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In the last few months, there has been a new optimistic – or even triumphalist – mood in much of Europe. At the beginning of the year, many feared that the populist wave that seemed to have engulfed Britain and the United States in 2016 would reach continental Europe.
In particular, the nightmare scenario was that Marine Le Pen would become French president, which could have meant the end of the eurozone or even the European Union itself. But since Emmanuel Macron came out of nowhere to win the French presidential election in May, promising economic reform and a reinvigorated Franco-German “tandem”, there is now a sense that Europe has bounced back.
The hope is that Europe has seen off the threat of populism, not least because Europeans want nothing to do with Donald Trump. And with Britain in chaos, it is now the last redoubt of the “liberal international order” and even of the west itself. The optimism is supported by economic data, in particular, the eurozone unemployment rate has now fallen below 10% for the first time since the euro crisis began.
But just as the narrative of a populist wave was flawed, so is the new narrative that Europe is back. “Pro-Europeans” like to point to polls that suggest that enthusiasm for the EU has increased since Brexit. The problem is that the resurgence of support for EU membership is largely based on fear. Continental Europeans look at the difficulties in the UK, trying to extricate itself from the EU, and know it would be infinitely more complicated for a eurozone country. (That many “pro-Europeans” cannot see this – or do not care – illustrates how much ends and means have become confused in the EU.)
Meanwhile, the problems that the EU has struggled with for the last seven years since the euro crisis began, and that have led to the increase in euroscepticism, remain unresolved. The multiple overlapping fault lineswithin the EU remain as deep as ever, as was illustrated when, shortly after being elected, Macron accused central and eastern Europe countries of treating the EU “as a supermarket”. The EU has also done little to help Italy cope with another wave of refugees from Africa, thousands of whom are now dying in the Mediterranean.