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Europe’s Populist High Noon

Hungary and Poland have vetoed the European Union’s proposed €1.15 trillion ($1.4 trillion) seven-year budget and the €750 billion European recovery fund, rejecting the EU’s plan to condition its funds on member governments’ adherence to the rule of law. What will this latest crisis reveal about the EU’s commitment to democratic principles, and its ability and willingness to tackle the populist threat?

In this Big Picture, George Soros urges the EU to stand up to Hungary and Poland, arguing that the bloc cannot afford to compromise on enforcing the rule of law if it wishes to survive as an open society. But Melvyn Krauss of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution expects the EU to surrender to Hungarian and Polish blackmail in order to pass the budget and establish the recovery fund, because it is more concerned with sustaining recent north-south political and economic convergence in order to ensure the euro’s survival.

Nevertheless, Sławomir Sierakowski of the Institute for Advanced Study and the German Council on Foreign Relations thinks that US President Donald Trump’s failure to win re-election will invariably lead to an overdue reckoning for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. Similarly, Philippe Legrain of the London School of Economics argues that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory shows how mainstream European political parties might defeat populism without resorting to populist tactics.

Those tactics are not all malign. The University of Pennsylvania’s Mitchell A. Orenstein says Western leaders need to understand that authoritarian nationalists such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán win support not only by attacking immigrants, but also by delivering economic policies that benefit the poor and middle class. Finally, the Körber-Stiftung’s Elisabeth von Hammerstein, Austrian member of the European Parliament Claudia Gamon, and Italian Chamber of Deputies member Yana Ehm argue that overcoming the growing sense of hopelessness among young Europeans – which could fuel populist nationalism – will require policymakers to show courage, solidarity, and vision.

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