Europe’s populist explosion cannot be understood outside three major developments. First, the establishment of a supranational European Union sought to institute neoliberal reforms across the continent, while also relocating substantial political authority and control over economic policy to Brussels. Second, the 2008 financial crisis led to the EU’s commitment to austerity policies, undermining national economic responses to the crisis in Spain, Greece, Italy and elsewhere. And finally, in the turbulent aftermath of the 2010-2011 Arab Spring, Europe confronted its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. From Brexit, to the rise of anti-immigrant parties like Alternative für Deutschlandand the Dutch Freedom Party, to the revival of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence, current populist energies have been fundamentally shaped by this conflagration of forces.
The European case raises unique questions:
- How was European neoliberalism shaped by the concept of a cosmopolitical EU state and a related civic identity outside a national conception of unitary language and culture?
- How is European neoliberalism’s distinctiveness (as opposed to American or other forms) illuminated by its unyielding commitment to austerity policies?
- How do we account for the weakness of the European public sphere and civic identity in the face of these challenges?
- Does the history of European empires tacitly inform the political conception of Europe that was assembled by the EU?
- What relationship did European secularism bear to the right-wing political reaction to refugees from Muslim-majority nations?
- How did the question of Europe’s borders (in relation to Eastern Europe and to Turkey in particular) enter into the populist explosion?
- What role has been played by the electoral option and the political vision of left populism (including such parties as Syriza and Podemos) in shaping the populist crossroad in Europe?