Political Risk Is on the Rise in Europe. Here’s Why.

  • Recent election results suggest that the political landscape in several European countries is fragmenting. This fragmentation will make general elections harder to predict and slow the formation of new governments.
  • Government coalitions will likely become more heterogeneous, which in turn will lead to more complex policymaking.
  • These developments will increase uncertainty about the policy direction of countries, leading to higher political risk across the Continent.
  • Increasing political volatility at home will make it harder for governments to participate in decisions at the continental level, potentially slowing the decision-making process in the European Union.

European politics has entered a period of political fragmentation. Across the Continent, mainstream political parties are losing ground to new competitors, parliaments are becoming more atomized, negotiations to form governments are taking longer and the overall policy direction of countries is getting harder to predict. This development is increasing political risk across the Continent, as companies, institutions and households are forced to operate in a political atmosphere that is becoming harder and harder to read.

Political risk is on the rise in Europe, with the electoral landscape in some of the Continent’s largest economies becoming more fragmented. In the coming years, political trends in Europe will force social, economic and political actors to operate in a context of increased uncertainty.

A Decade of Increasing Divisions

Election results in Europe’s largest economies over the past decade show increasing divisions in the political landscape. This fragmentation has manifested in different forms. In some cases, the number of political parties represented in parliament has increased. In Germany, for example, the 2017 general election produced its most fragmented parliament in the postwar period with seven political parties winning seats in the Bundestag, up from five in the previous election in 2013. Similar sitiuations unfolded in the Netherlands, where the number of political parties in parliament rose from 10 in 2010 to 13 in 2017, and in the Czech Republic, where the number of parties winning parliamentary seats went from five in 2006 to nine in 2017.

In other places, the number of parties with seats in parliament has remained stable or even decreased, but mainstream parties have lost ground to new rivals. To assess this trend, we looked at the number of parties that received at least 10 percent of the vote, a symbolic electoral threshold that increases a party’s chances of becoming a relevant political force, particularly in countries where coalitions of several parties are necessary to form governments.

Spain, which holds a general election on April 28, is this trend’s paradigm. For decades, the center-left Socialists and the center-right People’s Party dominated Spanish politics and would jointly obtain roughly 80 percent of the vote. In recent years, however, the popularity of these parties decreased as new forces emerged to their right and to their left. So, while there are fewer overall parties in Spain’s parliament than a decade ago, the distribution of seats is much more balanced. In Italy, two parties received more than 10 percent of the vote in 2008; four did in 2018. That trend was mirrored in France, where four parties obtained more than 10 percent of the vote in the first round of elections for the General Assembly in 2017, up from only two in 2007.

A chart showing the results of the past three parliamentary elections in Europe's 20 largest economies, illustrating the Continent's political fragmentation.

Multiple factors are driving these developments. Across Europe, there is a widespread feeling that the traditional political forces are out of touch with the reality of millions of families, and voters are looking for new options. The economic crisis of the 2010s damaged the popularity of mainstream political parties and contributed to the emergence of new, sometimes anti-establishment, political forces on the right and the left. The immigration crisis has also contributed to the emergence of nationalist and anti-immigration parties across the Continent. The emergence of more extremist parties has forced centrist parties to move further to the right or to the left to compete, deepening polarization in many countries. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the European Union. In Norway, which is not a member of the continental bloc, the data also shows that the political landscape has become more fragmented.

Naturally, there are exceptions. In Poland, for example, the number of parties in parliament has been…

Right-wing politics, social media fuel anti-woman violence: EU commissioner

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Attempts to end violence against women and girls in the European Union are being stymied by a mix of right-wing politics and social media that inflames sexism and stereotypes, a top women’s rights official said on Wednesday.

Scant progress has been made in reducing gender-based violence despite legislation, education campaigns, law enforcement and justice systems, said Vera Jourova, the EU Justice and Gender Equality Commissioner, in an interview.

One in three women in the European Union has experienced physical or sexual violence in the previous five years, according to the most recent data by the EU’s European Institute for Gender Equality.

“There has not been progress yet,” said Jourova, who was in New York to meet with United Nations officials.

