America stands with Europe and, I hope, with America’s leaders as they struggle to maintain a cohesiveness

In much of the developed world, elections, redistricting and elections close to elections have become continuous, daily fixtures. For some of us, this has often made our perspectives on politics dull. A perfect example…

America stands with Europe and, I hope, with America’s leaders as they struggle to maintain a cohesiveness

In much of the developed world, elections, redistricting and elections close to elections have become continuous, daily fixtures. For some of us, this has often made our perspectives on politics dull.

A perfect example of this is the dire political picture in the United Kingdom. A poll released earlier this week shows Prime Minister Theresa May facing one of the lowest approval ratings of any U.K. prime minister in at least a century.

Things look like similar in Germany. Two state elections in January will be followed by another in March and, just when we thought the upcoming national elections in the fall were a given, it was recently announced that a coalition government may be in the works. That coalition, should it exist, could be between Angela Merkel’s party, Christian Democrats (CDU), and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

This political state of affairs has been occurring in other European Union countries as well. President Emmanuel Macron has been winning elections, but the country is divided over his plans to create a single market. Even if Macron were to win a second term next year, the country’s Senate is probably deadlocked as well.

And in Italy, two years after the country’s last elections, an election is expected as early as March. The country is also split on some of the key elements that have governed the country since World War II, including its national identity and constitutional rights.

All of this has a substantial impact on the company Europe is in.

Europe accounts for roughly 23 percent of the global economy. And the U.S. is a major trading partner of both Europe and China. The European Union is the largest export market for both Germany and China.

Economic damage, political damage and geopolitical damage is occurring on an unprecedented scale, and it is becoming harder to tell the relative significance of each. How is it possible to explain this political complexity?

There are two aspects that contribute to the complexity. First, in each of these countries, there are multiple constituencies involved. There are the parties, the politicians and the groups that the parties are fighting for, the people they are trying to appease and the governments they are trying to placate. But much of the instability is due to an unholy mix of populist and fiscal policies that have been happening simultaneously across the board.

Second, the advanced democracies of the developed world are headed for general elections in the second half of the year in more than 10 countries: Germany, Italy, France, the U.K., Greece, Spain, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Portugal and Belgium. In each of these countries, the next election will be deciding whether the electorate stays on side with the status quo or breaks with it. This election cycle has heightened pressure to do so on all levels.

If Europe doesn’t take action, there is a strong possibility that the first lessons learned in pandemic politics are that minority populations are a great source of weakness and that a strong political team is required to protect them. The fight that began in mid-December in the U.K. over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could very well end in chaos and make the current situation there look like child’s play.

Risks abound. If the EU has much less of a chequebook and the power is concentrated on single-country systems, the security of the EU will be at risk. Both the EU and the United States must be careful. But we are starting to get an idea of the risks.

Both the EU and the United States are important actors in the global economy. The ability of both to play a solid and assertive role will be in large part dictated by their ability to repair the damage that is being caused by their political systems.

Oder is on the Council of Europe.

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