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Mark Leonard

Mark Leonard

Articles by Mark Leonard

Leadership in a Time of Contagion

3 days ago

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been compared to the 2008 financial crisis, the two episodes are quite different, not least in their cast of leading characters. Unlike the previous generation, today’s European leaders have been shaped by a decade of austerity, refugee crises, and America’s denouement as a global hegemon.

BERLIN – Google “Europe” and “crisis” and you will turn up 784 million results. So often do the two terms appear together that they might as well be a compound noun. With each new eurocrisis, commentators wring their hands over the question of whether the European project will survive.
Insuring the Survival of Post-Pandemic Economies

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The End of the EU’s Brexit Bounce

February 20, 2020

After years of watching the United Kingdom muddle through a political crisis while enjoying an unprecedented level of unity among themselves, Europeans now must prepare for darker days. Negotiations over the future UK-EU relationship will inevitably divide Europeans and offer fodder to Euroskeptics.

BERLIN – After the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, policymakers and political leaders across Europe feared that they, too, would soon face a similar crisis. They worried about a domino effect in which populist movements and politicians would lead other member states out of the EU one by one, effectively reversing a decades-long process of European integration.
The White Swans of 2020

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Auschwitz in Jerusalem

January 25, 2020

The conflicting messages delivered at a recent commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz reveal the extent to which today’s politics are being defined by the tug of war between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. But when it comes to drawing lessons from the Holocaust, the cosmopolitans retain the moral high ground.

BERLIN – Looming over this year’s commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, were two contradictory impulses that lay behind the creation of the Jewish state: cosmopolitanism and nationalism. A painful dialogue between these perspectives marked the event, reflected in the utterances of the officials who attended and the objections of those who stayed away.

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The Green Deal Will Make or Break Europe

December 13, 2019

The European Union’s new leadership has decided to invest much of its political capital in a plan to position Europe as the global leader in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. But if too many constituencies feel as though they are being sacrificed on a green alter, the plan will never even get off the ground.

BERLIN – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s ambition to lead a “geopolitical commission” is about to face its first big test. European heads of state are meeting to discuss her proposed European Green Deal, a sweeping project that could either unite the European Union and strengthen its position on the world stage, or generate a new intra-European political cleavage that leaves the

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The Makings of a “Geopolitical” European Commission

November 28, 2019

As if incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was not already inheriting a full plate of major challenges, she has also promised to reshape the EU into a "geopolitical" force to be reckoned with. To succeed, she will need to pass seven tests, in areas ranging from climate change to cybersecurity and competition policy.

BERLIN – On December 1, Ursula von der Leyen will finally take office as president of the European Commission. She has promised to lead a commission that will avoid a scenario in which, as French President Emmanuel Macron recently warned, Europe might “disappear geopolitically” amid an escalating Sino-American rivalry.
The Patriot versus the President

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The Lost Promise of 1989

October 31, 2019

As is often the case, deep historical shifts tend to show up first in popular culture, and only then in formal politics. That is why we should look at the complex legacy of 1989 not only in the formal celebrations being held in Berlin, but also in the stands of a soccer stadium in Sofia.

BERLIN – After the collapse of communism in Europe in 1989, many dreamed of building a united and free continent with the European Union at its core. But 30 years later, Europeans have awoken to a new reality. In Western Europe, political leaders are vetoing further enlargement of the bloc out of fear that Eastern Europeans are not ready to embrace liberal values. And in Central and Eastern Europe, there is growing resentment toward

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Inside Macron’s Russia Initiative

October 2, 2019

By pursuing an ambitious new initiative to "ease and clarify" the European Union’s relationship with Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to secure Europe’s control over its own future. But his plan will succeed only if he can ensure that no EU member state feels vulnerable.

BERLIN – French President Emmanuel Macron is one of those leaders who wants to bend the arc of history. Having upended French politics, he has secured positions for his preferred candidates at the head of the European Commission and the European Central Bank, and is now trying to improve Europe’s relationship with Russia.
The Impeachment Trap

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty

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Will the Iran Conflict Break the West?

August 29, 2019

After months of both the United States and Iran taking a harder line against each other, Europe finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. If Iran pursues further brinkmanship in response to US provocation, European Union member states may decide they have no choice but to embrace the Trump administration’s containment strategy.

