Friday

24th Nov 2017

Opinion

The 89ers and the battle against populism

  • Young Europeans are often accused of complacency, but they hold the key to the EU's future (Photo: Harry Watko)

Years of widening inequality, economic hardship and stagnant social mobility have contributed to a populist backlash of destructive ferocity. As the liberal order watches on inanely - gawping with consternation and impotence - the question is: should we really be surprised?

History has taught us that political crisis is to be expected after economic shock: the Long Depression of the early 1870s nearly saw the election of anti-Chinese agitator Denis Kearney as US President in 1878; whilst the 1929 Wall Street Crash helped precipitate the descent to fascism in Europe.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

In similarly monolithic terms, it is often contended that populism 2017 style has its origins in the 2008 Great Recession and its eurozone offspring.

This may appear a valid explanation across many Western countries, including Greece. However, more thoughtful analysis will reveal a picture that is more complex, with roots extending deeper into time.

Poorly planned globalisation, occurring from the 1980s onwards, has impoverished small communities whose economies long-relied on one or two old-world industries. The damage was caused not by globalisation itself, as radical leftists contend, but by the form which it took, and also its speed.

Globalisation occurred too rapidly, was planned too loosely and involved the consensus of too few actors for it to be sustainable.

As Western governments hurriedly moved to dismantle trades such as coal and steel, communities were deprived of the time required to re-invent themselves and to diversify their economies. The result is a rural backlash led by populist upstarts who prey on citizens' desperation to advance generally unrelated objectives.

In Europe, these are of an increasingly nationalist and anti-EU character.

Enter the 89ers

As this populist tide sweeps the continent, new political battle lines are being drawn. The left-right divide is sliding into insignificance, with the real conflict now between those who believe in an open, free and global society; and those who do not.

This conflict will define Western politics for the next decade. In order for openness to prevail, a strong counter-narrative is needed. Yet so far, liberal pro-Europeans have failed emphatically to provide this.

As the generation of Europe's future, it is up to the "89ers" to step into the breach. They are the European citizens born around the year 1989 and growing up in a Europe that is relatively peaceful and prosperous when compared with other periods.

These are a generation often accused of disinterest or ambivalence, a by-product perhaps of their privilege and comfort growing up, as they did, in a period of unprecedented peace and stability.

And yet, on the 89ers does the future of our societies so depend.

The European Union requires considerable - if not wholesale - reform for it to survive. Its institutions are weak and exhausted, with its member states moving in different directions and at different speeds.

Importantly, the EU is no longer able to provide the prosperity and security that was once its hallmark.

However, if 2016 provided any optimism, it was the resounding support shown by young Europeans for the EU.

Since many of our elders are disinclined to embrace the European spirit, the responsibility falls to the 89ers to deliver the ideas and actions that will regenerate it. It falls to the 89ers to assess where we have gone wrong and right the mistakes of the past.

It falls to the 89ers to build broad coalitions of pro-European citizens, on the Left and on the Right, in cities and in small communities. Ultimately, it falls to the 89ers to build a fresh new vision for the EU that transcends the ideological, educational and national cleavages of the past.

To make progress towards this, we must first be self-critical and honest. Addressing the underlying causes of populism 2017 style will require a healthy mix of realism and creativity - with consensus achieved through structured cross-border discussion.

Clearly, much time must be devoted to addressing the concerns about globalisation that are the lifeblood of the populist movements. But there are other areas that must also be dealt with.

The EU must show it can mitigate the threat of terrorism and other threats of an external nature. It must demonstrate improved management of the migration crisis; as well as the effective delivery of a social policy that improves the livelihoods of its most vulnerable citizens.

As the new year commences, we are faced with questions of historic significance. How we respond will define a period: Do we want a society that is open, tolerant, international, and forward-looking? That promotes solidarity, connectivity, and opportunity? Or will we allow ourselves to be held hostage by demagogues whose solution to every problem is less immigration and higher walls? Perhaps never has a policy debate been more timely.

Michael Cottakis is a political scientist and director of the 1989 Generation Initiative at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Populism is not a coherent transatlantic trend

Analysts have been keen to bundle together the election of Donald Trump in the US and the rise of right-wing populists in Europe. Pew research suggests this is premature.

The young didn’t choose Trump or Brexit

Young people have been sold down the river by this year's political events, but it's not too late for Europe to safeguard the future for the world's youth.

Eastern partners, eastern problems

The EU must hold out the olive branch of possible membership in the distant future - but the current domestic problems in the ex-Soviet states, let alone their links to Russia make more than that difficult.

The anti-glyphosate lobby strikes again

Opponents of glyphosate too often rely on one - contested - piece of research, or smear their opponents as stooges for the chemicals industry.

EU must confront Poland and Hungary

Curtailing NGOs and threatening judicial independence are the hallmarks of developing-world dictators and authoritarian strongmen, not a free and pluralistic European Union.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Germany remains 'active' in EU
  2. Work with Israel, Egypt on gas exploration, says Commission
  3. Only seven EU states have 'advanced' stage climate plans
  4. EU dashes integration hopes of eastern countries
  5. EU approves joint Irish electricity scheme
  6. German president to launch 'Grand Coalition' talks
  7. Irish opposition 'threatens national interest', says minister
  8. SPD drops opposition to grand coalition in Germany

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  9. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  10. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  11. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  12. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  2. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  3. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  5. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  6. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  7. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  8. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  10. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  11. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  12. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education