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EUROPEAN UNION

Brexit, a sign of anti-elite revolt: analysts

Rural areas with high numbers of migrant workers, former industrial hubs and poor areas around cities, those without a university education and older voters were all among the 52 percent who voted Brexit.

Brexit, a sign of anti-elite revolt: analysts
It was Britain’s poorer and less-educated citizens who pushed it out of the European Union. Photo: AFP

It was Britain’s poorer and less-educated citizens — angry at not having shared in the economic benefits of a new world order — who pushed it out of the European Union, in a vote that threatens elites, analysts say.

They are those who suffered the worst hangover from the economic crisis, and whose precarious economic position makes them most fearful of rising immigration — to the benefit of far right groups in the E.U. and Donald Trump in the United States.

“I see the same pattern everywhere I look,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Brookings Institution.

“The demographic splits within the U.K. are exactly the same category for category as the demographic splits within the American electorate in this presidential election.”

Rural areas with high numbers of migrant workers, former industrial hubs and poor areas around cities, those without a university education and older voters were all among the 53.4 percent who voted Brexit.

Mr. Galston said this was the same demographic backing controversial Republican candidate Mr. Trump in the U.S., as well as eurosceptic and far-right parties enjoying a rise in support across Europe.

“They mistrust political elites because up until now they haven’t seen any political parties who appear to recognise their discontent and respond to it.”

Mr. Galston said while he did not expect these forces to prevail in the United States as they did in the Brexit vote, they were a “major warning signal to established parties throughout Europe”.

Fears are high of a domino effect, with eurosceptic, leftist and far right parties from France to the Netherlands crying victory after the shock Brexit result was announced and calling for similar votes in their own countries.

Political scientist Melanie Sully of the Vienna-based Go-Governance Institute warned Europe was facing a “crisis of democracy” that could be exploited by xenophobic, far right parties.

“If you don’t have any trust in politics, it’s exactly the sort of black hole populists can march into and capture the mood and build on it, to perpetuate their own falsehoods,” she told AFP.

At the root of this surge in anti-establishment sentiment is a feeling of fear, loss of control, and traditions and identity lost among those who are struggling economically, analysts say.

“Before we talk about populism, the anti-establishment, we have to talk about the social position of these people. What do they earn? How do they see their everyday lives?” said Tetiana Havlin, a sociologist at the University of Siegen in Germany.

“In everyday life nobody thinks about anti-globalisation, anti-establishment. They just see their challenges”, she said.

“This of course gives fertile ground for populism… but in the end this is about what people feel.”

Observers point to two main drivers of the surge in scorn for the elite: the hangover from the 2008/2009 economic crisis and the refugee crisis.

“You have a lot of people who took a big hit. These are people who feel economically vulnerable, and when you put demographic fears on top of economic vulnerability this is what you get,” said Mr. Galston.

“I don’t think it’s mysterious anymore, we may have been scratching our head a year ago but we should be in no doubt now.”

Many young people who voted ‘Remain’ are furious at the number of older British voters who backed ‘Leave’ — lumbering them, as they see it, with the consequences of their decision for decades to come.

Ms. Havlin said that many of these voters saw the E.U. as a source of security and stability when Britain joined in 1973, a time she refers to as “the prosperity years”.

Now older, these voters reeling from austerity and a sense of growing threats at Europe’s borders, feel “threatened and insecure”.

Dominique Moisi, of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) said the Brexit earthquake was a dark moment in Europe’s history, comparing it unfavourably to the fall of communism.

“Remember Star Wars: there is the light side and the dark side of the force. The light side was the fall of the Berlin Wall. The dark side is Brexit.”

 

ITALIAN ELECTIONS

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

The potential emergence of a far-right government in Italy has put the European Union on alert for disruptions, with fears that unity over the war in Ukraine could be jeopardised.

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni and the League’s Matteo Salvini are slated to be the big winners in Sunday’s general election on a firmly “Italians First” agenda, in which officials in Brussels largely play the role
of the bogeyman.

The biggest worries concern the economy.

Italy’s massive debt is seen as a threat to European stability if Rome turns its back on the sound financing championed by outgoing prime minister, Mario Draghi, a darling of the EU political establishment.

A victory by Meloni and Salvini would follow fast on an election in Sweden where the virulently anti-migration and eurosceptic Sweden Democrats entered a ruling coalition, just months before the Scandinavian country is due to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

But officials in Brussels said they would not jump to conclusions about Italy, cautiously hanging on to reassurances made by key right-wing players ahead of the vote.

Giorgia Meloni delivers speech at party rally

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni (Rear C on stage) delivers a speech on September 23, 2022 in Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

“This is not the first time that we risk confronting governments formed with far-right or far-left parties,” said European Commissioner Didier Reynders, a veteran of EU politics.

“Let voters choose their elected representatives. We will react to the actions of the new government and we have instruments at our disposal,” he added.

That was echoed by Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, who warned that Brussels had “tools” to deal with errant member states.

“My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we’re working together,” she said.

Anti-immigration League leader Matteo Salvini condemned the EU chief’s comments on Friday, calling them “squalid threats”.

READ ALSO: How would victory for Italy’s far right impact foreigners’ lives?

‘Benefit of the doubt’

Italy has huge amounts of EU money on the line. It is awaiting nearly 200 billion euros in EU cash and loans as part of the country’s massive share of the bloc’s coronavirus recovery stimulus package.

In order to secure each instalment, the government must deliver on a long list of commitments to reform and cut back spending made by previous administrations.

“To do without the billions from the recovery plan would be suicidal,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors institute.

“We will give them the benefit of the doubt,” said an EU official, who works closely with Italy on economic issues.

and right-wing parties Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the League (Lega) and Forza Italia at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, ahead of the September 25 general election.

(From L) Leader of Italian far-right Lega (League) party Matteo Salvini, Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italian far-right party Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni, and Italian centre-right lawmaker Maurizio Lupi on stage on September 22, 2022 during a joint rally of Italy’s coalition of far-right and right-wing parties. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

“We will judge them on their programme, who will be the finance minister. The names being mentioned are people that we in Brussels are familiar with,” the official added.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

However, when it comes to Russia, many fear that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will find in Italy a quick ally in his quest to water down measures against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A longtime friend of the Kremlin, Salvini has promised that he will not try to undo the EU sanctions. But many believe that his government will make the process more arduous in the coming months.

Whether the war or soaring inflation, “what we are facing in the coming months is going to be very difficult and very much test European unity”, said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive at the European Policy Centre.

The likely election result in Italy is “not going to help in making some of these hard decisions”, he added.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens on election day and when do we get the results?

France’s European affairs minister, Laurence Boone, pointed to the headache of the far-right’s unpredictability.

“One day they are for the euro, one day they are not for the euro. One day they support Russia, one day they change their minds,” she told French radio.

“We have European institutions that work. We will work together. But it is true that it is worrying,” she added

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