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M. Buti & K. Pichelmann*: European Integration & Populism - Addressing Dahrendorf's Quandary

image-01/30/2017 - 12:40After a decades-long process where national economies became more and more entangled and interdependent at both the international and regional level, increasing strains to economic integration are evident both at the global and the European level. Examples abound – even without mentioning Brexit or the 45th US president -, from rising stress in international capital and currency markets to protectionist pressures of all sorts on domestic markets coupled with a rising tide of nationalistic, actually often nativist, go-alone policy approaches. What is at stake is huge as the spectre of disintegration is raising its ugly head and, in fact, an integration process that has been the bedrock of a half-century of peace and economic development can no longer be taken for granted.

The current rise in populist parties is a wake-up call resembling what the late Ralf Dahrendorf – a major scholar of the XXth Century and a former member of the European Commission - summarised a little more than 20 years ago as a quandary between globalisation (as a means towards growth), social cohesion and political freedom: "To stay competitive in a growing world economy [the OECD countries] are obliged to adopt measures which may inflict irreparable damage on the cohesion of the respective civil societies. If they are unprepared to take these measures, they must recur to restriction of civil liberties and of political participation bearing all the hallmarks of a new authoritarianism (…) The task for the first world in the next decade is to square the circle between growth, social cohesion and political freedom".

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(*) European Commission, Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs. The views expressed in this article are personal and should not be attributed to the European Commission or its services.