“In some states, we even see…

Farage: Brexit party will use EU poll to oust ‘remain parliament’

Nigel Farage during a walkabout in Clacton

Nigel Farage has returned to the seaside town where Ukip had its first MP elected five years ago, promising at a rally in Clacton-on-Sea that his new Brexit party will use the momentum of European elections to oust a “remain parliament”.

Railing against a “political class” who he said had betrayed the people of Britain, Farage claimed to more than a thousand supporters on Clacton pier that what was at stake was not just Brexit, but whether or not Britain was a democratic country.

“Can you imagine in an African country if an election was overturned? There would be uproar and they would be calling for the UN to be sent in … and yet it’s happening in our own country,” said Farage, who was introduced as “the godfather, the ‘guvnor’ of Brexit”.

On his latest visit to the Essex town, which has neighbourhoods with some of the highest levels of deprivation in Britain, Farage described it as the most patriotic and Eurosceptic place in the country.

“So what would Brexit do for Clacton? It would make us proud of who we are again and you can’t put a price on that,” he said.

Back in 2014, Farage had tucked into a McDonald’s McFlurry as he and a beaming Douglas Carswell strolled through the streets of the town after the latter had become the first Tory MP to defect to Ukip, then a rising force in British politics.

It was a relationship that was to sour, however, as splits within the party came bubbling to the surface even before the men joined different leave campaigns during the Brexit referendum.

Europe urged to reject US Middle East plan if it is unfair to Palestinians

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington DC

High-ranking former European politicians have condemned the Trump administration’s one-sided Israel-Palestine policy and called in a letter for Europe to reject any US Middle East peace plan unless it is fair to Palestinians.

The letter, sent to the Guardian, the EU and European governments, was signed by 25 former foreign ministers, six former prime ministers, and two former Nato secretary generals.

“It is time for Europe to stand by our principled parameters for peace in Israel-Palestine,” read the letter, calling for a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestinian states live side by side.

Europe, it said, should reject any plan that does not create a Palestinian state alongside Israel with Jerusalem as the capital for both countries.

“Unfortunately, the current US administration has departed from longstanding US policy,” it said, criticising Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of “only one side’s claims to Jerusalem”.

Washington had also “demonstrated a disturbing indifference to Israeli settlement expansion” in the occupied West Bank and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians, a move the letter said was “gambling with the security and stability of various countries located at Europe’s doorstep”.

Since taking office, and amid praise from Israel’s government, Trump has taken measures seen as both punishing to Palestinians and which also stifle the viability of a Palestinian state.

The US president has promised to unveil a still-secret “ultimate deal” for Israelis and Palestinians, although the Palestinian leadership preemptively rejected it as biased, and Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, categorically ruled out a Palestinian state.

The US team tasked with drafting the plan includes Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the US ambassador to Israel,…

Bus to tell Brexiteers that we’ve now left the EU, nation hopes they fall for it again

A message on the side of a bus will inform Brexiteers that Britain has now left the EU while the rest of the country hopes they fall for it again.

The original Brexit bus claimed that Britain sent £350 million a week to the EU, money we would be able to spend on the NHS instead. While that message was a load of old…

Shame, sadness in UK as Brexit reveals Parliament’s flaws

As a symbol of the woes of Britain’s Brexit-era democracy, it could hardly be bettered. Lawmakers had to be sent home in mid-debate last week when water from a burst pipe began gushing into the House of Commons chamber.

The image perfectly illustrates Parliament’s problem as it tries to solve the puzzle that is Brexit. On the outside, the U.K. institution is resplendent, a world-famous symbol of democracy sitting majestically on the River Thames. On the inside, it’s decrepit and increasingly unfit for use.

The hidden flaws in Britain’s political system have been laid bare — and televised worldwide — since voters chose, almost three years ago, to leave the European Union.

Decision-making has ground to a standstill, even as business leaders and residents alike cry out for certainty. Many Britons feel a mix of frustration, fascination and shame at the ongoing political chaos. So do politicians on both sides of the Brexit divide.

“I am ashamed to be a member of this Parliament,” said pro-EU Liberal Democrat lawmaker Norman Lamb after lawmakers once again failed to find a way forward on Brexit.

