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The Rise of Demotic Democracy in Europe

The shock of the British vote to leave the EU has yet to sink in. Yet European leaders must steel themselves for what is to come, as Brexit may well be the initial tremor that triggers a tsunami of referenda in the coming years, making Europe increasingly ungovernable.

LONDON – The shock of the British vote to leave the European Union has yet to sink in. Yet European leaders must steel themselves for what is to come. In fact, Brexit might be the initial tremor that triggers a tsunami of referenda in Europe in the coming years.

Across Europe, there are 47 insurgent parties turning politics on its head. They are gaining control of the political agenda, shaping it according to their interests – and winning power in the process. In one-third of EU member states, such parties are members of coalition governments, and their success has driven mainstream parties to adopt some of their positions.

Though these parties have very different roots, they all have one thing in common: all are trying to upend the foreign-policy consensus that has defined Europe for several decades. They are Euroskeptic; they spurn NATO; they want to close their borders and stop free trade. They are changing the face of politics, replacing traditional left-right battles with clashes pitting their own angry nativism against the cosmopolitanism of the elites they disdain.

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