Opinion

Mark Leonard

Does Europe have a hero waiting in the wings?

Mark Leonard
May 27, 2014 20:19 UTC

Italy's PM Renzi arrives at an informal summit of European Union leaders in Brussels

What Europe needs now is a hero.

Before the European elections, many predicted a political earthquake. Now it has struck, leaving the mainstream parties of Europe battered, bloodied and in disarray.

As it so often is, the most eloquent signal was the number of European citizens who chose to sit out the elections altogether (almost 60 percent). And those who did vote could not have been clearer in their rejection of the political mainstream — both right and left.

As predicted in the polls, Euro-phobic parties dominated the poll in two of Europe’s most populous and influential countries, France and the UK, and they exerted a strong influence in many others. In France, the National Front leader Marine Le Pen topped the poll with a record 25 percent of the vote.  And in the UK, the insurgent Nigel Farage was the first political leader in 100 years who did not come from the Labour or Conservative parties to top a national poll.

As Matt Browne wrote in his recent piece, from Italy to Denmark, and from Austria to Greece or Spain, centrist parties are being challenged from the extremes. And even in countries like Spain, which seemed immune to the new populist movement, the two main parties failed to get even half of the votes.

The net result of the European elections is that the largest grouping in the European Parliament will neither be the centre-right EPP (which is down to 212 seats from its previous 274) or the Centre-Left PES (which are down to 185 from their previous 196) – but rather a ragbag of anti-establishment Members of the European Parliament (MEPS).

To see Obama’s legacy, look to Europe

Mark Leonard
Feb 19, 2014 17:04 UTC

This week the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, was invited by his party to form a government in Rome. If he succeeds, he will be Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister. Renzi has never had a job in central government or even been a member of parliament. His governing record in Florence is paper-thin. But lack of experience was not a setback in his quest for the top job in Italian politics. It was, in fact, his main qualification.

Renzi’s rapid ascent shows how completely Barack Obama has changed the global political playbook. Although the U.S. president is often accused by his detractors of being European in style, the reality is that it is European politics that are being “Obamafied.” In the UK, and you can see the youthful Labour Party leader Ed Miliband painstakingly mirroring Obama’s campaign tactics. A new generation of center-left leaders in Europe is trying to replicate Obama’s three laws of politics.

The starting point is Obama’s first law: Have no political past. It’s not just that every first-term senator thinks he can be president. Now that senator realizes that in this anti-elitist age his chances of success will diminish in line with his growing experience. Part of Miliband’s appeal to his party was that he was not his more experienced brother, the former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose closeness to Prime Minister Tony Blair and refusal to disavow the Iraq war cost him crucial votes in the leadership election.

The Europeanization of America

Mark Leonard
Feb 25, 2013 20:52 UTC

For her first overseas trip as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton went to Asia. For his first trip, John Kerry chose Europe. His choice is partly a result of his strong connections across the Atlantic and partly a move against the frustrations U.S. diplomats have faced in places like Beijing. Kerry’s choice also speaks to a remarkable narrowing of the Atlantic, which culminated in Obama’s championing of a transatlantic free-trade agreement in his State of the Union address this month.

Only 10 years ago, Europe and the U.S. were meant to be so different that not only did they have different views, but they viewed each other as if from different planets. Politically and militarily, the author Robert Kagan claimed, Americans were from Mars and Europeans from Venus. American commentators used to routinely denounce European economies for being closed, backward-looking and missing the wave of the future. Germany was still seen as the sick man of Europe, and it was the subject of ridicule for the way it was wedded to an industrial economy in a post-industrial age. What a difference a decade can make.

As a European in Washington, I have spent much of the past few weeks listening to pillars of the American foreign policy and economic establishments. I am struck by how many of today’s U.S. debates mirror those in Europe. These two giant economies are no longer as different as they once were.

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