Candidates for top EU job warn of rising populism

Candidates for top EU job warn of rising populism

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission – Margrethe Vestager, Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans – participate in a televised debate. May 15, 2019. Courtesy: European Parliament
Candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission – Margrethe Vestager, Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans – participate in a televised debate. May 15, 2019. Courtesy: European Parliament

Diagnosing rising populism in Europe is easy. Figuring out how to stop it isn't.

UNITED NATIONS – Candidates vying to be the European Union’s next chief executive expressed concern over rising populism in a televised debate on Wednesday, just a week before E.U. voters head to the polls amid a wave of euroscepticism that threatens continental unity.–

Patrick Chamoral is a research scholar at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

“Because of the new populist politics in Europe, I think it’s a very important elections that will show probably more divisions within Europe.”

Populists won’t win a majority of seats in the European Parliament, but they’ll likely drain support from Europe’s two main political blocs: the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

Dutch politician Frans Timmermans leads the socialist coalition:

“People who used to vote for my party and many parties here are now voting for nationalist parties, sometimes even extremist parties. That’s our fault. Apparently we did not convince them to stay with us.”

Germany’s Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party, shared that concern, but his top solution – ditching the requirement that E.U. states unanimously agree on major policy decisions – remains a political pipe dream.

Instead, it was Margrethe Vestager of the smaller Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, who offered the clearest playbook for beating populists, recommending a minimum corporate tax rates and a crackdown on tax havens to make European citizens feel less ripped off consequently less receptive to the scapegoating of various groups. With its business in order at home, she said the E.U. could then regain some swagger abroad.

“There’s room for a much more confident Europe – this is the biggest economic bloc in the world. We’re the biggest trading partner, we’re the preferred trading partner for 80 countries – so a much more confident Europe, maybe also slightly more hard-nosed.”

Chamoral says that while Wednesday’s debate didn’t make for great TV, the future of European populists and anti-populist crusaders could offer lessons across the Atlantic.

“Americans should be attentive to the changing politics of Europe just because in the U.S. we have a president who is the result of a changing politics here.”

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