Crossroads: Nationalist Backlash Spans The Atlantic
November 4, 2016
As the U.S. election campaign enters the home stretch, our lead story provides a quick take on the next president’s busy Europe agenda. It’s a laundry list of issues, none of which can be defined as business of usual. The transatlantic relationship is being stressed by the backlash against globalization, including a challenge to the principle of free trade that has been at the core of U.S.-European relations for decades.
Brexit is another unprecedented event that will test the historic accomplishment of European integration, and could force uncomfortable choices in Washington. The other geopolitical headache is a belligerent Russia, quashing any efforts for more constructive relationship with the West. Last but not the least is the EU’s antitrust push, which has drawn ire from the U.S. companies and Washington alike.
U.S. Presidential Election
Brussels will cast a fearful eye on the U.S. presidential election next week, which may briefly overshadow Europe’s own list of home grown issues. But the same anti-establishment and nationalistic backlash that is propelling Donald Trump’s campaign in the U.S. has also gained ground in Europe.
This manifests specifically in what many Europeans see as Brussels’ overreach into national affairs. Brexit was the most dramatic response, but other countries are also pushing back:
Poland’s decision to defy the EU’s request to rollback reforms that stifle the constitutional court’s independence fits this trend;
Italy also openly challenged Brussels’ request to fix its planned budget deficit overshoot.
And finally, Europe’s trade policy has been taken hostage by local politics (the Canadian trade deal by Belgian Wallonia) and referendums exploited by fringe groups (the Ukraine trade deal that was rejected by Dutch voters).
The Brussels Reaction
Responding to this nationalistic revolt will be tough for Brussels, which may not have a consistent approach to all. On the one hand, the EU is reluctant to punish fiscal offenders such as Italy and Spain, which are navigating turbulent political transitions while trying to safeguard long-awaited economic recoveries. On the other hand, giving in to national demands encourages political hostage-taking. To address CETA concerns, Brussels agreed to introduce a final step of national parliamentary ratification (rather than just the European Parliament alone) only to find itself bogged down by intricacies of Belgium’s federal system and Walloons’ regional grievances.