IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

Topic: European politics

A weak UK government might do a better Brexit deal than a strong one

📥  Brexit, Economics, European politics

Professor Timo Kivimäki is Professor of International Relations and Director of Research in the University of Bath's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies.

When Theresa May called her disastrous snap election, she justified it by saying she needed a longer and stronger mandate to negotiate a Brexit deal. Her campaign was based on the claim that she embodies strength and stability, and is therefore a better negotiator than her Labour rival, Jeremy Corbyn.


May’s much-derided “strong and stable” slogan boiled down to the idea that it was self-evident that Britain needs a strong domestic position to negotiate to its advantage, and to strongarm the EU into giving it concessions. Labour tried to convince the electorate that it could also offer a strong position if the voters backed it, but never challenged the assumption that a unified, internally strong Britain would be a better bargainer.

Yet strangely enough, when it comes to the way negotiation dynamics work, this “common sense” flies in the face of both theory and empirical research – both of which would have it that the UK’s messy political situation in fact puts it in a better position from which to get what it wants. When it comes to extracting concessions in negotiations, strength is weakness and weakness is strength.

This was famously suggested by John Nash, whose work on game theory won a Nobel Prize in economics (and whose life won an Oscar for best film). Nash’s mathematical bargaining formula holds that if one side in a negotiation is less than fully dependent on a deal being struck but more inflexible than the other side when it comes to the deal’s terms, then it will have to yield less than the opposing side.

While Nash’s bargaining theory is fully explained using highly complex mathematical proofs, the point that’s relevant to Brexit is relatively simple.

Imagine you visit a dealership to buy a car. If you were choosing a car completely independently and were dead set on buying one, you’d be less determined to negotiate a good price than you would be if you weren’t entirely sure you really needed a car, or if you had to justify your purchase to someone else – a sceptical spouse, say. If you’re less purely invested in the car no matter what and instead under pressure to justify the terms of the deal, you will need to get a better price. The dealer, meanwhile, just has to sell you the car.

Everyone’s watching

May’s government might now have a hazier vision of what it wants than it did headed into the election, but Nash’s theory would imply that since there are plenty of sceptical voices inside the Conservative party as well as outside it, the British team will now be better placed to get the best possible deal.

When a negotiator is vigilantly monitored rather than given freedom to make independent decisions with a clear mandate, it’s difficult for them to settle for the other side’s demands. According to Jean Bartunek’s research team, this gives one side a paradoxical sort of strength: to reach a negotiated solution, the “stronger” side ends up having to make more compromises than the weaker one.

A similar conclusion was reached by Helmuth Lamm and his co-researchers: if a negotiator is not only closely monitored but weakly positioned vis-à-vis the people monitoring them, they will be under even more pressure not to compromise. This might make the process messier and the agreement harder to reach – but it also means that if both sides want to reach one, the stronger side will be the one that needs to compromise.

This is the dynamic that may be about to play out. May is short of a working majority, and is having to make difficult deals in order to govern with any sort of confidence. Her government will directly depend on the support of MPs and parties who aren’t committed to its preferred form of Brexit. May has neither strength nor stability on her side, and her team have substantially less political capital than they thought; that means a show of steadfastness in the face of EU demands could be their best hope for being allowed to see the negotiations through.

As things stand, the EU and its member states want a negotiated solution with the UK rather than no deal at all. Faced with the tightrope-walking representatives of a weak, pressurised government, they’ll have to accept that unreasonable demands have little or no chance of making it into the deal.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation.


GE2017 and International Relations: The Mandate for Brexit Remains Unclear

📥  Brexit, Economics, European politics

Dr Maria Garcia is Senior Lecturer in the University of Bath's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies.

This week – just under three months after Article 50 was triggered, announcing the UK’s decision to depart from the European Union – Brexit negotiations have commenced in Brussels. British negotiators led by David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, arrived in Brussels under very different circumstances than they had envisaged a couple of months ago. Prime Minister May’s gamble, calling an early election to bolster her parliamentary majority in the hope of gaining a robust mandate to conduct negotiations, has backfired spectacularly. If the outcome of the EU referendum divided the country (without clarifying what kind of trade-offs the population would be willing to accept in Brexit) the 2017 election again reflected the cacophony of views in the country. Nor have any of the acceptable trade-offs been clarified.



From the outset of her premiership Theresa May, as well as prominent Brexiteers like David Davis and Boris Johnson, have insisted on a leaving the EU but retaining a ‘deep and special relationship with allies and friends in Europe’ and trading freely. They have also reiterated the mantra of regaining border control, reducing immigration and escaping the authority of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), as well as enacting an independent trade policy. These aims featured prominently in PM May’s letter triggering Article 50, the White Paper on Brexit, various speeches and the Conservative Party Manifesto. Yet nowhere has there been any detailed explanation of how to bring about their vision. By the time the election was called it had become clear that their reassurances of economic ties remaining the same and enabling business to continue as they had until now – whilst also fulfilling the Leave campaign’s requirements of ending worker mobility and ECJ jurisdiction – were illusory. This is not surprising, given the constitutional constraints on the flexibility the EU has in negotiations; the single market is predicated on the four freedoms of movement (including labour mobility) and the ECJ as the overarching arbitrator and guarantor of the market. David Davis’ and Boris Johnson’s claims that there was no need to pay a Brexit bill (to settle financial commitments the UK has already made and payment of British EU civil servant pensions), which is in fact the initial part of Brexit negotiations, further added to speculation that the UK government’s preferred variety of Brexit would involve a complete break from Brussels – even though they constantly referred to a deep and special relationship and continued trade on the current basis. PM May did, however, present a more nuanced appraisal of the situation by accepting the commitment to pay a ‘reasonable’ bill and the possibility of paying for participation in certain EU projects (see White Paper and Manifesto). Senior members of the Conservative Government articulated different approaches to the negotiations, but coincided in putting forward an unrealistic vision of a future relationship with Europe. During the election campaign, a more realistic vision failed to materialise, with the Conservative Party Manifesto reiterating incompatible objectives, and campaign rhetoric focusing on personal character for engaging in challenging negotiations with the EU. During the campaign, the Conservatives failed to present what it was they actually planned to negotiate, and therefore what they were seeking a public mandate for through the election.

Brexit was clearly a crucial aspect of this election, but it is impossible to claim that Labour’s surprising improvement in votes was exclusively down to Brexit – not least because Labour’s position on the matter is vague too, despite a commitment to negotiate it. Now that the Conservatives have lost their parliamentary majority and need to rely on the support of the DUP to govern, their manifesto promises regarding avoiding a re-instatement of customs controls and borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland become more significant – and may affect the choices available in the Brexit negotiations, since leaving the EU with no (temporary) deal in place would legally mandate a hard border. Moreover, the lack of majority means that as Brexit negotiations unfold, a greater proportion of views and positions will be discussed in Parliament. Whatever is agreed will have to be the result of consensual agreements. Considering the significance of Brexit and its effects on every person and economic activity in the country, a more negotiated and consensual outcome can only be welcomed, not least given the very narrow majority in favour of Leave in the 2016 referendum.

