Where is Europe going?

Saturday 13 October, 12:0013:00, Level 1 Members' LoungeFuture thinking

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With the ongoing Brexit negotiations, it is easy in the UK to view the EU as a monolithic bloc of countries. Yet the UK is not the only member state to be undergoing tumultuous change. In Italy, the traditional parties have been sidelined by the election of a populist coalition of La Lega and the Five Star Movement. In Poland and Hungary, popular elected governments appear to be cementing their power by taking control of previously non-political institutions from state broadcasters to the judiciary.

Emmanuel Macron was elected as president in France backed by a self-created ‘movement’, En Marche! – defeating the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the runoff vote. Again, the established parties of government were nowhere. In Sweden, the nationalist Sweden Democrats was ahead in the opinion polls at one point, only to slip to third in the final results. Yet, while they should hold the balance of power, in reality no other party will work with them. But the Social Democrats, long the dominant political party, polled just 28.4 per cent, their worst result in over a century.

If politics is more unpredictable than ever before, there have been plenty of other trends to think about, often contradictory. Denmark became the latest country to ban the burqa in public. Ireland voted to liberalise abortion not long after Poland threatened to restrict abortion access even further than before. Immigration remains a hot topic across the continent, with previously liberal governments in Sweden and Germany reining back immigration and Italy’s new government turning asylum seekers away. Culture wars rage as fiercely in many part of Europe, from the Netherlands to Hungary, as they do in the US.

In this informal salon discussion, speakers from five European states will discuss these developments as reflected in their own home countries. What do European states have in common when it comes to these new political trends and where do they diverge? What are the implications for freedom and democracy?