Bill Cash, a pro-Brexit Conservative, said this week that Britain had been “humiliated” by failing to leave the EU on time.

The last few months in Parliament, as lawmakers repeatedly tried and failed to agree on a roadmap for Britain’s departure, have produced close votes, late nights and high drama. It’s a political soap opera that has sent the viewership of Parliament’s live-streaming website soaring and made an international celebrity of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, with his bellowing cries of “Orderrrrr” and “The ayes have it!”

But all the sound and fury signifies — not much. Britain is no further out the EU door or clearer about its post-Brexit direction than it was at the start of the year.

A divorce agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and EU late in 2018 lays out the terms of an orderly U.K. departure and promising close future ties. Since January, Parliament has rejected it three times. Pro-Brexit lawmakers won’t vote for it because they favor a more definitive break with the bloc. Pro-EU politicians reject it because they think it’s a poor substitute for EU membership.

Parliament has also voted on other options…

What to make of the latest extension to article 50?

Theresa May arriving ahead of a European council meeting on Brexit in Brussels on Wednesday

The EU council determining the length of an extension to article 50 should put to rest the decades-long Europhobe lie that the EU is run by “unelected bureaucrats” (Britain told leave by 31 October, 11 April). Brexit has also exposed Michael Gove’s campaign claim that “the day after we vote to leave we hold all the cards and can choose the path we want”. Surely a man capable of such grotesque deception cannot be considered a potential prime minister? Or perhaps he can, in which case we should prepare for even worse.
Dr Simon Sweeney
University of York

• Over the last three years I have followed the whole Brexit imbroglio pretty closely, both home and abroad. In all that time I have heard representatives from the other 27 EU countries make coherent and telling arguments in a foreign language, English, often far more cogently and concisely than English politicians have done in their own tongue.

Apart from the odd Latin phrase and some tortured attempts from you-know-who, not once, throughout the debate, have I heard a British politician speak even the most basic French, German, Spanish, Italian or any other European language.

After over 40 years’ membership of the largest and most successful trading and political union in the world, the arrogance and insularity of the English knows no bounds. No wonder the zeitgeist of the nation is one of unalloyed angst and the rest of the world has a justified feeling of schadenfreude.
Jan Wiczkowski
Prestwich, Greater Manchester

• Tony Greaves (Letters, 11 April) is right, the European poll could be the turning point in British politics. A united progressive remain ticket, created to fight the European…

What does a Brexit delay mean for politics, business, citizens and the EU?

Brexhausted by the Irish artist Frank O’Dea’s goes on display at gallery in Dublin on Thursday.

What now for Labour?

In the short term, the party is prepared to continue talks with Theresa May to try to see whether a compromise can be found on the future relationship that both sides can support. Two key problems threaten the prospect of success: the prime minister’s almost non-existent authority, and whether it is ultimately ever going to be in Labour’s interests to do a deal with the Tories.

Senior Labour figures simply do not trust that whatever is offered by May or her de facto deputy, David Lidington, will have the support of the cabinet – or that it will not simply be unpicked by a future leader.

Internally, the six-month extension to article 50 complicates matters. There is no urgency to avoid no deal and come to a Brexit agreement. Labour MPs who had been thinking about finally voting for May’s deal are less likely to do so now.

Supporters of a second referendum will feel emboldened to push the party towards backing legislation to allow a fresh poll during the extension period. Even sceptics such as the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, began to sound on Thursday morning like they felt there was no other option left.

Labour could well capitalise on general dissatisfaction with the Conservatives and May in the local elections next month – and later in the EU elections.

What now for the Conservatives?

The most pressing matter for the majority of Tory MPs is getting rid of the prime minister. Even the softest Tories believe May’s authority and can-kicking skills have reached the end of the road.

Yet even cabinet ministers admit there is nothing they can technically do to remove her before December, when the party can again bring a confidence vote to force May out. This is also believed to have been a factor in the 31 October extension date offered by the EU.

There are other options for dissatisfied Conservatives. Some will continue to oppose May’s deal, or even go on a parliamentary “strike”.There is little to no prospect of any Tory MP campaigning seriously in next month’s European parliamentary elections.