Initial statements from members of the new government are reflective of this situation. Andrea Leadsom, as new Leader of the Commons, announced over the weekend that the Government will not put forward a new legislative plan next year to leave space for Parliament to scrutinise and pass the necessary legislation around Brexit – and admitted the need to secure consensual support for Brexit plans. Departing from the David Davis, Theresa May and 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto line, Chancellor of the Exchequer Phil Hammond admitted in an interview on the Andrew Marr show that leaving the EU with ‘no deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain’; he also admitted the need to put in place a temporary agreement that ensures business continuity on current terms, extending beyond the end of the two-year Article 50 negotiations and providing support until a new long-term relationship can be agreed to. PM May’s new cabinet remains a mix of Leave and Remain campaigners, with notorious Leave supporter Michael Gove returning to the cabinet as Secretary for the Environment. Perhaps more reflective of the changed parliamentary situation, and May’s need for allies, was the appointment of Damien Green, a personal friend of the PM and pro-EU advocate who will take on the role of First Secretary. The election results, the support of the DUP, and the Exchequer’s public statements suggest that a more moderate tone will be taken in negotiations than indicated by some of the pre-election rhetoric.

However, critical questions remain unanswered. Leaving the EU, even if it is an orderly manner with intermediate stages aimed at minimising trade disruptions – as now appears to be more likely – means that the UK’s future relationship with the EU will of necessity be different. Consequently some sectors and groups that benefit from the current arrangements will find themselves in an inferior position to today (e.g. financial services). Others may well find that they benefit from different arrangements. A ‘Brexit that works for all’ is a fallacy, unless the government is finally willing to enlighten the population as to exactly what sectors it will prioritise in the negotiations and what sectors it will sacrifice, and what measures it will put in place to compensate sacrificed sectors. The same logic applies to any future post-Brexit UK trade agreements with the other states – especially the US, where Secretary for Trade Liam Fox is this week discussing post-Brexit possibilities.

All trade agreements have redistributive effects. The EU trade agreement with Canada (CETA), when it comes into effect later this year, will increase competition in the European market for European beef producers by allowing increased beef imports from Canada – where larger production facilities and the use of cheaper animal feed result in high production. By contrast, European speciality cheese producers are set to benefit from improved access to the Canadian market and the protection of some of their speciality names linked to specific locations – to the potential detriment of Canadian cheese producers.

Throughout the referendum campaign, the run-up to the triggering of Article 50, and even during the electoral campaign, open and frank discussion of which areas, economic sectors, societal groups and companies would be privileged in these challenging negotiations (and in future domestic and trade policies) was neglected. The government’s plans for an Industrial Policy, although still lacking in detail, are an important first step towards acknowledging the need to equip people with relevant skills, and to foster innovation in the country so that it can retain a competitive edge in global markets. In and of itself, however, it will not suffice – especially when in future negotiations with other states, they may press for their own interests (consider India’s pursuit of access for its IT workers to labour markets elsewhere as service providers, for example). Over the coming years, at a time of rising global tensions (geopolitical as well as economic), Brexit will be the overriding issue of UK foreign policy. A more subdued approach to Brexit, with intermediate steps, such as remaining in the European Economic Area or the customs union on a temporary basis as suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, can curtail some of the economic shocks to various sectors – but the current Parliament, and society, would do well to insist that the Government reveal their longer-term plans regarding the relationship they hope to have with the EU and other markets. They should also be put under pressure to explicitly identify the winners and losers of such plans, as well as remediation measures. Without this information, manifesto promises to tackle inequality in the country (an obvious and pressing problem) may fall by the wayside in the re-crafting of the country’s socio-economic environment and its international position and relations.


Connecting with Nature: social and economic opportunities for sustainability

📥  Energy and environmental policy, European politics, US politics

Professor Ricardo García Mira is Professor of Social and Environmental Psychology at the University of A Coruña in Spain, and Visiting Professor at the IPR.

The UN established World Environment Day in 1972 and it was first celebrated in the city of Spokane in 1974, in the State of Washington, with the theme “Only One Earth”. A few days ago we celebrated it again, and the central theme this year has been "Connecting people to Nature - In the cities and on land, from the poles to the equator", which invites us to go outside and appreciate Nature's beauty and grandeur, while advocating for sustainable urban strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, improve health and well-being, foster social cohesion, and engage in the conservation of places we inhabit and share.



This is precisely the theme that brought me to Dublin last week, to participate in the kick-off of the Connecting Nature project, an innovative European action that seeks to shape the design and implementation of nature-based solutions in cities by engaging city councils, civil society organisations, businesses and academics in co-producing strategies to meet the challenges of sustainability. The understanding of the fact that we are part of Nature and that we depend on it stands at the heart of these efforts, and is something that seems to elude President Donald Trump, who announced the US' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change - signed by close to 200 countries - just three days before World Earth Day 2017. We all know the signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, and its launching at the Marrakesh Summit during COP22, was preceded by many tensions and a lack of commitment from different countries, making it a significant breakthrough that involved intense efforts and high costs. The implications of this downturn are beginning to be announced. The head of the United Nations Environment Agency said last week that if the United States continued to decline its commitment for a transition to a green economy, it would end up losing the best jobs in the renewable energy sector to Europe and China, as the latter has become increasingly competitive. Many of China's advances, he stated, had come from joint efforts carried out with the United States in recent years, which had also generated a healthy competitive dynamic to assume leadership in the sector of clean energy and the fight against climate change.

Dr García Mira (centre) and colleagues at the Connecting Nature Kick Off Meeting

Professor García Mira (centre) and colleagues at the Connecting Nature Kick Off Meeting

No government can stop progress, nor is it possible today to halt the development of a market that is inevitably assuming the culture of decarbonisation. And if Europe remains united in its transformation towards renewable energy sources, the market - and consequently employment - will move towards clean and low-carbon industry. Reducing dependence on carbon is already a goal towards which more and more regions and cities of Europe are moving, as they launch their roadmaps towards green employment and urban regeneration through nature-based solutions. New global cooperation platforms and networks are being created to experiment with sustainable options and to establish a new reference framework for sustainable social and economic development. Anyone choosing to remain an outsider will only stand to lose significant economic opportunities, as the world moves towards a new paradigm, in sync with Nature.


From Brexit to European Renewal: the fracture of the social contract underlies the current turmoil

📥  Brexit, European politics, Political history

Professor Graham Room is Director of Research and Professor of Social Policy in the Department of Social & Policy Sciences at the University of Bath

The European Commission’s 2017 White Paper on reform of the EU focussed on completion of the single market and firmer governance of the Euro, wholly ignoring inequality and social justice. Yet this is the ‘hot politics’ of European progress: the fracture of the ‘social contract’ between political leaders and the population at large. If ignored, it risks the melt-down of the whole Union.

The UK referendum in 2016 revealed deep popular disaffection with the European Union – in particular, on the part of working class communities that felt that they had been left behind, with their cohesion and their very identity under threat. Some of the roots of this disaffection may lie elsewhere – in national government policies or in the effects of globalisation more generally. The disaffection may also have been stoked by opportunistic politicians. The blame may, therefore, have been laid unfairly on Johnny Foreigner – the Brussels Eurocrat as much as the Syrian refugee. Be that as it may, it was sufficient to provoke one of the worst crises in the history of the EU.



