At a recent conference Antonio Barroso, a London-based political expert from Algeciras, reflects on the current crisis of representative democracy in Europe.
“One of the European Union’s greatest weaknesses, is that it is reactive to crises. And, yet, its greatest strength is that, in spite of everything, it endures”.
Antonio Barroso, who graduated in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Granada, obtained a master’s degree in European Political Studies at the College of Europe in Bruges, and another in International Relations from Columbia University in New York, offered these and other interesting observations during a conference at the AlCultura centre in Algeciras, under the title: “What is happening to us? Crisis and change in representative democracy in Europe”.
Based in London, where he works as a political analyst for Teneo, a global consultancy company which advises investors on political risks in Europe, Barroso also shared his thoughts on Brexit and the corrosive effect that the process is having on British politics.
“Brexit is turning out to be such a disaster that it is acting like a vaccine against anti-Europeanism, because other countries which were already disenchanted with the European project, are now seeing that that is a path to failure”, says Barroso who claims that the current, general feeling in the United Kingdom is one of great concern and profound tiredness.
“If the end of February comes and no deal has been approved, the departure from the EU will have to be postponed, and this will only increase uncertainty”.
A regular commentator for international news channels such as The Financial Times, The New York Times, Bloomberg and CNBC, Barroso warns of the paradox that Brexit is eroding the British political system more than the political fragmentation which have afflicted other democratic countries, such as Spain – on account of the economic crisis and other factors – and which had still not arisen in the United Kingdom.
“In the UK, no new parties have appeared to fragment the vote of the left or the right…There continue to be two major parties, the Conservative and Labour parties, and yet, Brexit has managed to create internal fragmentation within them.”
As for the rest of Europe in general, and Spain in particular, Barroso pondered on the principle causes that have recently led to a deterioration in our covenant with the political establishment and our trust in the institutions. One of these factors, of course, is the economy, which “a lot of people believe does not work for them.”
He warned that, “many of the existing jobs today, will no longer exist 50 years from now,” and said that the main factors contributing to this perception are the decrease in wages, high levels of youth unemployment and an increase in inequality”.
Another cause is the increasingly widespread perception among a part of the European citizenship, that “immigration can lose or endanger their cultural identity”.
And this, coupled with an increasingly profound political disaffection, derived from the fact that, “a large majority of citizens think they cannot influence what their governments do,” and also, “how the perception of corruption has risen following the crisis”.
According to Barroso, all this translates into high electoral volatility and an increasing political fragmentation, in which it is difficult to form governments, “even in countries, such as Germany,” that did not have this problem until now and this increases the uncertainty in the decision-making process, both in domestic policy and within the EU itself.
“In Spain we see how difficult it is currently to approve any measure and have even seen how, for the first time in our democratic history, there has been a successful motion of no confidence”.
In this scenario, it is increasingly difficult to predict what will happen because, “voters change their opinion much more than they did 10 years ago”, and there is not much the opinion polls can do to reflect this kind of volatility.
“More and more voters are making their decisions a couple days before elections”, Barroso points out, and he warns also of the difficulty of ascertaining the real impact that social media networks have had of late. Taking into account that more and more people are joining Facebook or WhatsApp groups, in which they engage only with people who are similarly-minded, these networks can pose a serious problem for democracy. “Deliberation is fundamental for democracy and, as such, it is vital that we exchange ideas and perceptions with people we do not agree with”.
In any event, Antonio Barroso, who is currently working on a doctoral thesis at the London School of Economics and Political Science, expresses his optimism in the health of democracy because, “despite everything, around 50 percent of the population currently takes an interest in politics; this figure has increased following the financial crisis and that is something positive”.