From Brexit to Trump’s election, 2016 was marked by many political surprises fuelling comments on the electorate’s unpredictability and on the failure of polling organisations. But was it really such a surprise? These explanations seem quite superficial considering the deep trends these two votes reveal. For more than thirty years there have been profound changes in international trade and in the geographical distribution of production factors. These changes were recently accelerated by the digital economy. Globalisation created immense wealth and helped whole populations emerge from poverty, but it also increased inequalities and erased some markers. Cross border commercial and economic integration has fostered the mobility of labour and capital.
Unfortunately, the educational effort required to explain these deep changes and the benefits of the European construction project were inadequate. Integration policies were intermittent and inefficient. Finally, the territories affected by these transformations were not always offered the support they needed. This strongly mitigates the “surprise” mentioned above. Indeed, in this context it is no surprise that populist messages are increasingly met with a positive response and that part of the population is sceptical concerning the benefits of free trade and tempted by inward-looking instincts.
2017 is a crucial year with several major elections in Europe, in particular in France and in Germany, the two engines of the European Union. This is happening at the exact moment the UK is preparing to leave the EU and when the Trump administration is being put to the test on the world stage. It would be an understatement to say that the coming political year does not offer much visibility, while conversely, the macro economic signals (normalisation of monetary policies, disappearance of deflation fears, global growth recovery…) are quite favourable.
The future belongs to the optimists they say. So let’s hope for the best.