Merkel and Macron German Government Press Office/Getty Images

Europe’s Hard-Core Problem

With populism endemic in its periphery, the European Union is clearly in a period of deep uncertainty. If EU leaders are ever going to right the ship, they will need to identify the root cause of today's instability, which is not so much about economics or immigration as it is about de facto Franco-German leadership.

PRINCETON – President Emmanuel Macron’s election in France and the likely continuation of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship in Germany are dramatically at odds with developments in the rest of Europe, which has become increasingly unstable and unpredictable. One wonders if the European Union’s hard Franco-German core is becoming too hard for the rest of the bloc. If so, those who dream of “ever closer” European integration may have to settle for a modestly enlarged Franco-German axis.

Europe today is being torn apart by centrifugal forces, including Catalonia’s secessionist movement and the more muted push for autonomy in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto. Right-wing populism is in power in Hungary and Poland, and may now be resurgent in Austria, too. Left-wing populists govern in Greece, and centrist populism seems to be coming to the Czech Republic, where the mogul Andrej Babiš is on track to be the country’s next prime minister.

Obviously, the EU is producing a bitter backlash from voters across the political spectrum, as the name of Babiš’s triumphant party, “Action of Dissatisfied Citizens,” would suggest. But what is not obvious is the root cause of that dissatisfaction.

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