The Strange Death of Liberal England” is one of the most famous history titles in the English language. Are we now witnessing the strange death of liberal Europe? As anti-liberal populism grips the very heart of Europe, threatening even the throne of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, the danger is in plain view.
There is a new political dividing line in Europe, at least as important as the line old between left and right. It splits existing parties and throws up new ones. It opens new fronts between nations as well as parties. On the one side, there is the camp of Merkron, on the other, that of Orbvini.
For all the important differences between Merkel and Emmanuel Macron on issues such as the eurozone, they both favor liberal, European solutions, based on international cooperation, inside the EU and globally. Hence Merkron. For all the differences between Hungarian leader Viktor Orban and the Italian populist Matteo Salvini, they both advocate illiberal, national solutions, scapegoating, excluding or expelling ethnically or culturally defined “others.” Hence Orbvini. Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and European Council President Donald Tusk clearly belong in the Merkron camp, while the Bavarian CSU, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland, and some (though not all) Brexiteers belong under the checkered standard of Orbvini.
The battle between Merkronismus and Orbvinismo will shape European politics over the next year. As politicians limber up for next summer’s European elections, the biggest party grouping in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), is desperately clinging on to Orban’s Fidesz party, and has even been making furtive overtures to Poland’s PiS, for fear of the Orbvini camp forming a new alliance to compete with it. Playing off the name of his party, the Lega (League), Salvini threatens “a League of the Leagues of Europe.” It’s been a long time since a European election was so unpredictable.