The politico-economic unification of Europe has largely been an elite project, reflecting a belief, memorably expressed by Winston Churchill, that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” The average European voter is hard to pin down, but one senses that voters are collectively responding to the Churchillian disdain that European elites have long shown them. Based on the 2014 local elections in France and Germany, European parliamentary elections, Scotland’s independence referendum, and the most recent national elections in Greece, European voters are turning away from traditional ruling elites and mainstream parties, whose political machinations are focused on power plays in national capitals. After years of soul-searching amid lingering economic decline, Europe’s voters appear to be seeking alternatives to express their demands for new approaches to governance at the local, national and EU level.
On April 23, the Center on the United States at Brookings (CUSE) held a conference to explore the challenges facing European economic and political integration and examine how Europe’s challenges impact the United States. With critical upcoming general elections scheduled for both the United Kingdom and Spain, conference panels discussed the evolving big debates in Europe, including questions over austerity and growth and the expanding North-South divide; concerns over how the pooling and sharing of sovereignty to the union is affecting national and European politics, and how social welfare policies are framing national and EU politics.
This event is part of a research and dialogue project in collaboration with the European Union Delegation in Washington.