Some time ago, aspirations were high for setting new standards for social, political and economic developments in the BRICS countries. The hope was that these developments would diverge from those of America and Germany, from an increase in authoritarian behaviors in China, and from the lack of cohesion observed in the EU.
But now, as we scrutinize the state of affairs in the BRICS countries more closely, we find that Brazil has become notorious for hyper-corruption. Russia has become well known for breaking international rules and for its addiction to energy resources. India currently stands out for its bureaucracy and a fundamentalist Hinduism revival. China shows evidence of increasingly volatile cultural cleavages, and South Africa is plagued by significant uncertainties in governance. In short, where we previously expected to see new models for the future, there are multiple causes for concern.
Our questions are thus: Does it still make sense to address these five countries as a group, to see them as having numerous and significant similarities?
And, given the current characteristics of populism in these BRICS countries, are there any indicators for future trajectories of development that may support our previous expectations?
Tensions in the EU have been simmering for some time. There were ongoing quarrels and contradictions during the Euro crisis, and then, as a consequence of unregulated immigration flows. In addition, the Italian government is planning to seriously run up their debts, violating all relevant stability rules. The EU reactions to Russian assertiveness in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, the poisoning scandal in the UK (with fallout now in Switzerland) and, notorious violations of anti-doping rules also raised different levels of concern. The governments in Hungary, Italy and Cyprus have expressed understanding towards Russian leaders. More relevant, there are serious quarrels over perceived violations of the independence of the media, legal institutions and educational organizations in Poland and Hungary.
Until recently, the EU’s reactions have involved a mixture of talking and admonishing, but not much action. But now, both Poland and Hungary are exposed to different stages or Article 7 procedures which have been initiated by EU bodies. Even the conservative party grouping in the EU parliament is becoming agitated.
What is your expert view on these issues? Should the EU respond to rule violations by members in the same manner that they would when non-, or not-yet member states commit violations? What is the prospect of achieving success through further talks? What is the leverage of the EU? How do we factor-in the broader context of rising populism? Can the EU still defend its credibility against spoilers?
In a few days one of the world’s largest sporting events commences: the FIFA Football World Cup, this year held in Russia. With the recurrence of the World Cup in a new city every four years, we find ourselves debating how close or far politics should be from big soccer events.
Putin’s Russia (which is not all of Russia) is many things. Democracy, minority protection and international rule observance would not come to mind quickly when describing today’s Russia.
So when global soccer teams−with media, fans and commercial interests in tow−stream to Moscow and other Russian cities, we should think about how to frame this event:
Are these Putin’s games, or the festival for the youth of the world? Is this a gigantic media event, or will we encounter islands of authenticity? Can we separate the event from the Russian political context, or should we use the opportunity and talk on the spot about Crimea, Syria, and doping? And should political leaders of the world who care about values go to Russia and cheer for their teams, or not?
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)