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The Reconstruction of European Politics

PRINCETON – Many Europeans tremble at the likely outcome of the upcoming European Parliament election: a strong showing for anti-European protest parties, which will almost certainly try to present themselves as the real winners. But hand-wringing will not resolve the European Union’s political crisis.

And the crisis runs deep. Nowadays, anti-EU parties – Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party – have been the most effective at organizing themselves into a single political “family.” Meanwhile, the established families – social democrats, liberals, and the European People’s Party (EPP) bloc – have been discredited in many Europeans’ eyes.

The problem is that the old European parties’ intellectual and moral foundations have rapidly eroded in recent years, owing partly to their failure – or inability – to adapt to EU-level systems. If they do not act fast to re-establish themselves as credible and effective representatives of voters’ interests, they risk fading into the political background, allowing irresponsible populists gradually to take center stage.

Consider the social democrats, whose mission has historically been to facilitate the redistribution of resources. Given that such redistribution in Europe occurs fundamentally at the level of individual countries – which have the needed fiscal authority – it is difficult to view it as a suitable project for Europe as a whole.