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Many in Britain, Leavers as well as Remainers, hoped that Brexit would become a catalyst for change in Brussels. Two years on, the signs are not encouraging. If anything, the unintended consequence of Brexit has been to radicalise the EU. In the Brussels mindset, now perhaps more than ever, “more Europe” is the absolute dogma — the solution to all problems. The politics of TINA (“There Is No Alternative”) seem more entrenched than ever: it is our way or le déluge. And, increasingly, it is not only alternatives to the current shape and direction of the European project that are supposedly unavailable, but also any kind of compromise. Look at the inflexibility displayed by the EU towards the modest budget proposals of Italy’s new government.

No one embodies the radicalisation of pro-EU opinion better than President Macron, who seems to think of  European politics in stark Manichean terms: as a clash between good (the “EU-enthusiastic anti-populists”) and evil (“Eurosceptic populists”). Similar thinking is behind proposals in Italy to create an anti-populist (read pro-EU) national front from the Left to the centre-Right. But wouldn’t the collapsing of all political differences between Left and Right reinforce the sense that the anti-populists have no better answer to the populist challenge than “TINA”?

In one important way, the UK may have already diverged from Europe. The two parties that have dominated British politics for nearly a century got close to 83 per cent of the votes in the 2017 general election, the highest share since the 1970s. In Germany, the combined share of the vote between CDU and the SPD was barely above 50 per cent in 2017 and, based on the recent polls, and on the Bavarian elections, it would be below that level now. In Italy, the two parties that dominated politics in the last 25 years — Berlusconi’s centre-Right Forza Italia and the Democratic Party — together did not even make it to one third, while in France, the political party system is all but in tatters.

In his inter-war reflections on the role of political parties in modern democracy, the Austrian jurist Hans Kelsen concluded that “only self-deception or hypocrisy can lead one to believe that democracy is possible without political parties”. It is one thing for the challengers — whether Trump or Corbyn — to emerge from within a political party. It is another for them to rise to the top on the basis of their own movement. Imagine how different a Trump presidency would be if he had won à la Macron, as the candidate of “Make America Great Again” and with his people dominating Congress. It was Macron who benefited from the crisis of political parties in France last time — but who will do so next?

There is a risk that politics in post-Brexit Europe may become a race to the bottom, with traditional political parties losing more and more ground to insurgent parties, often on the fringes of liberal politics, and volatile movements hoping to generate an impression of novelty. Perhaps even more worryingly, the political offer risks being reduced to a choice between the illiberalism of “strong man” politics and the superficially benign despotism of “TINA” technocrats.

The crisis of the main political parties in European countries is the symptom of a profound legitimacy crisis. Many of the causes are not unique to Europe: globalisation, the financial crisis, new technologies, and so on. But monetary union has added a complication in Europe that makes these problems almost intractable in a manner that is both liberal and democratic. Everyone is too terrified even to consider an orderly dismantling of the euro, but no one has been able to suggest how Europe’s crisis of legitimacy will be resolved under the constraints of monetary union. Some think it enough to keep hoping that one day Europeans will wake up ready to embrace a European superstate. It isn’t going to happen.
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Michael Layden
November 26th, 2018
9:11 AM
Lawrence James, your point about the cause of the 1812 and 1941 Alliances is correct, though 1914 was a different scenario. But you don't have to be a "Music-Hall Russo-phobe" to have reservations about aligning with the present gangster regime in the Kremlin. I have dearly loved relatives of both White and Red Russian origin, but I can see no possibility of any honourable accommodation between the UK and Putin's Russia.

Lawrence James
November 11th, 2018
10:11 AM
The roundabout statement that Britain 'reached out to Russia' to rescue Europe from French and German domination is incorrect. In 1812 and 1941 the Russo-British alliance was the consequence of invasions of Russia by the delinquent powers.French and German attempts to dominate the continent are and may still be the sources of all its misfortunes. An entente with Russia would be a good thing whatever the Music-Hall Russophobes may say.

November 8th, 2018
5:11 PM
The Euro is the biggest problem by far. The empire-builders have the instruction manual and are working their way through it. Imagine their surprise when they read that their own currency is an essential component. So they wished it into being, not caring that most of their statelets are enthusiastic devaluers. Fortunately that nice Sr. Draghi has been able to arrange for the ECB to accept the devaluers' worthless IOUs and as each day passes the situation deteriorates. The next page of the manual concerns the armed forces. Whatever next?

November 4th, 2018
12:11 PM
The Foreword to the Europa Diary 2010-2011: Dear students, As we begin the second decade of the 21st. century, you have been given the seventh edition of the Europa Diary. This educational tool has become much sought after and highly appreciated by three and a half million teenagers, just like you, all around Europe. We believe that education is an essential prerequisite for individual development and progress of society as a whole. Education is one of the key elements that will enable us to restore the social market economy of Europe by 2020. By then you will be preparing to take over the leadership of Europe as well as presenting your plans for a bigger and stronger European Union. Make sure you are ambitious, responsive and.responsible for your own future! José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission

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