Wider Eurasia
Europe’s Last Elections That Matter

With the West’s diminished ability to exert control over the rest of the world and extract material gains, the process of internal consolidation within the region is accelerating. This implies that national political structures are no longer expected to be capable of creatively addressing public concerns, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

At present, the political systems of the leading countries of Western Europe are in a situation that in earlier times could have served as a source of serious revolutionary upheavals. However, after several decades of changes aimed primarily at maintaining the status quo, the populations and elites have little room for radical behaviour. Furthermore, European countries’ freedom in foreign policy is constrained by their alliances with the United States and their participation in the European Union’s Common Market. This limits their ability to engage in foreign policy initiatives that address significant domestic issues, which have historically led to large-scale conflicts.

Even in the case of the United Kingdom, which left the European Union a few years ago, there seems to be little room for significant changes. Furthermore, there are currently no ideas that could form the basis for such developments. In fact, the situation here may even be more challenging than in France, where it is possible to envisage the evolution of the political system along the lines of the “Belgian” or “Italian” models: without any party being able to establish a stable government on its own. A partial loss of control over economic policy, similar to what previously occurred in Italy, could maintain stability, even in spite of the complete deterioration of the traditional political framework. In the UK, the element of participation in the common market has ceased to exist; the authorities must now determine macroeconomic policies independently. However, they are confronted with the same structural difficulties as their continental counterparts.

The European Parliament elections, which took place in early June, were a significant milestone in the development of Europe, as the anti-establishment opposition achieved particularly notable results in France, a country which for decades had been considered the political leader of the European Union. Following the disappointing performance of his party in the elections, President Emmanuel Macron has decided to dissolve parliament and call for fresh national elections. Success in these elections has also been predicted for the opposition, comprising right- and left-leaning groups whose main objective is to oust President Macron and his administration. According to forecasts, the opposition stands a real chance of securing a majority of seats in the National Assembly.

However, it is unlikely that Macron will fall from power. If the election results are as predicted, a situation could arise for the first time since the establishment of the Fifth French Republic in 1958, in which no political party has the ability to independently form a government in parliament. According to some of the more dramatic predictions, a “technocratic” cabinet of experts with no clear party affiliation could emerge.

This would be a natural consequence of the country’s development over the past few decades, as France has moved into the “Southern Europe” category in socio-economic assessments.

A non-partisan, expert-led government under a president with little public support would be an expected step towards loss of sovereignty, not only in foreign policy but also in domestic affairs. The cabinet, which does not represent the will of voters, is a transitional administration that coordinates its decisions with Brussels and Washington. This scenario, while not ideal, is the most preferable means of resolving the political crisis that France has been facing since the latter half of the 2000s.

In the United Kingdom, elections are scheduled for July 4, and predictions also predict a crushing defeat for the ruling party. However, it is unclear whether the opposition to the outgoing government has ideas and plans for addressing the current situation, which is characterized by a steadily declining standard of living. It is likely that Labour and its potential partners in the Liberal Democrats lack a clear strategy for leading the country out of this prolonged crisis. As a result, any new administration would also be a temporary government, albeit one that would enjoy the support of citizens.

Global Alternatives 2024
The UK General Election 2024: ‘Change’ or More of the Same?
David Lane
The UK may have a change of political leadership under Labour but there will be no significant shift in political direction, David Lane writes.

Over the past few years, the political elites of Western European countries have been in a complex situation. On the one hand, they recognize that their national political and economic systems are no longer able to deal with emerging challenges effectively. This has led to growing dissatisfaction among citizens, which has in turn increased the popularity of radical political movements. However, so far, these movements have generally been kept in check by the traditional political establishment. In most cases, so-called “populist” parties have either been absorbed into the mainstream or pushed to the periphery of politics. This is particularly true in economically weaker countries such as Greece, Spain, and Italy, where the lack of opportunities for radical policy changes has facilitated this process. Now, it is France’s turn, as economic weakness is also leading to an end to any pretence of real independence.

On the other hand, Western European nations also recognize the limited opportunities for significant change that could alleviate at least some of the issues that cause frustration and discontent among citizens.

With the West’s diminished ability to exert control over the rest of the world and extract material gains, the process of internal consolidation within the region is accelerating.

This implies that national political structures are no longer expected to be capable of creatively addressing public concerns. Although such a transition may be painful, it appears to be inevitable in light of intensifying global competition and increased pressure on Western nations from China and other major developing countries.

The military-political conflict with Russia is but a minor manifestation of this consolidation. Just like the general mobilization during the coronavirus crisis, it is one of the many tools in the process of consolidation. Nevertheless, it is neither the sole goal nor the most significant aspect of future endeavours. The consolidation of the Western world is not a sudden or singular process. Rather, it has an institutional foundation in Europe, in the form of the structures of the European Union, which cope better with their tasks than national governments with theirs.

The ruling elites of Europe compete with each other for the greatest influence in decision-making processes that determine the allocation of resources within the collective West. France, in particular, has lost this competition, as evidenced by the recent rapid decline in its influence in Africa, a region that was traditionally under French influence in the decades after World War II. The UK’s position is still unclear, but there are suspicions that its decision to leave the European Union may have been a means to have access to direct control over the entire Western bloc, rather than to pursue an independent role in global affairs. Germany, on the other hand, appears to be the clear winner in intra-European competition, having rather successfully navigated economic challenges while balancing the preservation of its industrial base.

Germany is significantly more economically powerful than its neighbouring countries, which provides it with the potential to become the primary European coordinator of a comprehensive Western development strategy under the new circumstances. In any event, it is likely that new developments in politics, public administration, and economic regulation will take place on German soil in the future. At this point, it is impossible to predict the exact nature of these developments. It is highly probable that further cooperation between Berlin and Brussels, as the leading European players, will continue. However, it has become evident that we should not expect the emergence of new versions of the existing control systems in Western Europe. Rather, these systems are likely to be gradually replaced by orders that more accurately reflect Europe’s position in the global economic and political landscape.

Asia and Eurasia
Europe’s Myths
Timofei Bordachev
For quite a long time, Russia, like many other countries, had no opportunity to see Europe for what it is. However, in the new historical era we will not have to recycle old myths and long-standing illusions that we often created ourselves, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.