3 May 2018

A new paper summarizes the findings of a recent simulation exercise exploring how governments on both sides of the Atlantic might respond to a descent towards populist authoritarianism in an EU member state.


Jacob Parakilas

Dr Jacob Parakilas

Deputy Head, US and the Americas Programme
Thomas Raines

Thomas Raines

Research Fellow and Programme Manager, Europe Programme


Young protester, Serbia. Photo: urbazon/Getty Images.
Young protester, Serbia. Photo: urbazon/Getty Images.



  • To better understand how governments on both sides of the Atlantic might respond to a descent towards populist authoritarianism in an EU member state, Chatham House organized a simulation event involving a group of experts drawn from the public sector, academia and NGOs.
  • Simulation exercises enable the testing and modelling of the responses of different actors when presented with specific situations; participants’ interactions in a given set of circumstances are explored, and patterns of negotiation are captured and analysed.
  • In this simulation, European, US and multilateral representatives were given the task of managing relations with Baltia, a fictional Eastern European state on the verge of electing a far-right nationalist, Eurosceptic government. They were then challenged to manage their relationship with Baltia after it had elected such a government, which was pushing for a ‘leave’ vote in a planned referendum on the country’s continued EU membership.
  • The simulation highlighted a number of issues:
    • Limited instruments are available to liberal democratic governments where there is cause for concern regarding the outcome of an election in an allied country. There are relatively few tools at the disposal of governments to support political allies, or to prevent outcomes that are perceived as threatening democratic norms. The simulation reinforced the view that interventionist moves, either from the European Commission or from individual national governments, would be more likely to come in response to an unfavourable development rather than pre-emptively.
    • The EU, and caucuses of European states, are the main international interlocutors in this type of political crisis involving an EU member state. The US opted to play a limited role in the negotiations; the same was largely true for NATO, aside from its action in sharing intelligence about a potential coup in Baltia. France and Germany formed a natural working partnership, taking meetings together and coordinating policies first before discussing them with a wider European circle, although their positions did not always align.
    • The UK’s capacity to shape the outcome of collective EU discussions appeared more restricted, while Brexit also seemed to shape the response of other EU states to the developing situation in Baltia. Although member states were undoubtedly reluctant to see another country go down this route, they were also resolute in demonstrating a unity of approach and limited flexibility in the face of the new populist government’s attempt to divide them.