Brace yourself, Europe – a new spirit is abroad

Published in the Financial Times

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Gideon Rachman is right to suggest that a Le Pen victory in France is more than merely conceivable (Marine Le Pen looms over a Trumpian world, November 21, 2016). He puts forward the growing anti-establishment swing as one of the main drivers of her possible victory. However, it is also worth adding that both Francois Fillon and Alain Juppé are running on a classical neoliberal economics platform. Both are promising a stop to the 35-hour week and to introduce a bundle of austerity and “pro-business” measures to bring the public finances under control. Extending the pensionable age, raising VAT, reducing unemployment benefits, cutting public sector employment and reducing business taxes are all in the mix. This is a platform that the IMF, Mrs Merkel and, I dare say, this newspaper would be proud of. Yet it is a platform that singularly fails to capture the spirit of the times. Voters looking at such a programme of pain today for jam tomorrow will simply look at Greece and despair.

In addition, whoever wins the second round will need to do so on the basis of winning support from left leaning voters. The neoliberal platform represents all that the left despises.

Messrs Fillon and Juppé may fancy themselves as modern day Margaret Thatchers. But they should remember that Thatcher was first elected in 1979. This will be 2017 and it should come as no surprise that, nearly forty years on, the same old mantras no longer hold water. Europe had better brace itself for a great unraveling.

Joe Zammit-Lucia

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