Almost two thirds of this year are gone. Where is the balance, so far, in global politics? It is summer time, so it is time for reflection.
As last December—when we asked you for the last time for a prognosis, the liberal world order, established after 1945—is in disarray. An alternative is not in sight. The American president is a loose cannon, erratic and unstable. Midterm elections may cost him the majority in at least one chamber of the House. China’s economy looks slightly more stable, but it is entangled in a trade war with the U.S. A medicine scandal is tainting the highly centralized Chinese system, so the buck has to stop at the top.
In the EU, another country is moving away from the basic consensus of the Paris Charter in 1990 – Italy. Half of voters in recent elections voted populist. An impending trade war with the U.S. is on hold, and may (or may not) commence later this year. In Russia, the soccer championship was enjoyable for many, but a much criticized pension reform is shifting the allegiances of the electorate away from the current powers. Ukraine is still not considered to have moved beyond Russia’s sovereignty. Internally, political issues in Ukraine are significant. India and Brazil are facing their own domestic issues.
Climate change is on the march. We are experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Plastic is covering ever bigger parts of the oceans (and the earth). The big IT companies are still unsure how to address data protection demands. And how to balance the freedom of expression, and the protection against ‘hate speech’. Protectionism and mercantilism are en vogue, as are nonsense concepts such as ‘alternative reality’. The independence of media has to be defended every month.
What is your forecast for the rest of the year? What can be expected?
Europe is watching with puzzlement and growing despair at how the world is changing. The liberal global order as it was established after 1945 is becoming weaker. The guarantor for this order, the administration of the United States, is turning away from this role. China, while implicitly
suggesting that it might take over this role, is far away from it, at least far from any support for a liberal order. Russia (a middle power with nukes and based on carbon-based energy resources) is far away from both: order, and liberalism.
The EU, the biggest economic bloc and with two permanent seats in the Security Council, is considering its options. While alliances with either China or Russia are out of the question, the 70 year alliance between the EU and the US is under threat.
What, then, is a higher risk to the EU? To muddle through and hope for a better U.S. president (possibly an erroneous tactic), or to finally take over more of its own responsibility—especially in security and trade?
Following the Italian elections in March this year, we now have the opportunity to observe a newly elected populist government in action. One can argue that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have become increasingly populist under existing conservative and nationalist governments. Austria’s governing coalition uneasily incorporates many aspects of populism into their far-right platform. Italy, however, is the most explicit example of populist governance in action, because the election campaign was led with clear anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric, pro-Russian and anti-German messages, and a radical anti-immigration program.
A few days ago, the Austrian chancellor, Kurz spoke of a new ‘axis’ between Vienna, Rome and Munich. Decisions made in German politics this week may result in significant collateral consequences for the traditional German party system and for the stabilizing role that Germany has played under chancellor Merkel in the EU and beyond.
The current strategy of the acting German government’s majority is to address the new Italian government (and the Austrian government) by suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles.
Do you think that this is the right way of addressing populists in power?
See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers
Not long ago The Economist’s published a lead story entitled, ‘Germany is becoming more open and diverse. With the right leadership, it could be a model for the West.’ The lead commentary argued that ‘(m)any of the country’s defining traits – its ethnic and cultural homogeneity, conformist and conservative society, and unwillingness to punch its weight in international diplomacy – are suddenly in flux’ (April 14, 2018, p.9). Spanning 12 pages, the special report on Germany considers issues such as open and closed politics, the concept of ‘Heimat’, identity, social cleavages, and the advance of AI. The evolution of Germany into a reluctant and kind-of benign hegemon, and the state’s reconciliation with its history are also addressed, mostly in a sympathetic way.
This article forms the starting point for this week’s questions:
History never disappears. But are the horrors of the Holocaust and World War 2 becoming more distant, no longer immediately shaping current German policies? Is Germany becoming a ‘normal’ country, keeping its specific features but increasingly influential, with a clear liberal identity and taking over more responsibilities? And, if so, what does this signal to Germany’s neighbors? Ms Thatcher famously quipped after the collapse of the Berlin Wall: “We’ve beaten the Germans twice. Now they’re back!” Giulio Andretti added “I love Germany so much that I prefer to see two of them”. Are these times gone for good? Is it acceptable for today’s Germany to define its political roadmap as pragmatically as most other countries are shaping theirs? Moreover, is there reason to assume that Germany may even belong to the few societies (maybe like Canada and the Scandinavian countries) serving as liberal role models, as the “West’s Last Stalwart of Enlightened Liberalism” (Haaretz, 11, 2017)?
The German coalition talks collapsed recently. Achieving a ‘Jamaica’ coalition between the moderate conservatives, the Bavarian ‘real’ conservatives, the liberal party (just returned by the voters to the Bundestag) and the Greens, was apparently way beyond the capabilities of the four parties and over 70 people involved in four weeks of talks.
