leonard42_Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images_gameofthrones Sergei Savostyanov/TASS via Getty Images

Is Winter Coming to the EU?

Many observers expect a grand showdown between the forces of “open” and “closed” societies in next month's European Parliament elections, with the very future of the European Union at stake. They are right to be worried, but wrong about the reason.

BERLIN – A popular narrative holds that the European Parliament elections in May will be “Act Three” in the populist drama that began in 2016 with the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and US President Donald Trump’s election. We are told to expect a grand showdown between the forces of “open” and “closed” societies, in which the future of the European Union is at stake. It all sounds very plausible. It also happens to be completely wrong.

Brexit and Trump’s election led many political analysts to conclude that European voters, too, would abandon mainstream parties for new identity-based tribes. Yet, in America, the political and regional divides are so entrenched as to affect where one works, who one marries, and how one views the world. And in the UK, similar rifts have long been emerging between north and south, young and old, urban and rural, and graduate and non-graduate.

European politics is more fluid. A recent European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)/YouGov poll of almost 50,000 voters across 14 EU member states suggests that the best model for understanding Europe in 2019 is not the United States or the UK, but Westeros, the main setting of the HBO series Game of Thrones. Far from dividing into stable tribes, the European political landscape is an unpredictable battleground of constantly shifting alliances; its defining feature is radical volatility.

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