The European fin de siècle

The long era of peace, prosperity and ever closer integration which the European continent has experienced since the end of the Cold War is coming to an end. Perceptive observers of world affairs sense that something profound is changing and 2016 is starting to go down as the year that the political centre finally started to crack.

The first geopolitical earthquake to hit was the narrow victory of the Leave campaign in Britain’s referendum on membership of the European Union (“EU”). The overwhelming consensus of the political and media elites (the “Pundocracy”) was that the British electorate would narrowly vote to remain in the EU. I was among the few voices in the wilderness who predicted that the Leave campaign would win at the beginning of the year.

The second earthquake to hit has been the “summer of terror” with a series of horrific terror attacks by largely Islamist terrorists in France and Germany. The beleaguered French and German political elites appear unable to defend their citizens from jihadi terrorists’ intent on torturing, murdering and maiming men, woman and children. It is not a surprise that European electorates are losing faith in the ability of their elected governments to keep them and their families safe.

I have a dreadful feeling that a Beslan style atrocity will be coming Europe’s way with armed jihadi gunmen storming a school and slaughtering as many young innocents as possible before being killed or blowing themselves up. The political ramifications of hundreds of children being tortured and murdered in a provincial French or German town will be enormous. If such a horror ever comes to pass, the pressure on European governments to implement draconian measures on radical Islamic extremism will become overwhelming.

The draconian measures which could be implemented can already been seen in the debate in France over domestic security post-Nice. The conservative opposition have advocated indefinite internment of known jihadi extremists which would effectively see the return of a police state in France. Other measures could include the deportment of extremists, the shutting down of mosques and the restriction of further Muslim migration into the country.

The rise of public concern over immigration, terrorism and broader issues of economic stagnation has sharpened the debate over freedom of movement within the EU. The new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has already started informal talks over leaving the EU and appears to have received an important concession on controls over EU migration. The Guardian reported last weekend that the EU is considering a 7 year migration “emergency break” along with continued access to the single market. My prediction of a “soft Brexit” whereby Britain keeps access to the single market in return for control over immigration appears to be gaining ground.

The fallout of the Brexit referendum continues to impact Labour politics. The Labour party now faces a second leadership election with Owen Smith challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership. I have predicted that Corbyn will narrowly win the leadership contest.

It is looking increasingly likely that the Conservatives may trigger a general election next year, once a rough deal has emerged with Brussels, over Brexit. Prime Minister May will wish a popular mandate on a “soft Brexit” deal to weaken the hardliners within the Conservative Party who will cry betrayal over any softening of the exit. Should a general election be triggered it is likely that the Conservative Party will win with a majority of around a 100 MP’s. Theresa May has surprised many observers by proving to be a risk taker so far in her premiership so a general election in either the spring or autumn next year must be considered a possibility.

A recent Scottish poll indicates that my prediction that there would not be a surge of support for Scottish independence among the Scottish public was correct. According to a Yougov poll, 53% of Scottish wished to stay within the United Kingdom, hardly different from the referendum result in 2014. Unless we see a serious and sustained shift in public opinion, the prospects of a second referendum on independence look increasingly improbable.

The Brussels elite face a series of further European elections, most notably a re-run of the Austrian presidential election in October. The far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer is narrowly leading in the polls according to new Gallup poll. Should the far right win the election in Austria, it will be further evidence of the rise of populist and nationalistic parties, which I have written already in my post “Winter is Coming”. The Hungarians will also be voting on whether they approve the government’s position on the refugee crisis which is expected to be a landslide result. If the Hungarian electorate support their government’s hostile attitude to refugees, this will only contribute to the growing fissures within the EU.

Overall, the European governing class is rapidly losing their grip as right-wing populist and nationalistic forces march ever closer to power across the Continent. Post-Brexit Britain, despite its own troubles, may become a relative safe haven in an increasingly troubled Continent in the years to come.

The European fin de siècle

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