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Populism’s Second Wind

An economic-growth uptick, together with the election of French President Emmanuel Macron, suggest that Europe's travails may be behind it. But recent elections in Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic tell a different story.

PARIS – “Europe has the wind in its sails,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proclaimed in his State of the Union address last September. But are its sails too tattered to propel Europe forward?

To be sure, ten years after the global economic crisis, Europe’s economy is finally returning to growth – and, with it, confidence. And Juncker’s optimism probably also reflected the triumph in France’s presidential election last year of the pro-European Emmanuel Macron, who advocates deep reforms – including banking union, fiscal union, and a federal budget – to advance integration.

But recent elections in Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic tell a different story: a serious threat to Europe’s future – right-wing populism – remains very much alive. Although the economic crisis is over, its scars remain fresh. Middle- and working-class households are still recovering from the decline in their purchasing power, and they well recall how banks – which had been bailed out by the state – curtailed credit. For many citizens, the lesson seemed clear: in today’s Europe, gains are privatized, and losses are socialized.

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