Interesting and troubling things are happening.
In Austria, the two classical people’s parties have been pulverized, from a solid absolute majority to 22% in the recent presidential elections. In Germany, a similar trend is materializing, though more slowly, and not (yet) as dramatically. But chances are that here, the (formerly) two big parties, the social democrats and conservatives, will also lose their majority. In France, the Front National may make it next year into the second round of the presidential elections, and even may win (an outcome narrowly avoided last weekend in Austria where the FPÖ almost made it). In the USA, two out of the remaining three presidential candidates are outspoken and successful populists. A Trump or Sanders presidency would change the country. In Hungary and Poland, this is already a reality, to the puzzlement and horror of the EU. Also in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, populists are gaining in influence. The recent referendum on accepting an association agreement with Ukraine was instructive.
The question this week is not an easy one. Let’s assume for a moment that in one of the major EU countries, and/or in the US, an outspoken simplifier would make it into the presidency, and start changing the independence of the legal institutions, the media, or the educational sector – how would we react? Let’s take as one extreme Houellebecq’s ‘Submission’, where a clear majority of professors are bribed into converting to Islam. And, as another option on the opposite side, a mass defection from political pressure. What would be the likely outcome in the case that radical populists take over the executive power in a major Western country as the result of a relatively normal election? What would we do?
– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers
The outgoing year was not only difficult in terms of challenges and crises. It also marked a point where, maybe for the first time since the end of the East-West Conflict, liberalism came under significant pressure.
Let’s assume that liberalism rests most of all on three assumptions: One, the international system should rest on a set of rules of behavior that is guaranteed by the United Nations. Two, domestic constraints and structures matter a lot for the policies pursued by a respective government. Three, democratic peace is an assumption that has been proved right mostly. So the furthering of democracy, transparency, the division of powers and the protection of minorities’ rights are not just fancy ideas, and not only the foundational principles of the EU, but the pillars of a healthy way of interaction between actors in the global landscape in general.
Now, in 2015 there were remarkable challenges to these ideas. That Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi hold on to different ideas was no big surprise. But a number of European leaders are also thinking along similar lines – most prominently, the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, and the Turkish President Erdogan. The new Polish government may be added to this list. And we cannot forget about radical populist movements and parties, most prominently in France and Sweden, but also in the Netherlands and Finland, as well as to some extent in Greece, Spain, and Italy. Muslim fundamentalism constitutes another, maybe even more formidable challenge to a liberalist order.
So the first question of the New Year is:
Is Fukuyama’s idea about the end of the ideational development of history finally outdated? Or is liberalism still a valid roadmap for social and political developments?
The situation in and around Eastern Ukraine reached a climax last week, when the Malaysian Boeing 777, flight MH 17, was downed en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 passengers and crew members, over the settlement of Torez, close to Donetsk and the Russian border. There is hardly a reasonable doubt that the plane was shot down by militia or Cossack groupings fighting for an independent Donbas, openly bragging their deed, inspired and supported by the Russian military. Increasingly it is becoming clear that Russia is moving away from being part of a solution for a new post-Cold War European order. Rather, it is major problem. Finally implementing level 3 sanctions and redistributing the 2018 World Cup will be debated now, once more.
(Photo: E. Arrott/Voice of America)
(Sasha Maksymenko/Flickr/Creative Commons)