So as of now, the most influential country in Europe and the world’s third biggest economy is run by an acting government with limited rights. A government with a chancellor ranked as the ‘most influential woman of the world’—a prime example of soft power, a gifted mediator from the Iran to the Minsk negotiations, a core player in the Euro and migration crises—is currently looking weak, insecure, and shaken. While never quite willing to take on a global role beyond Europe, and being impressed by but unwilling to accept the notion of the ‘last standing liberal power in the world’, German elites are now puzzled by the inability to bring together the only viable combination of parties in the parliament after the September elections.
While recently there were prolonged periods of government-building in both Belgium and the Netherlands, neither country was as relevant for the cohesion and renovation of the EU. A couple of new French initiatives are still waiting for answers from Berlin. And those who are skeptical about liberal orders and societies may cheer: Now even in Germany there seems to be a crisis of liberalism, partly triggered by the populist AfD on the right, and the left party on the, well, left, both of whom accumulated about a quarter of the votes for populist, partly ant-systemic parties.
Which leads to this week´s question: Is all this a risk for Europe?
– Klaus Segbers
The G 20 summit came to Hamburg, overwhelming the city, and has now moved on. As for high politics, it was partly 20 – 0 (everyone allegedly against terrorism), 19 – 1 (climate change), and an unclear constellation in trade matters (with some issues having not been clearly framed).
Along with 10,000 politicians, sherpas, journalists, and 20,000 police officers, there also were hundreds of thousands of demonstrators (at one point on Sunday), and some 1,000 or so hard-core violent fighters who enjoyed the opportunity to endulge their machismo and seed chaos and fright. Even judging the whole theatre with benevolence from a distant viewer’s seat, one can hardly can avoid having the impression that there was a gross mismatch between the enormous efforts, and cost, to prepare and implement and defend all this, on the one hand, and the outcome, on the other.
The absent veto players and electorates from the domestic scenery are always around. There are too many topics and way too many participants/ guests. If we assume that the 40 leading individuals (19 plus one participants, plus 20 high-level reps from international organizations and the like) only talk for five minutes each, then three and a half hours are gone.
So this week’s question is: Are these monster-meetings any good?
– Klaus Segbers
As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.
There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Exceptional events require exceptions. So let’s continue last week’s debate, after we discovered who won (at least the elections, if not the popular vote). But our focus now, will be on how to react to the new situation.
There is a puzzling variety of Western reactions following the election results in the United States. Some leaders (like the Japanese Prime Minister) seem to have bowed deeply. Others (Russia), expressed their (probably wee-founded) hopes to improve relations. But again, others like Chancellor Merkel, appear to be cooperative, based on some conditional expectations. The EU, all of a sudden, has decided to improve its cooperation in the external and defense fields, and even promises to spend more.
What is a viable strategy for handling a committed populist? Bandwagoning? Accommodation? Conditional cooperation? Kow-towing? Pragmatic restraint?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
A few days ago, Germany (well most of it) celebrated 25 years of unification. In 1990, the former East-German GDR was incorporated into the West-German Bundesrepubik (FRG). A national spring was promised, however a lot of investment a troubles lay ahead.
Externally, German regained its full sovereignty in a period where global flows were superseding sovereignty more and more. But, after a quarter of a century of growing into a new role, it appears Germany is now being viewed differently. In the Eurocrisis, Germany played the roles of the older brother and the villain. In the refugee crisis, it took a lead as well, without really knowing where to go. Since 1990, German troops were deployed abroad for the first time post-WW2. Despite this, it resisted agreeing with military actions against Iraq and Libya. In the 5 + 1 (or 3 + 3) format, Germany was part of the possibly successful Vienna agreement on Iran, and it also inspired the Normandy format, achieving a Minsk agreement (however shaky) on regulating the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Furthermore, it may become part of a new 3+3+3 process on Syria despite not being a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Finally, the country also did not shy away from conflict with the US on issues of data protection.
Still, doubts are lingering. Some are welcoming a greater German role in global politics, yet others are skeptical. Some are calling for Germany to accept more responsibility, while others think there is already too much of it.
What should the proper message to the Germans be in year 25? What do you wish them to do?
By Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers – Program Director of the Center for Global Politics
The agreement between Iran and the ‘5 + 1’ group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) has been signed.
This seems to be good news for all parties involved for the following reasons: First, the economic sanctions against Iran will be lifted gradually. Second, the break-out options of a nuclear bomb for Iran will be reduced. Third, western and Russian economic cooperation with Iran now has the ability to blossom. And lastly, some people are now able to visualize potential for a more moderate influence by Iran in the neighborhood of MENA.
BUT, it is not quite clear if the agreement will actually be ratified. In Iran the highest leader Khamenei has verbalized some critical remarks, but he seems to be in overall support of the agreement.
The Israeli government is openly ranting about their unwillingness to form any agreement with Iran, just as they have in the past. The most difficult impediment the final ratification is facing is coming from Washington. Congress is very skeptical, and may try to de-rail this agreement after all.