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European Democracy Between Protest And Confidence

Al-Etiahd, UAE, January 18

At about the same time that the French “yellow vest” demonstrations marked their tenth week, the British Parliament voted against the agreement reached between Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union regarding the terms and conditions of Britain’s exit from the bloc. Despite the fact that these two occasions are remarkably different, there is one fundamental similarity: a profound crisis in two of the main European models of democracy. It is well known that modern politics emerged from these two great countries, Britain and France, whose histories, despite giving rise to two distinct systems, are so deeply intertwined. In Britain, the constitutional revolution of the seventeenth century took place in the context of a gradual process of religious and political reform that led to the emergence of strong representative institutions revolving around a parliamentary system, while France resisted religious reform and launched a bloody revolution that led to the formation of a central republic. In Britain, the political arena was divided into two opposing camps that exist to this very day: conservatives, who rejected government intervention in the economy and sought to promote free markets, and liberals, who focused on social justice and human rights. In the middle were politicians who sought to pursue the so-called “third way” that offered a delicate balance between the two. Today, however, these two models are facing a major shakeup, whether in the Labor Party, dominated by a populist left-winger, or the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister May. In France, where the liberal movement was never strong, the political arena has been divided between two poles: a national Left and a radical Left. Thus, Nicolas Sarkozy’s move to unify the Right, and the attempt of his successor Francois Hollande to reform the Left, both collapsed during the 2017 elections, giving rise to current president Emmanuel Macron. The current political upheaval in both countries represents both publics’ complete loss of faith in their respective political systems. Whether on the Left or Right, people are suspicious of their leaders and their respective efforts on European integration. They want to prioritize their own domestic problems above those of other EU member states. In order to protect Europe’s democratic institutions, European leaders, especially those in the UK and France, will have to think of effective ways to gain renewed confidence in their political systems. Until then, they will continue facing internal pressure and political upheaval.  –Ould Abah

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