When Populism Comes Home to Roost
It remains to be seen if the emergence of a Euroskeptic, anti-establishment government in Italy will pose a threat to the euro and the European Union. But it is already clear that Europe's mainstream politicians bear as much responsibility as Italians for the country's populist wave.
ROME – Debates about the euro usually contain proposals for complex financial arrangements to build “resilience” against the next economic shock. Yet the shock that we are currently witnessing is political. Populists are making gains across the European Union, and Italy, a founding member, is now governed by a Euroskeptic coalition comprising the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and nationalist League party.
As is always true when anti-establishment forces take power in a G7 or EU country, the question now is what comes next, and whether there is a route back to normalcy. In Italy’s case, it is too soon to tell. But in the meantime, we can reflect on what lessons there may be for Europeans as they attempt to contain the populist tide.
The main lesson is that European countries cannot face down today’s resurgence of populist nationalism and jingoism unless they cooperate. Unfortunately, the response to populist gains so far has been similar to the beggar-thy-neighbor response to protectionism in the 1930s, with each country trying to shift the problem on to others until it comes back to bite everyone.
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