Many political philosophers talk about the cycle of political structures, how from a monarchy or authoritarian model a democratic one can be moulded, and in turn also how democracies deteriorate.
Machiavelli as one of, if not the most famous political philosopher stated several tell-tale signs on when democracy declines. The first is a democracy that is based on heavy partisanship, not one that it is organised in political parties, rather that there is a strong divide into two groups who see each other as rivals and have complete opposite ideologies. It takes no further explanation that this is the case if you look at the social democratic vs the populist parties or Brexit remain or leave vote.
The second marker is an increase in inequality between the rich and the poor. The crisis of 2012 hit everyone equally, but the OECD reported that the household growth of disposable income has not yet recovered from the crisis, most notably for those in the lower incomes. Especially in the PIIGS countries the recovery rate when compared bottom 10% to top 10% differs a lot.
The final, and most important key event for a Machiavelli’s reasons for democracy’s decline is the eradication of the rule of law. The EU’s response to crises have always been problematic due to the cracks in the foundation caused by the reliance on the Monnet method. Normally new integration should create future and so on but the response to the EU crisis did not cause new economic centralisation. Due to the enormous pressure to full the functional gap between a single supranational currency and economic policies that was still intergovernmental the EU decided to go outside the constitutional framework to create an emergency credit facilitator. And put other important decision on the ECB’s shoulder which are immune to democratic accountability.
“European authoritarianism - such as the above-mentioned example - creates incentives for popular anti-system opposition and provides political opportunities for populist leaders, which meaningfully enhance the prospects of an anti-liberal, anti-European backlash.” – Christian Kreuder-Sonnen
If a legal polity does not conform to its own rule of law, it will only result in more future authoritarian behaviour. This can only result into a growing support towards protectionist parties. The populism cannot be entirely explained by this phenomenon, many more country specific factors can be pointed to as causation. Nevertheless Kreuder-Sonnen stresses that it does create extreme incentives for populist anti-system support.
With the immigration crisis no new authoritarian measures where created but the inaction strategy has failed equally, since the EU should have been the ones that could have at least attempted a proper solution rather than rely on the entrance country policies.
Next crises will be, without doubt, the deal breaker for the European community and the trajectory towards nation state importance cannot be reversed. It is a shame that there is no real integration strategy besides options mentioned in the whitepaper by the commission. How can any political entity create support if the future political structure is uncertain? Even a disintegration approach could be something worth mentioning if it all member states can find an unanimity agreement.
Maybe all democracies do have an expiration date as a lot of political philosophers prophesised, and the western liberal version has been long over-due. The return of the nation state does paint a sombre picture, for it will remove the EU as a top economic player. Especially as someone from the Netherlands we could have always relied on our membership to the EU to get a seat at the table, but that will surely all but be guaranteed if more member states will follow Italy’s footsteps.
I must say though not all is as dark as the previous paragraphs fear, if no new major crises develop, perhaps political stability can be ensured and the appeal for protectionist parties will lessen. These are just concerns that are apparent to me in the current discourse, but at least until the new EU election in 2019 I do not think we will found ourselves back on the path towards rapid integration or federalism.
Kreuder-Sonnen, C. (2018). An authoritarian turn in Europe and European Studies? Journal of European Public Policy, 25(3), 452-464