The one event that could cause the most serious rupture is if May was to agree to Labour’s demand for a customs union. The anger at that move would be far more intense than the agreement to extend article 50 and could trigger a much bigger cabinet walkout. It could even prompt Tories to vote with Labour in a no-confidence vote brought by the latter.

Mostly, the sense of fatigue in the party is overwhelming. With no crunch votes, summits or cliff edges on the horizon, many Tory MPs are likely to just want to get away from Westminster. Recent history suggests that does not always lead to cool heads when MPs return. That was the calculation May made when she cancelled the first Brexit vote before the Christmas recess, but MPs returned still determined to vote her deal down.

What now for the second referendum campaign?

Experts say mounting a vote before 31 October would be a challenge but possible. The basic requirements would be fresh legislation, testing of the question by the Electoral Commission and a 10-week campaign period.

The Electoral Commission recommends that legislation be in place six months before a referendum “to ensure campaigners and electoral administrators have time to prepare”.

If the first hurdle – primary legislation – is cleared, then the testing of the “intelligibility” of the referendum question can take up to 12 weeks. Once the question is agreed the Electoral Commission would then designate lead campaigners for both sides, adding more time to…

Brexit delay will squeeze transition period negotiations

Activists outside the EU council headquarters

When Theresa May wrote to Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, this week asking for a short extension to article 50 to 30 June, she will have known the request was likely to be rejected. But she at least knew she could avoid mass resignations from her cabinet.

The prime minister had vainly sought a similar delay, albeit without committing to holding European elections, at the last summit on 21 March, with the agreement of cabinet. She could be confident enough about the consequences at home of tabling such a request again.

But with the EU now appearing likely to reject her plea and deliver an extension of up to a year, ending either on 31 December or at the end of March 2020, the consequences are far from obvious this time – both domestically, given the potential shock in her party, and with regard to the EU-UK relationship and future trade negotiations.

One such wrinkle is the 21-month transition period – and the unfortunate fact that the extra period of membership will eat into those months thought vital to negotiating a comprehensive, all-singing, free trade deal that could both deliver frictionless trade and solve the problem of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Article 126 of the withdrawal agreement lays out a clear end date for the transition, a period of time in which the UK effectively remains a member of the EU but without representation…

May signals she would accept EU offer of longer Brexit delay

Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels.

Theresa May has signalled that she would accept the EU’s likely offer of a lengthy Brexit delay at a summit of leaders as the UK would still be able to leave when the withdrawal agreement is approved.

Arriving in Brussels, the prime minister said it would still possible for Britain to quit by 22 May if the Commons chose to approve her Brexit deal in the coming weeks.

May is expected to have her request for a limited extension to 30 June rejected by the EU27 in favour of a longer potential delay to Brexit of up to a year.

The EU is split 50:50 on whether to offer an extension to the end of the year or 31 March 2020. The prime minister has previously said that she could not countenance the UK remaining an EU member state after 30 June, and had wanted to keep pressure on MPs to back her deal by creating another cliff-edge date.

But May told reporters in Brussels that the UK would still be able to leave the bloc under the EU’s likely offer – once parliament had approved the 585-page withdrawal agreement and 26-page political declaration on the future.

She said: “The purpose of this summit is to agree an extension, which gives us more time to agree a deal to enable us to leave the EU in that smooth and orderly way.

“What matters, I think, is I have asked for an extension to June 30 but what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify a withdrawal agreement. So we could leave on 22 May and start to build our brighter future.”

The EU wants to avoid being drawn into the British political crisis by offering a short extension only to have to return to the issue within months.

But arriving at the summit French president Emmanuel Macron said “nothing was guaranteed” on what he called “the rumours of a long extension”.

France is taking the most hardline stance on a delay to Brexit. “The key for us is that the European project maintains its coherence,” the French president said. While he said the EU27 had stayed together through the Brexit process, he suggested this could not be taken for granted.

“The viability and the unity of the European project is still at stake and it is indispensable that nothing is going to compromise the European project in the months to come. We have a European renaissance to drive, I believe profoundly that nothing related to Brexit should block us on this point.”

Other EU leaders sounded more open to a long…