Three questions arise.

First, was this a uniquely British malaise: or did it tell a more general story about the European project and the European citizen? In 1848 Marx and Engels focussed their attention on the burgeoning industrial towns and cities of northern England. They assured the world at large ‘de te fabula narratur’: the story that is unfolding here shows you your own future. How far did the disaffection of working class communities in the 2016 referendum, especially across that same northern England, encapsulate a larger unfolding story about Europe more generally? If it did, the European Commission (2017) gives little sign of paying heed, to judge by its White Paper on the Future of Europe, published in March.

Second, what are the roots of this disaffection and how appropriate is it, to lay the blame at Europe’s door? Is the EU distributing the benefits of European integration evenly, so that all communities can share in its prosperity, or is it visiting the costs of change disproportionately on those who are already vulnerable? And how far is the discontent of the aggrieved being given any voice, in the long-standing debates about the ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU?

Third, what reforms to the European project might address this malaise – and maybe in the process save the EU itself from further disintegration? Whether the promise of such reforms would suffice to reverse popular opinion in the UK, and even provoke the British electorate to apply an emergency brake to the whole Brexit process, is, of course, difficult to say. What seems clear however is that without such a positive vision of Europe’s future, capable of addressing the grievances that the Brexit referendum revealed, such a U-turn is highly unlikely.

My report for the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research, From Brexit to European Renewal, addresses these three questions.

It starts with the UK referendum and the politics of Brexit. Much has been written about the defenestration of the British political class and the turmoil the referendum result has produced in the British political system. This goes far beyond the politics of Westminster, with strains to the relationship with Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and with potentially disastrous consequences for the UK’s post-divorce relationship with the EU27. My own focus, however, is on the relationship between political leaders and the population at large: the ‘social contract’ which is part of any democratic society. This is the bargain between leaders and led, the trading of political legitimacy for popular security. It is the fracture of this social contract, I argue, which underlay the Brexit vote; but it also raises for the EU the question of how far those cracks extend, across the body politic of Europe more generally.

The report argues that these cracks derive from flaws in the economic model that drives European integration. The single market involves the free movement of people, a principle that aligns well with the liberties that Europe treasures; but it also involves freedom of movement for goods, services and capital. Freedom of this sort has economic and social consequences which are not necessarily benign – reinforcing the inequalities between regions and eroding the social fabric of communities. Such persistent inequality is bound to alienate the communities most adversely affected.

Constitutional reforms to the European Parliament are here of little relevance: what matters are the principles of social justice by reference to which Europe treats its own. Yet these issues are left largely peripheral to the European debate. This is in part because of an economic orthodoxy, which expects social benefit to be evenly spread, as the natural concomitant to the free market; but also because social policy is assigned by the subsidiarity principle to the individual nation states. I argue that social policy and social justice are too important to be left there: they constitute the ‘hot politics’ of European progress and if ignored, they risk a meltdown of the whole Union.

The report sets out a programme of reforms which would accord with such principles of social justice: a social contract between European political leaders and European citizens, trading political legitimacy for collective solidarity and security. This is important for at least three reasons. First, because across Europe, ordinary people have since the financial crisis been struggling to get by on stagnant incomes, even as inequality has grown and the affluence of corporate elites continues to be flaunted. Second, because in an uncertain world, households and communities need to have some sense of stability, underpinned by public institutions. Only on this condition can they engage positively with change. Third, because the limited capacity of the individual nation state, to insulate itself from global uncertainties, means that social stability and justice have a much greater chance of being secured through collective action at European level. Such a social policy can touch the communities which other European policies cannot reach – giving them a critical voice and re-building political trust between leaders and led.

As yet, however, Europe’s political leaders seem to lack that positive vision. Germany continues to insist on austerity and financial prudence, as sufficient remedy for the economic malaise of the periphery. The 2017 White Paper makes much of the completion of the single market and the firmer governance of the euro. What it wholly lacks is any clear vision of social justice. Instead, the leaders of the EU seem stuck in a bubble, viewing the problem as one of institutional re-working.

The report concludes with the larger global significance of this drama. In the wake of the US election, the world is more turbulent and uncertain: rescuing and rebuilding Europe assumes an even greater importance. This will require major acts of political leadership by the EU institutions – demonstrating eloquently the positive benefits of European integration and shared purpose in an uncertain world. It may still be possible for the UK to be part of this grand re-working of the European project. The referendum was a collective decision: and responsible citizens, individually and collectively, are able to change their minds.

This article first appeared on LSE's Brexit blog. You can read more about Professor Graham Room's recent IPR Report, and download it in full, here.



Macron’s daunting to-do list: unite a nation, form a government, reform Europe

📥  Democracy and voter preference, European politics

Dr Nick Startin, Head of Department, PoLIS

The French presidential election campaign delivered as many twists and turns as a soap opera. But it ended with an air of predictability. Emmanuel Macron polled two thirds of votes cast compared to Marine Le Pen’s one third. There was no late surge from Le Pen. Her performance in the only television debate between the two rounds illustrated how difficult it is for radical right leaders to move from being the anti-system candidate to serious contender.


Le Pen and her entourage will take some solace from the fact that she polled around 11m votes in the second-round run-off – 3.4m more than in the first – but the result will nevertheless be perceived by some in the Front National inner circle as disappointing. Given the ongoing difficulties in the eurozone, France’s high unemployment rate (particularly among the under 25s), the refugee crisis, the terrorist security threat, Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, the prevailing demand-side conditions could not have been more favourable for the Front National. This is, after all, a party whose whole campaign was built around the notion of a perceived cleavage between globalists (as represented by Macron) and patriots (as represented by Le Pen).

Although Front National strategists such as Florian Philippot have always had one eye on the long-term game and the possibility of victory in 2022, it’s not a given that the Front National can continue to grow in electoral terms if the demand-side conditions do not remain as favourable. The party has worked tirelessly to detoxify its image over the past decade but doubts remain as to whether an historically anti-system, radical-right party is capable of positioning itself as a party of government.

Govern and unite

Much will of course depend on whether Macron can heal the divisions in France that were so evident during the campaign. His first priorities will be logistical. He must choose a prime minister and seek a mandate at next month’s legislative elections.

Given that a majority of his voters in the second round would have preferred to back an alternative candidate, securing a majority for his fledgling movement, En Marche! (just renamed La République en Marche), in the National Assembly will be far from straightforward. Macron may well be forced to reach out to sympathetic socialists and centre-right républicains to obtain a working majority in the lower chamber. The latter, following the defeat of candidate François Fillon in the first round, will be looking to re-establish themselves as the biggest party in the National Assembly.

The logistical problems of obtaining a working majority to fulfil his campaign pledges will be just the start of the challenges facing Macron’s administration. While his campaign (and others for that matter) have demonstrated a dilution of the traditional French left-right cleavage, the result has only served to underline the social fracture that exists in France. This is well illustrated by the distribution of the Macron vote. It’s no coincidence that around nine out of ten voters backed Macron in London and Paris. How he reaches out to those citizens who remain static in their social mobility, many of whom feel disconnected from and alienated by globalisation, will be crucial.

