises no one that the bulk of their population is apparently not attached to democratic values.

What is new is that traditionally liberal West European democracies are now also following in the populist footsteps of Visegrad countries. It first happened in the UK with the June 2016 decision to leave the EU.

The Brexit referendum was astonishingly mismanaged from the start with no requirement to ensure that a real majority had voted Brexit (they hadn’t) and no control over fake news (notably over supposed migrant invasions or Boris Johnson’s famously false promise of regaining £350 million pounds from Brussels).

Yet Conservatives ignored the democratic failures of that referendum and were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Brexit, claiming that it was the sacrosanct “will of the people” and had to be honoured at all costs.

Since June 2018, the UK is no longer alone on that path. Italy joined it when two populist politicians, Di Maio, the Five Star Movement leader and Salvini, the Lega leader came together to form a government. The alliance looked fragile from the start, the two are unlikely bedfellows.

The Five Star Movement is a leftist populism colored by some socialist fantasies (like the Reddito di Cittadinanza, citizens’ income). The Lega is extreme right, with neo-Nazi tendencies –  but the government is holding up surprisingly well, even though the balance of power has totally shifted, putting Salvini firmly in the driver seat. Not only did Salvini win a hefty 34% at the European parliament elections in May, but the latest polls in June show he’s ahead by another two points, around 36% against Di Maio’s paltry 16%, a further one percent drop.

Let’s take a closer look at what is happening in the UK and Italy, the two major battlegrounds where the future of Europe is now being played.

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Read the rest on Impakter magazine, click here.

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