The European Union has been in crisis management mode for years. And now there’s a new trend in town: populism.
Think: Hunger Games minus JLaw. Populist movements tend to be anti-establishment, frustrated, and tired with the same-old way of doing things. They can be left or right leaning. Usually, it’s working class voters coming together to take their government back from the ‘out-of-touch elites’ in charge. If you think you’ve heard a politician use this line on you before, you have.
The EU’s populist wave has been building for years. It started when the global financial crisis hit in ‘08 and everyone woke up to a Greek tragedy. After years of living like it was a big fat Greek wedding, Greece found itself in debt. Bad. Cue bailouts, and Greece signing on to austerity measures (hint: public sector layoffs, pension cuts, tax hikes) to get its balance sheet in check.
Sh*t got real. Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland, and Spain also needed bailouts. Unemployment rates rose and pension funds took serious hits. After a few years, most countries pulled back from the brink of crisis. But the EU’s economy has never fully recovered.
Yup. ICYMI, many countries in the Mideast and Africa haven’t been ideal places to live lately. Think: weak economies, ISIS, a brutal civil war in Syria. That’s led millions of migrants and refugees to leave home for the EU. It’s the worst immigration crisis the continent’s faced since WWII. And the EU is deeply split on what to do. Some countries (like Hungary) have tried to install fences to keep them out, but others (like Germany) have rolled out the welcome mat.
Take a lot of anxiety over the migrant and refugee crisis, stir for lingering economic issues, and you have populist stew. Here’s what went down in 2016...
The UK...as in one of the largest economies in the EU voted to Brexit. That’s thanks in big part to the rise of a populist party known as UKIP, whose anti-EU, anti-immigration message hit a nerve with a lot of Brits.
The US...as in not an EU country. But ICYMI, the US is a major global superpower – and the EU’s strongest ally and trading buddy. So when Donald Trump got elected on an anti-establishment, tough-on-immigration message, a lot of populist parties in the EU suddenly looked more legit to voters.
Italy...as in the one that said ‘arrivederci’ to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in a surprise vote earlier this month. And it looks like the Five Star Movement could be ready to take over. They are anti-immigration, and have called for a Brexit-style vote on whether to stay in the EU.
2017 could be rocky for EU unity. A lot of member countries have elections coming up. Think: Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands. And it’s looking like populist parties with an anti-EU streak are the popular kids. Don’t be surprised if Britain isn’t the only one talking breaking up before the year’s over.
Every time the EU fam gets together these days, it gets more and more awkward. At this week’s summit, EU leaders may not tackle populism head-on, but it’ll be on everyone’s minds.
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