In his manifesto, the new president emphasised educational and economic reform as a means of generating social and economic mobility. But the stark reality is that such reforms may prove difficult to implement in a country often hostile to major structural change.

The European question

One of the strategic problems facing Macron, and one central to the so-called “globalist versus patriot” tension, is how to pitch the European question. Although the French electorate doesn’t seem ready to jettison the euro, it has become increasingly sceptical about the role of the European Union. Macron (a self-proclaimed europhile) was not scared to wrap his campaign in the European flag. He even played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (the EU anthem) as he delivered his victory speech.

Le Pen has, in contrast, increasingly used opposition to the EU as a strategic driver in an attempt to widen the party’s electoral base. This has been a particularly successful tactic in the north of France, where post-industrial unemployment makes it difficult for many to see economic globalisation in a positive light.

How Macron deals with the European question will be crucial to the success of his presidency. He has stated that strengthening the Franco-German axis is central to his project – something which most of the electorate are likely, at least for the time being, to tolerate. However, Macron will also need to convince his doubters, including some of the 12% who either spoiled their ballot papers or failed to mark them, not to mention the quarter of the registered electorate who did not vote in the second round. To help win them over, he must demonstrate that he is prepared to fully embrace the reform agenda which the EU has often tried to dodge.

Solidifying the eurozone and developing the EU’s defence and security arm are obvious directions of travel but Macron will also need to demonstrate that he is prepared to visit more contentious issues if he is to keep the electorate on board. In talks with EU leaders, he shouldn’t shy away from re-examining the Schengen area and developing a more robust EU-wide response to the EU’s horribly high levels of youth unemployment.

And while it would take a bold French president to seek radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, perhaps now is the time for boldness. France has a historic, protective stance on the CAP, but it continues to gobble up nearly 40% of the EU budget. Diverting those funds into tackling social problems in EU nation states remains something of a pipe dream.

Failure to fully embrace the reform agenda within the EU could soon damage Macron’s popularity ratings. France is at a crossroads. The direction it takes under Macron will have a massive baring not only on the future of the nation, but also on the future of the EU.



Opposing Europe in a Time of Crisis: The Mainstreaming of Euroscepticism and the Rise of the Radical Right


📥  Brexit, European politics, Racism and the far right

Dr Nicholas Startin is Senior Lecturer in French and European Politics and Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath 

One of the most contentious and debated changes in the field of European politics in recent years has been the ongoing electoral rise of Radical Right parties (RRPs). This development has been pervasive across EU member states and beyond, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from the Benelux countries to the post-communist nations (Startin & Brack 2016). The Radical Right has made electoral progress in national, local and European electoral contexts as parties such as the French Front National, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Danish People’s Party, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary have had varying impacts and influences within their respective party systems. The 2014 European elections produced an increase in support for RRPs with, according to Mudde (2014), 52 members elected. In 2015 the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) transnational group was formed in the European Parliament with French Front National and Dutch Party for Freedom leaders Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders the main protagonists in this development. On the back of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as United States President, never has there been such intense global media speculation regarding the growing influence of the Radical Right. With elections taking place in 2017 in the Netherlands, France and Germany, all eyes were on Wilders (although his Party for Freedom did not do as well as most polls projected) and are now on Le Pen – as in both countries their campaigns have placed the political establishment under enormous strain.



Minkenberg and Perrineau (2007:30) characterise RRPs as ‘a collection of nationalist, authoritarian, xenophobic, and extremist parties that are defined by the common characteristic of populist ultranationalism.’ Zaslove (2004) pinpoints that such parties are opposed to open immigration policies and globalisation, draw attention to the distance of traditional parties from the concerns of the people, tend to focus their energies on local and regional politics, and are often led by charismatic leaders. One area where there is some agreement is on the issue of immigration. Fennema (2004) argues that ‘the only programmatic issue all Radical Right Parties have in common is their resentment against immigrants and against the immigration policies of their government.’ This observation certainly rings true, as in most cases anti-immigration sentiment is both a core part of the DNA of such parties and often their raison d’être. Hainsworth (2008:70) develops this point by asserting that ‘immigration control serves as a matrix – or a funnel - through which many other policies run, such as education, law-and-order, welfare matters, housing, public expenditure, culture and economic policy (not least in the domain of unemployment)’.

What Hainsworth’s observation overlooks, however, is how the issue of European integration, and more specifically opposition to it, has become an increasingly central policy plank for many RRPs – not merely as a funnel which links back to immigration, but as a signature issue within its own right. Interestingly, though, such parties have not historically shared a coherent, collective position on: first, whether the EU should actually exist; and, second, if so, in what direction it should proceed in terms of both policy and institutional structure (Startin 2010). Added to the apparent divergences in policy and rhetoric on the issue of European integration between RRPs, some parties have radically changed their direction of travel in terms of their outlook towards the EU, moving in a noticeably more Eurosceptic direction. In France, for instance, the 1980s was a decade where the FN’s political elites saw the country’s destiny as one firmly embedded within the European Community structure. Contrast this with Marine Le Pen’s 2017 Presidential manifesto, which calls for an exit from the Euro and points towards a referendum and a potential Frexit.

On the surface, RRPs’ changing discourse towards a ‘hard’ Eurosceptic position can be portrayed as a logical process in terms of their ideological profile. Hainsworth (2007:82) underlines this point, stating that ‘European integration serves to undermine constructs and values, such as the nation state, national identity, state sovereignty, deeply embedded roots and national belonging.’ However, such an explanation does not adequately explain the transition of parties like the Front National towards a hard brand of Euroscepticism. Unlike their anti-immigration stance, opposition to the EU is something they have largely adopted rather than it being the rationale for their existence. This evolution towards a high-salience, ‘hard’ Eurosceptic position on ‘Europe’ by established RRPs like the Front National is in contrast to the UK Independence party (UKIP) – where opposition to the EU is their ideological DNA and their raison d’être.

In reality, RRPs such as the Front National have increasingly used opposition to the EU as a strategic and tactical lever to help them move beyond their traditional anti-immigrant/single-issue labelling. This was clearly illustrated by Marine Le Pen’s more or less sole focus on opposition to both the EU  and to globalisation, as opposed to anti-migrant and anti-islam rhetoric, in her closing remarks of the first Presidential election TV debate on TF1 on March 20. Such a strategy enables them to gain legitimisation, a crucial factor in terms of widening their electoral success and equally importantly ensuring their durability within their domestic party systems (see Eatwell 2003: 68). Put in the simplest terms, being ‘Eurosceptic’ and anti-globalisation is far less contentious than being ‘anti-migrant’! Thus, as Euroscepticism becomes more mainstreamed, so do RRPs – which helps them to become more embedded within their domestic party systems. As such, opposition to the EU (and to globalisation) should be viewed as a central ‘supply-side’ component in the drive for the so-called ‘sanitisation’, ‘detoxification’ or ‘dédiabolisation’ of their parties.