BERLIN – Before the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, this month, it was a toss-up whether the greater disruption would come from US President Donald Trump or British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Yet the attendee who had the biggest impact was someone who was not expected to be there at all: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
The Unsustainability of

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Can Europe Become a Global Player?

July 23, 2019

As the nominee to serve as the EU’s next High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell will have an opportunity to update Europe’s approach to foreign policy. Chief among the challenges facing the bloc is to reassert its own sovereignty in an age of great-power politics.

BERLIN – The last five years have not been kind to the European Union’s foreign-policy prospects. A new great-power competition is shunting aside the international rules-based order, and aspects of globalization – from trade to the Internet – are being used to divide rather than unite countries. Meanwhile, the EU’s geostrategic neighborhood has become a ring of fire.

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The End of “Chimerica”

June 25, 2019

By threatening the survival of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, the Trump administration has put an end to speculation about a possible rupture between the United States and China. A full-scale decoupling between the world’s two largest economies is now underway, and a new age of zero-sum competition is beginning.

BERLIN – The escalating rivalry between China and the United States is ushering in a bipolar world. While the past few decades have been defined mostly by cooperation among the world’s leading powers, the next few will be marked by zero-sum competition. Already, globalization and the deepening of ties between countries is giving way to what has euphemistically been called “decoupling.”

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Is Winter Coming to the EU?

April 23, 2019

Many observers expect a grand showdown between the forces of “open” and “closed” societies in next month’s European Parliament elections, with the very future of the European Union at stake. They are right to be worried, but wrong about the reason.

BERLIN – A popular narrative holds that the European Parliament elections in May will be “Act Three” in the populist drama that began in 2016 with the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and US President Donald Trump’s election. We are told to expect a grand showdown between the forces of “open” and “closed” societies, in which the future of the European Union is at stake. It all sounds very plausible. It also happens to be completely wrong.
Capitalism’s Great

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When European Politics Becomes Personal

March 29, 2019

As the United Kingdom has hurtled ever closer to the Brexit cliff, once-abstract notions of a transcendent European identity have gained substance, and millions of people who still believe in the European project have come out in support of it. The question now is whether the European idea can win out over resurgent nationalism.

ATHENS – More often than not, Europe is invoked in abstract terms, such as when politicians argue that European sovereignty is the only path to security in a world dominated by great powers. But as the original Brexit deadline (March 29) drew nearer these past few weeks, the idea of a European identity became more concrete; the political suddenly became personal. Behind the cacophony of parliamentary

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The Accidental Atlanticist

February 25, 2019

At this year’s Munich Security Conference, appearances by former US Vice President Joseph Biden and current Vice President Mike Pence offered the transatlanticists in attendance a portrait in contrasts. Yet to achieve the bright future promised by Biden, Europeans need to heed Pence’s dark warnings.

MUNICH – Two Americas were represented by two different vice presidents at the Munich Security Conference this year. Between them, former Vice President Joseph Biden certainly received the warmer reception, but Vice President Mike Pence may have unwittingly emerged as the savior of transatlantic relations.

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images

Photographer is my life/Getty Images

Fred Dufour –

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How Europe’s Populists Can Win by Losing

January 28, 2019

The European Parliament elections this May have been described as a make-or-break moment for the future of the European project – and for good reason. With plans to form a populist united front, Euroskeptic parties need only capture one-third of parliamentary seats to bring EU governance to a crawl.

BERLIN – Will the European Parliament elections this May result in a political revolution? Populist and nationalist parties certainly hope so. They are promising not just to overturn the Brussels establishment, but also to end the free movement of people, lift sanctions against Russia, abandon NATO, eschew future trade deals, reverse policies to combat climate change, and abolish gay marriage.

Fred Dufour – Pool/Getty Images

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The Coming Franco-German Bust-Up

December 21, 2018

The partnership at the center of European integration is unraveling just when Euroskeptic forces are coming together. If French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel cannot start rebuilding the political center, next year’s European Parliament election will produce the biggest victory yet for anti-EU populists.

BERLIN – The politics of Brexit is descending into chaos. The European Union is fragmenting into northern, southern, eastern, and western tribes. And now the Franco-German marriage at the center of the European project is in danger of falling apart.

Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Artyom Ivanov/TASS/Getty Images

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The US and China Are the Closest of Enemies

November 27, 2018

After years of economic symbiosis in which the US purchased low-cost Chinese imports and China purchased US Treasuries, China has begun to pursue the prerogatives of a superpower, and the US has responded in kind. As a result, both countries are becoming more alike, particularly in their belief that there can be only one winner.

BERLIN – There has long been talk that the strategic rivalry emerging between the United States and China in recent years could one day give way to confrontation. That moment has arrived. Welcome to the Cold War 2.0.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images



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The New Tyranny of the Dollar

October 30, 2018

Among the many legacies that US President Donald Trump received from his predecessors is a "secondary sanctions" regime that allows the US to bar malign actors from most of the global economy. Under Trump, however, this sophisticated set of tools has become a bludgeon with which to threaten allies.

BERLIN – Donald Trump may not want to launch wars in the Middle East, but that doesn’t mean he’s getting the United States out of the regime-change business. His administration has made it clear that it wants crippling sanctions on Iran to serve the same purpose as the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Saudi Kingdom Council/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


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Present at the Destruction

September 28, 2018

As world leaders gathered in New York this week for the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, it was clear to most that the post-war multilateral system is now an artifact of a bygone era. The new world order that is currently emerging will be defined less by shared principles, and more by the whims of individual leaders and governments.

NEW YORK – At the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly this month, there was a widespread sense of foreboding among world leaders. The anxiety went beyond standard concerns about what US President Donald Trump would say, do, or tweet. Even before the summit began, Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, South Koreans, and Japanese had been consulting in earnest about the need for a new

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Why Is Anti-Semitism Returning to Germany?

August 20, 2018

Owing to a spate of anti-Semitic incidents and the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, many Germans have begun to look for parallels to the darkest period of their country’s history. But to understand what is going on in Germany – and across the West – they should be looking to the future.

BERLIN – Though the British Labour Party’s anti-Semitism scandal has dominated headlines of late, there is a more profound debate with the same theme taking place in Germany. Most worryingly, the fundamental tenets of vergangenheitsbewältigung – the collective project of coming to terms with the country’s World War II past – are shifting.

Sadak souici / Barcroft Media via Getty Images


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Europe for Itself

July 24, 2018

As US President Donald Trump continues to wage war on the American-led international order, Europeans can no longer assume that their interests are synonymous with those of the US. The time has come for the European Union to redefine its interests, and to develop a new strategy for defending them.

BERLIN – Donald Trump is the first US president to think that the US-led world order is undermining US interests. Though the current order obviously benefits the United States, Trump is convinced that it benefits China even more. Fearing China’s ascendance as another pole of global power, Trump has launched a project of creative destruction to destroy the old order and establish a new one that is more favorable for the US.

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Are Europe’s Populists Calling the Shots?

June 28, 2018

Less than six months after forming another grand coalition government, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now fighting for her political life against a pan-European alliance of anti-immigration forces. But whether or not she holds on to power, it is already clear that Germany’s unique influence over EU affairs is waning.

BERLIN – In 2011, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced from office by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and replaced by Mario Monti, an able technocrat who looked like he had been designed in a laboratory by the European Commission and Goldman Sachs.

Barcroft Media

Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Project Syndicate

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Italy and the Future of Europe

June 19, 2018

Following the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote and the rise of populists in Central Europe, does the emergence of a Euroskeptic government in Italy represent a test too far for the European Union? Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, says that all roads for Europe now lead through Rome.Listen to all episodes from your favorite podcast app, and subscribe via Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or RSS Feed.

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Will Italy’s Populists Upend Europe?

June 5, 2018

After months of pressure to reach a compromise, Italy’s Five Star Movement and League party have formed a new government. The fear now is that their administration will establish a new template for left- and right-wing populists throughout Europe to challenge pro-EU reformers.

LONDON – “They are trying to stop us with the usual blackmail of rising spreads, falling stock markets, and European threats,” wrote Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s League party, on his Facebook page. “This time,” Salvini insisted, “change is coming.”

