Europe’s Complicated Democracy

Europeans are heading to the polls now in one of the world’s largest and most complicated democratic experiments. Moreover, these European elections are probably the most consequential we have seen since Europeans started voting directly for members of the European Parliament in 1979. This is a good opportunity to think hard about how Europeans are represented, how they make their decisions about voting, and what kind of Europe is on offer. Three recent books suggest new and important lines of argument. Christina Schneider shows that much of the responsiveness of Europe to the voters actually takes place through the Council of the European Union; Jennifer Fitzgerald reveals how votes on the extremes are more likely to be local than national, even if they have an anti-European tinge to them; and Sergio Fabbrini argues that many of the tensions we see surrounding the European project could be resolved if we just changed the way we think about constitutional federalism. These arguments are challenging and sophisticated in ways that much of the commentary that surrounds the European elections tends not to be; they are also counterintuitive. Now that everyone is focused on Europe, it is a good time for some well-grounded, lateral thinking.

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Re-framing Brexit in Terms of Discrimination

The debate about whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union has taken place within a number of different rhetorical frames. Of these, ‘taking back control’ has been the most powerful. Anyone could understand what was at stake and take a position in the debate. As the debate about membership became a process of leaving, however, ‘taking back control’ became more confusing as a frame for the conversation. Over the past two years it has been hard to determine who is taking back control, how much control can be repatriated, and how much – under any circumstances – the British people will remain constrained and perhaps even powerless to shape their own destiny.

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Populism and Economic Policy

On 28 September 2018, Lorenzo Forni of Prometeia invited me to give a short comment on the relationship between ‘populism’ and economic policy-making.  Although, I hadn’t thought about that relationship before, I came up with four things I think we might want to consider (in addition to what we might useful think of as ‘populism’ in the context of the question Lorenzo asked).  My argument was that populists bring new people into the policy-making process.  They also bring a healthy dose of unpredictability.  Their messaging on policy issues is not great, which causes problems in a world defined by rational expectations, and they tend to be skeptical toward independent agencies like central banks.  Finally, populists are disinclined to international policy coordination.  The combination is not wholly bad — sometimes change is for the good! — but the results are often below the promises that populists make to the electorate.  The text of the presentation follows.

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Historical Memory and the Crisis in Europe

The fast pace of change in European politics has everyone focusing on current events.  Behind the scenes, however, politicians are manipulating how we view the past. Since change requires some kind of baseline or benchmark for us to appreciate its magnitude, we need to be very careful about how our memories are curated. The new ‘normal’ is only normalised when we forget just how far we have travelled and when we stop remembering (or appreciating) the lessons we learned through harsh experience.

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Reforming Europe Starts at Home

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech outlining his proposals to reform the European Union.  And there were a lot of proposals in that speech.  Surprisingly, though, not many of them focused on the euro area or on the process of European macroeconomic governance.  Macron talked about creating some kind of common budget and naming a European Minister of Finance, but he did not touch on the major issues sketched in European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address or the letter of intent and reflection papers that the Commission has produced as well.

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The Danger of Building Walls in Europe

On 21 August, I was invited to talk about the importance of ‘walls’ in a European context at an annual socio-cultural-political event called ‘The Meeting’ in Rimini.  I sketched these notes as an aide for the interpreters who were supposed to render my unique version of the English language into fluent Italian.  My host, Paolo Magri, insisted that I speak in Italian instead.  What followed was probably more authentic as a set of off-the-cuff remarks using my one hundred and fifty mangled Italian vocabulary words, but it may not have delivered the full message.  My central argument is that we should be wary of identity-based political mobilization.  Any politician who wants to mobilize ‘us’ against ‘them’ is not your friend.  That is as true in the United States as it is in Europe.  Alas, Europe’s history with that kind of politics is a tragic one.  Let’s hope we don’t have to experience it again.

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