Influenced by tactical and strategic considerations, so-called ‘reconstructed’ RRPs like the Front National and the Austrian Freedom Party have very deliberately differentiated themselves from the largely pro-EU consensus of mainstream political elites. They have profited from the ‘Political Opportunity Structure’ created by an increasingly hostile citizenry to the European integration process and by a European political elite slow to respond to dissenting voices. This point was well illustrated by Marine Le Pen in 2007 when, as the campaign manager for her father’s ill-fated 2007 Presidential election campaign, she was quick to point out in postelection TV analysis that Sarkozy and his centre-right Union pour un Movement Populaire (UMP) party had copied the Front National’s position on immigration (albeit in a watered-down form). For Le Pen, the main line of demarcation in terms of policy discourse separating the Front National from both of the mainstream French parties (the UMP and the PS) was its clear and unambiguous opposition to the European Union and its distrust of economic and cultural globalisation (Startin 2008:5).

In effect, RRPs have been very effective in seizing upon opportunities presented by watershed moments in the European integration process such as the Maastricht Treaty, the 2004 enlargement, the 2008 economic crisis and, more recently, the refugee crisis. Ironically, as Euroscepticism has become increasingly mainstreamed (see Brack & Startin 2015), adopting an anti-EU stance has enabled RRPs to become increasingly normalised and to place cumulative pressure, in terms of votes and influence, on the mainstream political establishment. Opposition to the negative consequences of globalisation has been crucial to this process, even though – as Mudde (2007:196) points out – RRPs are not normally associated with the so-called anti-globalisation movement. RRPs such as the Front National increasingly portray the EU as an ‘agent’ of globalisation rather than a ‘counterbalance’ to some of its perceived negative cultural and economic consequences. In short, the EU is pitched as a ‘stepping-stone’ which enhances all the negativities of globalisation, rather than as a barrier designed to cushion the nation state. Lecoeur (2007: 137) focuses on the term Euromondialisme deployed by the Front National to ‘emphasise the clear link between global capitalism and European integration.’ Such a stance allows the Front National to focus their opposition to the EU on three core arguments: firstly, the socioeconomic argument centred around the economic crisis, the perceived failings of the Euro and the neo-liberal model in general; secondly, the traditional pro-sovereignty argument built on the basis of préférence communautaire and préférence nationaliste; and finally, the increasingly salient security argument questioning the Freedom of Movement and linking it directly to Schengen and the refugee crisis in Calais.

The sharpening of opposition to economic globalisation on the Radical Right has, to all intents and purposes, buried Kitschelt’s (1995) much-cited notion of a ‘winning formula’ – which explains both the rise and the durability of RRPs by reference to their combination of a free-market economic policy with an authoritarian and ethnocentric political discourse. It is no coincidence that the move to a more protectionist economic discourse has coincided with a general decline of social democratic parties on the left. The perception that in the face of economic globalisation RRP parties have become the sole protectors of ‘the white working-class’ has taken on increased resonance in political discourse in many European countries in recent years – despite a resurgence of the Radical Left in some countries. The image of the EU as a ‘stepping stone’ towards, rather than a protector from, the negativities of globalisation has become both a powerful and an attractive argument for many EU citizens who feel disconnected from both the EU and their domestic political elites.

With the Dutch general election and the French presidential and legislative elections taking place in the first half of 2017, never has the salience of (and the uncertainty surrounding) the EU been as high. On the back of the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory, and with a European citizenry increasingly questioning the raison d’être of the EU, it is difficult to predict with any certainty to what extent RRPs will influence the European political agenda both in terms of representation and policy discourse in the next few years. What is clear is that future EU enlargement is off the political agenda, and that the Freedom of Movement of people and the Schengen agreement, very much the signature oppositional issues of RRPs, will continue to come under increased scrutiny. RRPs will continue to use their opposition to the EU and to globalisation as a central component of their overall electoral strategies. Such a tactic is likely to lead to RRPs winning more votes rather than less in national, European and local contests over the next few years. Only time will tell whether these developments will enable them to become more entrenched in the corridors of power.

This blog post is part of an IPR series focused on the rise of racism and the far right. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in summer 2017. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs. A longer version the post will also be published in the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Euroscepticism, edited by Benjamin Leruth, Nicholas Startin and Simon Usherwood.



Brack, N. & Startin, N. (2015) ‘Introduction: Euroscepticism, from the margins to the mainstream’, International Political Science Review 36(3), pp. 239-249.

Eatwell, R. (2003) “Ten Theories of the Extreme Right.” In Right-Wing Extremism in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Peter Merkl and Leonard Weinberg, London: Frank Cass, pp.47-33.

Fennema (2004) ‘Populist Parties of the Right’, in Rydgren, J. (ed.) Movements of Exclusion: Radical Right-Wing Populism in the Western World, Nova Science, pp.1-24.

Hainsworth. P. (2008). The Extreme Right in Western Europe. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kitschelt, H. (1995) The Radical Right in Western Europe, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Lecoeur, E. (ed.) (2007) Dictionnaire de l’extrême droite, Paris : Larousse.

Minkenberg, M. & Perrineau, P. (2007) ‘The Radical Right in the European Elections 2004’, International Political Science Review, 28(1), pp. 29–55.

Mudde, C. (2007). Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mudde, C. (2014) ‘The far right in the 2014 European elections: Of earthquakes, cartels and designer fascists’ Washington Post [online]

Startin, N. (2008) From low-key ambivalence to qualified opposition: The French Front National and the European Union’, Political Studies Association Annual Conference Paper, Swansea University.

Startin, N. (2010) ‘Where to for the Radical Right? The Rise and Fall of transnational Cooperation?’ Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 11(4): 429-449.

Startin, N. (2015) ‘Tapping into a populist discourse: The Front National, ‘Europe’ and the Rassemblement Bleu Marine’, Political Studies Association Annual Conference Paper, Sheffield (April)

Startin, N. & Brack, N. (2016) ‘To cooperate or not to cooperate? The European Radical Right and pan European cooperation’, in Fitzgibbon, J., Leruth, B. & Startin, N. Euroscepticism as a Transnational and Pan-European phenomenon: The emergence of a new sphere of opposition, Routledge: London, pp.28-45.

Zaslove, A. (2004) ‘The Dark Side of European Politics: Unmasking the Radical Right’, European Integration, 26(1), pp. 61–81.


The Hard Brexit road to Indyref2

📥  Brexit, European politics, Political ideologies, UK politics

Of all the political parties in the United Kingdom, the Scottish National Party is the most consistently strategic. That it lost a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 and barely three years later is in a position to call another one is testament to its strategic acumen. It turns heated internal arguments into clear external purpose, executed with discipline. Yesterday, the Prime Minister accused it of treating politics as a game. She could hardly have chosen a less appropriate attack.



Calling a second referendum is high risk. If it is lost, as Quebecois nationalists know, the chances of striking it lucky third time are remote. The economic arguments against independence remain formidable, and would be further complicated, not resolved, by a parting of the ways between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom over membership of the European Union.

