Insights at a Glance: A synopsis of research findings, analysis and activities from the fourth cycle of the Dahrendorf Forum, 2017-2019

As the Dahrendorf Forum’s fourth cycle draws to a close, the team has produced a summary document, entitled ‘Insights at Glance’, drawing together the highlights, key findings and analysis from the last two years of research.

We have identified eight discrete areas from our work, which we consider to be of particular interest to policy-makers, civil society and the academic community. They reflect issues frequently prominent in media headlines and topical debate, several of which also feature in the current policy agenda on the future of Europe.

  1. Foreign, security and defence policy epitomise the need for European countries to work together, yet are too often a source of division. Individual countries are reluctant to cede power and, although potentially significant new policy initiatives have been launched, their likely impact is in doubt. What happens to UK influence and engagement in the aftermath of Brexit is expected to be critical for Europe’s collective capability.
  2. Migration emerged as a pressing political issue in the wake of the refugee crisis in 2015, but has exposed more deep-seated challenges of social integration and institutional reform. Action to cope with migration has to navigate a difficult course between solidarity, security and enforcement, and has exposed shortcomings in EU decision-making. Narratives around it have proved to be especially tricky and need careful thought.
  3. Populism in many forms has been perhaps the most significant political trend of recent years, eliciting a mix of alarm and confusion in ‘mainstream’ parties. The latter have had to ponder awkward choices about whether to embrace or oppose insurgent parties, while also having to recognise that the socio-economic drivers of populist movements cannot be ignored.
  4. Media developments are reshaping how politics is conducted, and how news is accessed and consumed by citizens. Particularly for social media, there are new challenges around regulation, not least in relation to ‘fake news’, but also in ensuring plurality of opinions. An associated issue is control of data and the manner in which holders of big data are held to account.
  5. Trade and globalisation have been widely regarded as fundamental to the rise of prosperity in recent decades, rendering the recent shift away from multilateralism and its institutions all the more puzzling. There is, though, a compelling explanation: too little attention has been paid to the ‘losers’ from globalisation and inequality has been neglected.
  6. Elections are the lifeblood of democracy, but there have been disturbing tendencies towards fragmentation and disruption in national politics. Voters seem to have distanced themselves from the adage ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ and even if the notion of a ‘populist wave’ has been exaggerated, new societal cleavages appear to have superseded traditional left-right divisions.
  7. Economic governance has evolved considerably since the Eurozone crisis, but cannot be said to have resolved some of the most contentious flaws in the design of economic and monetary union. Risk sharing does not go far enough to alleviate sources of imbalance, and there are also open questions about policy implementation.
  8. Brexit and what it means for the future of Europe remains an enigma to many observers of European integration. It stems from not only the longstanding British ambivalence about closer integration, but also a deeper sense of frustration among citizens about the EU as a project detached from their day-to-day concerns. The chaotic unfolding of Brexit should not disguise the need for its roots to be better understood and the imperative of adopting appropriate policy responses.

Download the full ‘Insights at a Glance’ document here.