Without reform, the EU risks falling prey to a populist uprisingby Peter Mandelson / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Britain’s referendum laid bare the extent to which society—across Europe—is deeply divided between those who have prospered from globalisation and those who feel left behind.
The result was shaped by a series of cleavages: young versus old, graduates versus early school leavers and cities versus towns. But the loudest shout of anger among those voting “Leave” came from the left behind, exploited by the unscrupulous populism of those who led the “Leave” campaign and who knowingly told a pack of lies in order to win.
It may be too late to save Britain from the disaster it has brought on itself; I hope not. But the priority for European mainstream parties and politicians now is to come to terms with the wider reality: that the European Union’s survival depends on them correctly interpreting the anger and extremism growing in their electorates.
Their challenge is to do nothing less than ensure liberal democracy in Europe prevails over the populism driving the growth of authoritarian nationalism—and I don’t just mean in Hungary and Poland.
This is the threat posed to Europe’s political stability. Like the “Leave” voters in Britain, many of Europe’s citizens don’t see the benefits of economic integration and maybe that’s because in truth the benefits of the single market have not been fairly distributed.
This is a policy failure the EU now has to address.
Jacques Delors, the eighth President of the European Commission, grasped this in the 1980s when he argued the single market had to be accompanied by “Social Europe.” He doubled the size of the structural funds, which are used to raise up living standards where necessary. But that dimension of the EU’s personality has slipped as its image as a neo-liberal project whose purpose is to amplify and accelerate globalisation grows.
As a member of the European Commission I believed it was right for us to make trade and markets more free. But I also argued that…