Two factors explain Nicola Sturgeon’s decision: the intransigence of Conservative-Unionism and the weakness of the Labour Party. Intransigence is in part an artifact of the Prime Minister’s governing style, which combines “personal animus and political diligence”, as David Runciman has written. She sticks to a position doggedly and keeps things close to her in No10. She is capable of ruthless revenge, to the point of petulance, as Michael Heseltine recently discovered. It is a statecraft that has served her well until now. It is not one that is suited to sharing power in a process of negotiation and compromise across a fractured union.

Her choice of the hard route to Brexit has also narrowed her scope for flexibility. Taking Britain out of the EU single market and customs union is the proximate cause of Scotland’s discontent. It is also the source of mounting opposition to Brexit in Northern Ireland. There would be no possibility of a hard border in Ireland if the government had not chosen a Hard Brexit. And it is primarily because the government wants to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, and to strike its own trade deals with the rest of the world, that is resisting the devolution to Scotland of the powers over agriculture and fisheries that will be repatriated from Brussels. (What’s more, if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, and unilaterally removes all tariffs in order to smooth its path to the WTO, the impact would be disproportionately felt by Scotland’s manufacturers, farmers, and distilleries). The logic of Hard Brexit is Conservative-Unionist, when to meet the aspirations of its constituent nations, and to hold itself together, Britain needs a flexible, federalist approach.

History is in danger of repeating itself. The last time the United Kingdom was challenged by the aspirations for greater self-determination of a significant proportion of one its nations was during the long struggle for Irish Home Rule. Conservative-Unionists met that challenge by suppression, not accommodation. It didn’t end well.

The second factor is the decline of the Labour Party. It has been widely remarked that the SNP will use Labour’s electoral weaknesses to present the referendum as a choice between independence and indefinite Conservative government at Westminster. But a near-term calculation is at work here too: Labour’s decline means that the referendum campaign itself will be fought between the SNP and the Conservatives. Labour will not carry the banner of unionism – the very term is now toxic for the party in Scotland – and while its UK leader cannot even stick to an agreed script, it will be incapable of marshalling anti-nationalist forces, as it once did. The referendum will become the straight fight with the Conservatives that the SNP has always wanted.

Labour’s vacillation on Europe means that it is currently largely voiceless in the national debate on Brexit. It is shedding votes to the Liberal Democrats as a consequence. It fears a further loss of support to UKIP and the Conservatives if it backs membership of the single market and customs union in the Brexit negotiations. But the prospect of the breakup of the UK, the unstitching of the Northern Irish settlement, and economic decline in its heartlands should give it cause to consider the national interest, not just the party interest. Labour could make itself politically relevant to the future of the UK, and to the Brexit negotiations, if it changed tack and support continued membership of the EU single market, as well as a new (quasi) federal constitutional settlement for the UK (perhaps even creating an English Labour Party in the process). Perhaps this is unthinkable, even for a desperate party. But without such a change, there is no prospect of a parliamentary bloc that unites pro-European Conservatives with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and other parties in meaningful opposition to the government. And without that, there is every prospect of a Hard Brexit and the breakup of the United Kingdom.

Brexit Redux

📥  Brexit, European politics, Political history, UK politics

If only Alan Milward were still alive. Our foremost historian of Britain’s relationship with Europe, and author of the first volume of the official history of the United Kingdom and the European Community, would have brought the full force of his intellect and scrupulous scholarship to bear on the prospectus the Prime Minister has set out for the Brexit negotiations.

Why, he asked, did our first attempt to join the EEC fail in 1963, and our national strategy collapse?  “Britain’s weakness in the negotiations did not spring from its tactics”, he wrote in his official history, “but from the direct conflict between its own worldwide strategy, which in the Conservative Party still had powerful adherents, and that of France.  It was not a part of the United Kingdom’s strategy to base its economic or political future on European preferences. France, however, would accept nothing less and the outcome was de Gaulle’s veto.” (Milward, A., The Rise and Fall of a National Strategy 1945-1963, 2020 p483).



That history seems wearily prescient now. Should we learn any lessons from it? Contemporary eurosceptics, whose number must now be taken to include the UK government, would doubtless retort that leaving is not the same as joining: we are not petitioning for entry, but quitting. “No deal is better than a bad deal”, as the Prime Minister put it in her Lancaster House speech. Unfortunately, we have been given to such hubris before and it has not served us well. Britain has now played the key cards in its negotiating hand: to leave the single market and the customs union, and end free movement. It is left with the threat of imposing retaliatory tariffs on incoming EU goods and turning Britain into a corporate tax haven – the United Kingdom offshoring itself into one of its own dependent territories. These do not look like strong bargaining chips, even if they weren’t so patently undesirable in their own terms. And, just as in the early 1960s, we are bringing perspectives to bear that are shrouded in the mists of our national history, not the realities of contemporary European diplomacy.

Britain sought entry to the EEC when it became undeniably clear that our post-war economic performance was vastly inferior to that of the six EEC countries.    Between 1950 and 1960, GDP grew at an annual average of 2.7% in the UK, compared to 7.75% in West Germany, 5.85% in Italy and 4.6% in France. By the early 1960s, productivity levels in West Germany and France overhauled those in the UK, and have remained higher ever since. Unlike continental Europe, the UK did not successfully integrate commercial and industrial policy in the 1950s. It preferred, as Milward put it,  “nebulous rhetoric about global competition”. Thus, “while British diplomats and civil servants, pushed into action by the Bank and the financial interests it represented, argued for a “one world system” in which British industry might well in reality have been at a serious disadvantage compared to its competitors, their European counterparts kept their eyes on the finer details of the relationship between industry and trade. All of them were rewarded by higher rates of growth of productivity in manufacturing than in Britain.” (Milward A, The European Rescue of the Nation-State, 1992, p393).

The post-war regime of fixed exchange rates meant that this loss of economic competitiveness showed up in recurrent balance of payments crises and pressure on sterling reserves. Policymakers were forced to address underlying weaknesses in our economy and direct national resources towards exporting sectors. This drove the change in Britain’s strategy towards the EEC – instead of standing aside, we sought to join the new, burgeoning European market, opening up our manufacturers to the competitive pressures it would bring, as well as to its consumers. The 1960s saw the development of a new industrial strategy to support this economic reorientation. It led to massive investment in our infrastructure, a new regional policy and a huge expansion of further and higher education opportunities.

Today, a floating exchange rate means that sterling bears the weight of adjustment. Our loss of competitiveness is signalled in a weakening pound. It is just that the markets decide its level, not Prime Ministers or Chancellors.  They are absolved from addressing the root causes of our current account deficit, as and until inflation eats deeply into living standards or foreign direct investment dries up. When faced with the prospect of a bad Brexit deal and further relative economic decline, our current Chancellor and Prime Minister argue for tax cuts and deregulation, not industrial strategy, capital investment and stronger public services.

In the early 1960s, it was our failure to resolve our relationship with the Commonwealth, and what entry to the EEC would mean for their critical exports to the UK, that sunk our negotiations. But more than that, what the EEC negotiations forced the UK to confront was the accumulated geopolitical and economic problems of the post-war era; not just our relative economic decline or our trading relationship with the old, “white settler” Anglosphere commonwealth, but the economic development needs of India and Pakistan, the political demands for decolonization in Africa, the status of three European territories (Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus) and the meaning of our Atlantic defence and security relationship after the Suez crisis. As Milward put it, the “cumulative problems of 250 years of British rule” were “all gathered together in one negotiation.” (Rise and Fall p370).

