Europe on the Edge

What’s happening to Europe? The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was seen as a triumph for liberal democracy. True, the ‘end of history’ narrative didn’t play out across the world as many predicted. But in Europe political liberalism seemed unshakable, supported as it was by international business and transnational organisations such as the EU and NATO.

But now Europe stands at a precarious moment. Anti-establishment and anti-EU political parties are on the rise. Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump add to the uncertainty. And while Marine Le Pen didn’t sweep to victory in the recent French presidential election, the new president Emmanuel Macron faces an uphill battle to fix the French economy and reform the EU’s institutions. If he fails, Le Pen could be well set to win the presidency in 2022.

How can we account for this surge of support for far-right and populist parties in Europe? Conventional wisdom has it that it is only in times of economic hardship and high unemployment that these groups begin to gain ground. That may be true of France, which took a serious knocking in the 2008 crash and has a high rate of joblessness. But the Dutch sit comfortably high in all the OECD rankings for income levels, employment and life satisfaction. And look at Poland, a country initially seen by the west as a post-communist success story. Although it has been largely unaffected by the Eurozone crisis and has no immigration as such, a xenophobic, authoritarian government is now in charge.

In this major Intelligence Squared event, we brought together a star panel to explore the reasons behind the rise of populism in Europe and to discuss where the continent is heading next. Is far-right politics the new normal? How will the continent deal with the effects of continuing large-scale immigration and its entrenched economic woes?


  • Paul Collier, Professor of Economics at Oxford and development expert whose 2008 book, The Bottom Billion, has become a classic. 
  • Douglas Murray, columnist for both the Spectator and Standpoint, who writes frequently for other publications, including the Sunday Times and the Wall Street Journal He is the author of the book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. 
  • Christine Ockrent, Belgian-born journalist who was editor-in-chief of the French weekly news magazine L’Express and formerly was ten the presenter of France Europe Express, a television show focusing on European issues.
  • Elif Shafak, Award-winning novelist and the most widely read female writer in Turkey. Her books include The Bastard of Istanbul and The Forty Rules of Love. She is a frequent commentator for The Financial Times, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Guardian. A prominent advocate for minority rights and free speech in her home country.
  • Luigi Zingales, Italian-born Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Chicago, London, Hong Kong) and a regular commentator on populism, immigration and the state of the Eurozone economy. He is the author of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists and recently launched an academic debate in Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian equivalent of the Financial Times, about Italy and the Euro.