If there is one lesson to be drawn from analysing the political developments of recent times in Europe and the US, it is that the unexpected is becoming almost commonplace. The election of Donald Trump as American president and the decision of the UK to quit the EU are among the clearest evidence of the fact that what had previously been viewed as ‘unthinkable’ is now nothing of the kind. Time-honoured political conventions and understandings are being cast aside as a spirit of restless populism takes hold. Public faith in the globalised ideals of past decades has never really recovered from the financial crash of 2007-08.
The last 12 months have seen the first year of a Trump presidency which has taken pride in tearing up the rulebook on how things should be done. They have also seen a far-right party enter a government coalition in Austria, while similar parties made strong if ultimately unsuccessful showings in elections in France and the Netherlands.
A Labour party leaning further to the left than at any point in the last 30 years made surprise advances in UK elections, and in Germany – usually a byword for political stability – it has taken more than four months following the September elections to form a government coalition.
The election of the youthful centrist Emmanuel Macron to the position of French President was perhaps a reaction against the broader populist tide, while in Canada the similarly-aligned Justin Trudeau has gained in international profile precisely because of the stark contrast between himself and Trump.
Trade disconnections for agriculture and food
Agriculture and food policies have, of course, not been immune to the broader political turmoil. There was a time, in the fairly recent past, when food and agricultural policy in Europe and the US could be reliably expected to evolve in fairly gentle, incremental steps. Reform initiatives were routinely explained to nervous stakeholders as representing “evolution, not revolution”.
But things have changed in the UK, whose 44-year-long membership of the EU is due to end in 2019. In the US, the Trump administration immediately terminated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and has threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is the focus of ongoing renegotiation.
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