Europe’s Complacency Trap
Members of the EU establishment should not read too much into failures of “populist” governance. Until the bloc can devise institutional arrangements that allow for consistent, equitable growth, crises will keep coming – and so will anti-establishment challengers.
LONDON – COVID-19 has wounded almost every developed country, but the truth is that living standards in many of them had been stagnating or declining for years. Many metrics highlight this trend, but perhaps the most telling comes from the OECD, which reports a 4% decline in household median net wealth across its member countries since 2010.
No wonder advanced economies have experienced periodic explosions of anger in recent years – from Donald Trump’s election and the Brexit referendum in 2016 to the subsequent gilets jaunes (“yellow vests”) protests in France and an election in Italy that brought two anti-establishment parties to power. Despite these upheavals, predictions of democratic collapse have not been borne out. On the contrary, the establishment has re-established itself.
Whenever an angry public puts political adventurists in power, it is only a matter of time before they reveal that they have no real solutions to people’s problems. One therefore should not read too much into failures of “populist” governance. Historically, populists have tended to be more effective from the outside, where they can help to focus mainstream politicians’ minds on questions they would prefer to avoid.