As 2016 draws to a close, a sense of unease is gripping many commentators as they look ahead. This year brought victories for Brexit and Donald Trump. The outcome of both votes were largely unexpected. What will 2017 bring? The EU is facing three, or even four, elections in major member states. The Netherlands, France, Germany and possibly also Italy will go to the polls. The outcome in all four elections is far from certain at this stage. Indeed, voting behavior seems to have become difficult to predict.
Economic and sociological research points to a number of different factors provoking these recent results. The debate is broadly about whether it is economic issues such as income inequality, cultural issues such as a rejection of equal rights for women, minorities and gay people, or factors relating to citizens’ perceived loss of control over their destiny that has driven people to support populist candidates and causes.
At first sight, the economic factors seem to have played a strong role. The vote for Brexit predominantly came from the countryside, where GDP per capita levels are significantly lower than in the cities. Moreover, income inequality levels are much higher in the United States and the U.K. than in continental Europe. And indeed, one can show that the Brexit vote is significantly affected by regional income inequality though the effect may not be very large.
The second explanation is a rejection of progressive cultural norms. An interesting study by Ingelhart and Norris emphasizes very much this aspect. They offer evidence that the recent protest votes are a cultural backlash against progressive values. And indeed, discourse especially on social media has totally changed. Unfortunately, it seems to have become widely acceptable to talk of white supremacy and engage in racist discourse.
One of Germany‘s most influential political thinkers has delivered a stark warning that its post-second world war liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted and its dominant role in managing Europe‘s debt crisis could lead to disaster.
Jürgen Habermas, the Frankfurt professor whose political thinking has helped shape Germany over the past 50 years, called for the EU to be turned into a supranational democracy and the eurozone to become a fully fledged political union, while lambasting the “technocratic” handling of the crisis by Brussels and European leaders.
In his first big speech on the euro crisis, delivered at Leuven University, east of Brussels, Habermas called for a revival of Europe’s doomed constitutional ambitions, arguing that the disconnect between what needed to be done in economic policy and what was deemed to be politically feasible for voters was one of the biggest perils facing the continent. “Postponing democracy is rather a dangerous move,” he said.
September and October are the most dangerous months for the financial markets. This September will be no exception. Things are shaping up for a catastrophic sovereign debt collapse! Germany is about to blow a hole in the Eurozone bow! Got physical gold yet? (emphasis mine) – Euro bail-out in doubt as “hysteria” sweeps Germany By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ German Chancellor Angela Merkel no longer has enough coalition votes in the Bundestag to secure backing for Europe’s revamped rescue machinery, threatening a consitutional crisis in Germany and a fresh eruption of the euro debt saga. – Mrs Merkel has cancelled a high-profile trip to Russia on September 7, the crucial day when the package goes to the Bundestag and the country’s constitutional court rules on the legality of the EU’s bail-out machinery. – If the court rules that the €440bn rescue fund (EFSF) breaches Treaty law or undermines German fiscal sovereignty, it risks setting off an instant brushfire across monetary union. The seething discontent in Germany over Europe’s debt crisis has spread to all the key institutions of the state. “Hysteria is sweeping Germany “ said Klaus Regling, the EFSF’s director. – German media reported that the latest tally of votes in the Bundestag shows that 23 members from Mrs Merkel’s own coalition plan to vote against the package, including twelve of the 44 members of Bavaria’s Social Christians (CSU). This may force the Chancellor to rely on opposition votes, risking a government collapse.