The European Art of the Deal

PRINCETON – It has been almost a decade since the 2008 financial crisis, and the confrontational politics that emerged in its aftermath remain ubiquitous in the West. But, despite similarities between the United States and the European Union, differences in how they address social, economic, and fiscal issues have recently been thrown into sharp relief.

Since President Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, the US has seemed to be competing with the EU over which side’s politics are more contentious and dysfunctional. In each case, many potential players can subvert the political process. Trump is learning this in his confrontations with Congress, the courts, and state governments. In Europe, domestic political forces routinely clash with constitutional courts and supranational bodies. And every time a national – or even regional – election is held in one of the EU’s 28 (soon 27) member states, Europeans become paralyzed by fear of a disruptive outcome.

To address this state of affairs, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently issued a white paper outlining five possible paths forward – from doing nothing to pursuing systematic reforms to complete European integration once and for all. The US, too, is facing a challenge of political disunity, if not disintegration.

The central problem for both is not just fake news or “alternative facts,” though misinformation does flood into most debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Rather, politics itself has become operationally dysfunctional. When citizens and politicians come to regard politics as a zero-sum game, and resort to brinkmanship and other bad-faith tactics, malaise sets in.