Scott Olson/Getty Images


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Now he has formed a

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How Europe Can Save the Iran Nuclear Deal

April 30, 2018

Europe cannot afford to let the 2015 Iran nuclear deal fail. That’s why Donald Trump should be confronted with a choice: either uphold the agreement, in exchange for European support on regional issues and Iran’s missile program; or scrap the deal and risk the loss of European cooperation and the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran.
LONDON – This week, a senior German official pointed out to me that, “The Iran nuclear deal is the last firewall preventing military tensions in the world’s most combustible region from spilling over into thermonuclear war.” That language is unusually apocalyptic, but it reflects a genuine fear that US President Donald Trump could soon dismantle a crucial line of defense that Germans and other Europeans are proud to have built.

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Macron Takes Aim at European Politics

March 27, 2018

During his first year in office, French President Emmanuel Macron outlined a series of proposals for reforming European institutions; now he is launching a campaign to shake up the European Parliament election in 2019. Through it all, he has adhered to a coherent philosophy of how politics in the twenty-first century should work.
LONDON – Until the terrorist attack at a market in southern France on March 23, French President Emmanuel Macron had been planning to launch a new European-level political campaign. Though the official rollout has now been postponed, Macron’s latest project remains central to his presidency and to his conception of power.

The Year Ahead 2018

The world’s leading thinkers and

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China’s Big-Data Big Brother

February 28, 2018

The Communist Party of China’s decision to abolish presidential term limits has raised the possibility that President Xi Jinping, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, will rule indefinitely. And the cult of personality Xi is creating will be bolstered by the most powerful surveillance state in history.
LAHORE – The Communist Party of China’s (CPC) decision this week to eliminate presidential term limits seems to open the door for President Xi Jinping to be not just “Chairman of Everything,” but also “Chairman Forever.” The move has been met with dismay around the world, but it has also intensified an ongoing debate among China experts over whether the biggest threat to China is too much executive power, or too little.


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London Bridges to Nowhere

January 25, 2018

In December, negotiators from the European Union and the United Kingdom were able to conclude phase one of the Brexit negotiations by leaving key issues unresolved. But British leaders’ apparent conviction that they can muddle through the Brexit process is setting up the UK for a rude awakening.
LONDON – Last week, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resuscitated an age-old proposal for a 22-mile bridge to be built across the English Channel. The irony has escaped no one. Johnson is calling for a fantasy bridge at the same time that he is destroying his island country’s only true bridge to the continent: the European Union.

The Year Ahead 2018

The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s

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Europe’s Crisis Starts at Home

December 4, 2017

According to conventional wisdom, the biggest threat to the European project is "illiberal" saboteurs on the periphery of the European Union who have decided not to play by the rules. But what this narrative misses is the even deeper divide within EU member states, including bastions of liberalism such as France and Germany.
LONDON – Deep divisions within Europe are increasingly threatening the values upon which the European project of “ever closer union” is based. In 2015, during the refugee crisis, many commentators saw a divide between German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Willkommenskultur (welcoming culture) and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán’s vision of ethnic purity: a Western Europe of bridges versus an Eastern Europe of walls.

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The Illusion of Freedom in the Digital Age

November 3, 2017

The biggest danger in the coming years is not that technology will put free and autocratic societies increasingly at odds with one another. It is that the dystopian visions of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley will become manifest in both types of system.
LONDON – Over the last few weeks, media around the world have been saturated with stories about how technology is destroying politics. In autocracies like China, the fear is of ultra-empowered Big Brother states, like that in George Orwell’s 1984. In democracies like the United States, the concern is that tech companies will continue to exacerbate political and social polarization by facilitating the spread of disinformation and creating ideological “filter bubbles,” leading to something resembling Aldous Huxley’s Brave New

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How Britain Lost Its Cool

October 4, 2017

In the past 20 years, the UK and Germany have switched positions, with the latter now representing openness while the former has come to embody backward-looking nationalism. But there is no reason to believe that the two countries won’t swap places again.
BERLIN – The recent meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May in the Estonian capital of Tallinn was a portrait in contrasts. Merkel has pursued openness and internationalism, and leads a country with a world-beating industrial base and strong trade ties. May talks more about the past than the future, and has disparaged “citizens of the world” while claiming to defend her country’s confused national identity.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library


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