The “revolt against elites”

November 18, 2016, 10:37 am

Citizens across western democracies feel under pressure as a result of the multiple crises that the 2008 financial crisis unleashed. The so-called ‘revolt against the elites’ challenges the political consensus that has led the European project in the last decades. We review the implications for Europe of the American Election in the context of the new political dynamics gaining ground across Europe.

The result of the American election shares some characteristics with the forces that fuelled the UK vote on the referendum for leaving the EU. Equally, the emergence of new parties and movements on the right and the left of the political spectrum can be seen as part of the same political process. However, it would be misleading to group them under one single political expression. On the one hand, a nationalist conservatism movement is emerging on both sides of the Atlantic. In the American case Trump’s Chief Strategist, explained their victory in the following terms: ‘This is not the French Revolution. What Trump represents is a restoration of true American capitalism’. On the other, left wing movements are built upon the founding principles of social democracy, progressive in nature and open to multiculturalism and internationalism. Yet, despite their differences, it is undeniable that they represent a challenge to the socio-economic paradigm that has shaped European politics and structures for the past thirty years.

The election of Donald Trump is the last wake-up call for Europe. Readjusting the European position to the new American reality won’t be easy. To start with, the future policies of the new American administration are, to a certain extent, unpredictable. If coherence with the republican campaign is to be expected, international trade is one area that will undoubtedly suffer. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has been put on hold (see TTIP update below) and the odds for a future agreement are dim. Equally, US foreign policy could retrench. Trump has claimed that American partners have been ‘free-riding’ on the USA’s international action. A possible implication could be a more isolationist approach in NATO. Consequently, traditional partnerships would need to be reconsidered. In turn, this could lead to a more integrated approach to defence from European members. Lastly, a softer stance toward Russia from the USA could force a reappraisal of the current European position in Easter Europe. On the economic front, Trump has expressed the will to ease the banking regulation that followed the financial crisis. If this is the case, the European banking sector is likely to redouble their pressures on European regulators to maintain the competitiveness of the European financial industry.

Importantly, the strong anti-immigration rhetoric that has characterised the Trump campaign grants additional legitimacy to such discourses at a European level. This narrative is built upon the defence of a traditional national identity, strengthening the position of Marine Le Pen in the forthcoming French elections. The victory of an Eurosceptic party in one of the core EU members are immeasurable. Beyond electoral results, the already weak appetite for further European integration will probably fade in this context. Accordingly, a further reaffirmation of Member States front European Institutions is the most probable route in the years to come. An alternative scenario could unfold if the weakening of the American partnership forces coordinated action at a EU level in order to protect its interests. For this to happen, European Member States will need to come together and find a new, collective purpose for Europe.

A re-foundation of Europe must be based on a sound analysis of citizen’s grievances and fresh thinking. CAE’s analysis of the result of the American election sees two critical domains (read our statement here). First, the political response to the economic crisis has produced a growing inequality and eroded the hopes for progress for vast sections of the population. Second, we cannot ignore the relevance of cultural factors driving the result of the elections. The fear of the stranger and the loss of status of particular socio-economic groups (including gender, ethnicity and local identities) needs to be addressed with policy solutions that do not enter into conflict with the UE fundamental values.

CAE’s Beyond the Obvious conference “Europe, quo vadis?” on the 26th-28th of January in Budapest will provide a space to jointly interrogate these challenges and the cultural sector’s response in these critical times.

Image for: The “revolt against elites”