Today that list would read rather differently. But Brexit will still be a prism through which a profound set of national challenges will be refracted. Inter alia, these include: the future of the United Kingdom itself, given Scotland’s vote to stay in the EU and the positions taken by the elected SNP government; Northern Ireland’s relationship to the Republic of Ireland, given our impending departure from the single market and customs union; the balance of economic and social class interests within the economy and political system of the country, and the weight given to the regions and manufacturing vs London and the City; and, most of all, our ability to pay our way in the world, given our longstanding trade deficits. All of this takes place against the radical uncertainty introduced into global politics by the election of Donald Trump. It is a formidable challenge.

Future historians will have to rise to the task of explaining how a marginal political preference that was largely (if not entirely) the preserve of the Eurosceptic right in British politics became the official position of the UK government.  We can be pretty sure that the answers will not be found in the Whitehall archives, as they were for Milward. Brexit has become a deeply political process, inside the Conservative Party, and outside it. Official histories will only tell us half the story. But as the negotiations with the European Union get underway, we would do well to learn from our past.


How the left should respond to the steady march of nationalism

📥  European politics, Political ideologies

Published in The New Statesman, December 2017

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage.

“Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built,” remarked ­Florian Philippot, the chief strategist of France’s Front National, after Donald Trump’s victory. Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States has consolidated a global shift towards nationalism that has been under way since the 2008 financial crisis. The steady march of nationalist politics has swept up swaths of the world’s population: Russia and Turkey are governed by authoritarian, ethno-religious regimes; eastern Europe is criss-crossed by illiberal, nationalist governments; and western Europe is now home to virulent, far-right movements and large, electorally competitive political parties, such as the Front National and the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party) in Austria, which have made their way into the democratic mainstream. Japan and India are governed by democratic, conservative nationalists, while in China an emergent strongman, Xi Jinping, has been newly designated as the “core” of the Communist Party leadership.


Until recently, the Anglosphere countries had largely bucked these trends. Centrist conservative dominance in England, Justin Trudeau’s victory in the 2015 Canadian general election and the likelihood that the Democrats would retain the White House promised to build a liberal firewall against the nationalist ascendancy. Brexit and Trump upended those assumptions. The nationalist virus has infected the body politic of Burkean Anglo-America.

A focus on populism – in policy, rhetoric and political style – obscures the asymmetry of this shift along the left/right axis. Contemporary nationalism is almost wholly conservative or authoritarian, and sometimes avowedly fascist. It is only civic or leftist in the case of political movements seeking liberation from existing nation states, as with Scottish or Catalan nationalism. Its ascendancy is therefore another marker of the electoral weakness of the contemporary centre left.

But it is also highly differentiated. In the UK, Theresa May’s government represents an attempt to reconcile post-Thatcherism with a soft economic nationalism and renewed social conservatism. Its bedrock is an older, security-conscious electorate that is sceptical of immigration and hostile to elites. This is a far cry from the nativist and fascist movements of the European mainland, which draw energy from youthful extremists as well as the post-industrial dispossessed, and which direct unstinting fire at migrant populations and the EU project.

European nationalism, in turn, cannot supply the conceptual frameworks with which to understand Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s business-friendly Hindu identity politics in India, nor, in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist, anti-Kurdish authoritarianism, which seeks to wrench Turkish nationalism out of its 20th-century secular, Kemalist frame. These have their own origins and trajectories. For its part, China maintains a political order that is highly ethnocentric, built around the dominant identity of the Han Chinese, and its leadership is increasingly centralised. But China is committed to the rule-bound, liberal global economic order on which its economic growth critically depends, and shows no interest in the military adventurism of its Russian neighbour.

This suggests that talk of a nationalist ­revolt against globalisation offers too simple an account of a complex picture. The new wave of nationalism has been incubated in the era of global integration, but it will not bring it to a close. Global supply chains, foreign direct investment, cross-border lending and the political institutions of managed trade all inhibit a reversion to autarky, imperial blocs or high tariff walls.

Global trade has fallen because of weak demand and the slowing of China’s growth, not protectionist sentiment, and although new multilateral deals with the Americans may now be off the cards, the cost of the US launching punitive tariff wars will be punishingly high. Trump’s election signifies an end to the signature trade agreements of the Obama era, and his narcissism and volatility introduce a deep uncertainty into global politics, particularly in the handling of relations with China, as the storm over Taiwan has shown. But regional trade blocs such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European single market are unlikely to collapse, and the integration into the global economy of the huge working populations of Asia will continue, not unwind.

Still, such are the howls of protest from the rust belts of advanced economies, the surge of discontent among debt-laden, college-educated young people who have been locked in to low salaries and priced out of housing markets, and the political shocks administered by Trump and Ukip, that austerity in Europe and inequality in the US will come under renewed pressure. A “reactionary Keynesianism” of tax cuts for the rich, increased military spending and infrastructure credits will form the core of Trump’s economic strategy as he seeks to repay his base. He will be inaugurated at a time of rising wages, and as long as inflation is held in check, American workers will feel their pay cheques swell throughout his first term. In the UK, the rhetoric of delivering for the “just about managing” classes will outpace reality, but, like their Republican counterparts, the Conservatives will seek to lock down the electoral allegiances of working-class voters.

The eurozone is more uncertain. A victory for Marine Le Pen would be a cataclysmic defeat for European liberalism, but even if her Front National doesn’t manage to emulate Trump, the size of its popular support, the pressure of left-wing opponents of austerity in southern Europe, and the electoral threat posed by reactionaries in Germany may yet force Angela Merkel to abandon the self-defeating straitjacket of EU-wide austerity and weaken the mercantilism of the country’s export sectors. By dint of history and conviction, Germany’s leaders remain deeply committed to the European project; they will not let it disintegrate easily.

Some reshaping of the global security order is likely, in which tacit co-operation between the main military powers returns, retrospectively endorsing Vladimir Putin’s land-grabs and power plays in the Middle East. With the US, Japan and France pivoting towards more Russia-friendly postures, and Britain detached from European security diplomacy by Brexit, the stage is set for a new rapprochement with Putin. The EU is likely to expend more effort in defending the Paris climate-change agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal than in contesting Crimea or Aleppo, despite the fears of the Baltic states. China has already indicated that its priorities for dealing with a Trump presidency will be resisting protectionism and any backsliding on climate change.

The electoral success of nationalist and conservative authoritarian governments also masks the continued strength of liberalism’s social and economic redoubts. Cosmopolitan liberalism is not rootless: it is founded on large and growing university-educated, ethnically diverse urban populations. In recent electoral contests, this bloc has roughly matched those of the conservatives and nationalists. It has suffered narrow defeats, not decisive ones. It will now dig in to defend its social gains and to resist encroachments on civil rights and liberal constitutionalism. This resistance is already facing down authoritarianism in central and eastern Europe, and will put up a fight against evangelical-inspired culture wars, environmental degradation and attacks on minority rights. The politics of constitutional patriotism, often restricted to a “kissing the typewriter” liberalism of procedural justice, will, for once, attract passion and anger.

