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Europe’s Coming Year of Reckoning

It is no exaggeration to say that 2019 will be the year that makes or breaks the European Union. As if Brexit and a mounting Italian debt crisis were not enough, European voters will also go to the polls to decide whether to hand over the reins of the EU to nationalists who would destroy it from within.

BERLIN – Politically, 2019 will be an extraordinarily important year for the European Union. The United Kingdom is currently on track to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. And, following elections to the European Parliament in May, nearly all of the most important leadership positions across EU institutions will turn over. Thus, depending on how parliamentary seats are distributed, Europe could witness a major realignment of power among member states, within EU institutions, and between member states and the Parliament.

The new distribution of power within EU institutions will be reflected largely through personnel. New presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Central Bank will be appointed, and a new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will be chosen. If nationalist Euroskeptic parties become the largest group in the European Parliament, these appointments could represent an abrupt break from the past.

EU member states are more divided now than ever, even on the most fundamental issues concerning the European project. The broad pro-European consensus of the past has been replaced by a resurgent nationalism. Moreover, east is increasingly pitted against west, and north against south. And there is good reason to fear that these widening rifts will be reflected in the new composition of the Parliament, making majority governance difficult if not impossible.

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