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Game of EU Thrones

The European Parliament election was a long and complex story with a surprising and, for many, unsatisfactory outcome. Yet notwithstanding the muddled conclusion, a new European political order seems to be emerging – one that is likely to leave traditional parties of both the left and the right behind.

PRINCETON – The European Parliament elections that concluded on May 26 turned out to be a Game of Thrones replay – a long and complex story with a surprising and, for many, unsatisfactory outcome. As with Game of Thrones, some fans are calling for a different ending. They would like to sack the authors and rewrite the script.

The anti-Europeans, who looked for a moment as if they might be shepherded by the populist triumvirate of Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and America’s Steve Bannon to a triumphant conquest of Brussels, were beaten back. Pro-Europeans supporting the European Union’s establishment parties also lost out. And the politicians who invented the Spitzenkandidaten process in an attempt to influence the choice of the next head of the European Commission looked ridiculous, as bits of the old EU parties were hacked away. In short, conventional expectations were disappointed all round.

One obvious outcome of the election was clear long before the results were announced: Europe’s long-standing duopoly of center-left and center-right forces is definitely over. This duopoly had been most apparent at the national level, where a slightly conservative party and a slightly socialist party typically fought over the level of pensions, wage policy, the extent of social transfers, and similar matters. Each party then needed to moderate its position in order to attract the median voter. The systems they produced in national politics were quite stable, and some hoped that the same mechanism might translate to the European level.

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