The new wave of nationalism is a reminder of the contingent, if not cyclical, nature of history. It is unlikely to usher in a post-liberal order, let alone foreshadow the end of capitalism, though one cannot discount increased violence and repression of minority communities. The space for a broad alliance of liberal, centrist, social-democratic and green politics remains wide – but it will need to find a way of articulating working-class interests, economic as well as cultural, and to find a more expressive, emotional and compelling register for its politics.

The liberal left cannot retreat to the comforts of moral outrage and political protest. The new times demand a progressive engagement with the politics of identity and belonging, as well as renewed radicalism on economic policy and social protection. “You have made yourself the trustee for those in every country who seek to mend the evils of our condition by reasoned experiment within the framework of the existing social system,” Keynes wrote to Roosevelt in December 1933. If the era of nationalists and authoritarians is to pass, this kind of leadership will be needed again.



Four men who will shape the way the EU negotiates Brexit

📥  Brexit, European politics

Dr Susan Milner is Reader in European Politics at the University of Bath. Dr Patricia Hogwood is Reader in European Politics at the University of Westminster, and Clément Jadot is a PhD candidate at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Although the UK has yet to announce when it will trigger the all-important Article 50, which will start the process of it leaving the European Union, diplomats on the continent are getting ready for kick-off. Here we profile four people – two Germans, a Frenchman and a Belgian – who are likely to play a part in shaping the way Brexit negotiations will play out.



Michel Barnier
Chief Negotiator for the European Commission on Article 50

The nomination of Michel Barnier in July to head European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s task force on Brexit negotiations raised eyebrows and a few hackles in Britain. The right-wing press depicted the Brussels insider as an “arch federalist”. He has been an EU commissioner twice, most recently in charge of the single market from 2010 to 2014, and is known in the UK as the architect of banking union.

But Barnier has been at pains in his recent writing to distinguish himself from both what he sees as a British-style narrow agenda for the EU and a federalist expansive view of it. Instead, he has sought to promote a strong European economy and industry in a world of regional economic blocs: as he put it in his 2014 book, “less regulation and more policy”. Commentators agree that his task force, which will start work on October 1, shows that Juncker’s commission means business.

Two things are of note here: first, Barnier’s team shows a strong Franco-German political leadership, with the appointment of current trade commissioner Sabine Weyand as his deputy, and experienced commission official, Stéphanie Riso as his chief advisor. Second, all concerned have strong links with the single market, intra-EU trade and external trade negotiations. The level of specialist knowledge, experience and networks they have to hand will be difficult to match on the British side.

Barnier also has strong links with the French political establishment, maintained over a long career in politics (he was the youngest MP in parliament at the age of 27 in 1978). This means that he will have a close working relationship with any of the likely presidential candidates of France’s right-wing party Les Republicans who currently look best-placed to beat the Front National in next year’s executive elections.

At the moment, France’s relationship with the UK is mired in acrimony over the Calais migrant crisis which will intensify as the elections loom, creating another headache for Brexit negotiators. Any incoming French president is likely to push for a tough line on allowing Britain to retain access to the single market.

Martin Selmayr
Head of Cabinet for Jean-Claude Juncker

EU president Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man, Martin Selmayr, is well-placed to set the parameters of the Brexit negotiations. A professor of European law, Selmayr was appointed Juncker’s head of cabinet in 2014. There his responsibilities include overall management of the cabinet and legal and communications strategy. Fiercely competent, ruthless and abrasive, Selmayr is a staunch European federalist who believes that the UK has long obstructed European integration and that Brexit will promote European unity.

Selmayr is best known in Britain for his comment that the prospect of Boris Johnson as UK prime minister would be a “horror scenario”. Selmayr enjoys links to the German media and to Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Peter Altmaier, but some believe he may be taking too much of a political risk in confounding Germany’s leadership role in EU internal matters. Certainly, Germany has been keen to avoid the Commission dominating the Brexit process for fear that hardliners Juncker and Selmayr would adopt a confrontational and uncompromising stance against the UK.

EU member-state governments were quick to block an attempt by Selmayr to appoint himself as the coordinator of Brexit negotiations for the European Council – a job that council president Donald Tusk gave to the Belgian Didier Seeuws. But Selmayr remains in an ideal position to shape the commission task-force once the exit clause is triggered by the UK.

Guy Verhofstadt
European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator

A spearhead of the federalist movement within the European Parliament, Belgian’s former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt enjoys great popularity both in Belgium and the EU and substantial experience in negotiating both at the national and EU levels. But his appointment as the parliament’s chief negotiator on Brexit, sparked criticism from UK eurosceptics, with the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage branding him a “fanatic”.

Former Belgian PM, Guy Verhofstadt. ALDEGroup/flickr.com, CC BY-ND
At the age of just 29 he became president of the Flemish liberal party of Belgium and quickly became a major political player. As prime minister between 1999 and 2008 he was already looking towards Europe – and in 2006 wrote a book called the United States of Europe. But in 2004, the then UK prime minister Tony Blair refused to back him as a candidate to succeed Romano Prodi as European Commission President, despite the fact that he had had early support from French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Five years later, he entered the European Parliament as an MEP, where he’s been holding the chairmanship of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group ever since. He has built up a reputation as a fierce partisan of a federal Europe. Popular among his peers, he co-founded the Spinelli Group in 2010 – a network of organisations working for greater federalism in Europe – and in 2014 was the ALDE party nominee for the European Commission presidency.

In the UK, Verhofstadt is known for his arguments within the European Parliament with eurosceptics and nationalists over the future of Europe. Since his appointment, he has been frank about his negotiating position, in particular, insisting the parliament would refuse a deal which would allow the UK to enjoy access to the single market while opting out of the free movement of people.

No doubt that over the forthcoming discussions, Verhofstadt will be a tough and experienced negotiator.

Michael Roth
Germany’s de facto Brexit negotiator

As soon as the EU referendum result became known, it was clear that Germany would play a key role in the Brexit negotiations. In Germany, an issue exists only when it has legal status. This means that there will be no formal designation of a Brexit negotiating team until the UK triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally launching the exit process. In the meantime, Germany’s de facto spokesperson on Brexit is Michael Roth.

A committed protestant and member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Roth has been an MP since 1998. He was made European affairs minister in 2013, aged 43. As a secretary of state or junior minister, to the public Roth is little known outside his home region of Hessen, but is recognised in political circles as one of the most influential up-and-coming politicians in chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet.

Young, dynamic and confident, Roth claims to be “heart and guts” for Europe. On Brexit, Roth is a moderate, conceding that the EU will need to work out a “special status” for the UK after Brexit on account of the country’s size, its economic weight and the length of its membership of the EU. At the same time, though, he has stressed that a close relationship would not allow UK “cherry picking” and there would be no access to the EU free market without the free movement of people. He insists that the UK needs to be ready to negotiate at the start of 2017.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.