The most fundamental challenge confronting Europe today comes from within. Economic hardship and growing unease with globalization, migration, and established elites are fanning the flames of populism. Once in power, populist-fueled leaders are undermining democratic norms and practices. Even when outside of governing coalitions, the illiberal views of populist parties are seeping into the political mainstream and public discourse where they polarize and fragment politics and public opinion. These cleavages—which Moscow actively amplifies—raise the risk of political dysfunction in Europe’s democratic governments. Democratic backsliding is also sowing division between countries, making consensus in key European institutions such as the EU and NATO difficult to reach. If left unabated, these trends will make Europe increasingly vulnerable to Russian and Chinese influence and aggression and render Europe a less effective US partner.
The Confronting Threats to Democracy pillar of the Transatlantic Security Program analyzes dangers to democracy in Europe—including the future trajectory of populism, its effects on European institutions, and how it might be better managed. This work aims to identify policies and approaches that US and European officials, the media, and civil society actors can use to counter illiberalism, and renew and safeguard the democratic foundations that underpin US and European influence and security.