Many still believe that the tsunami of populism and nationalism which swept across Europe a few years ago left it largely untouched. Their optimism was sadly misplaced.
Marine Le Pen may have been defeated in France, but President Emmanuel Macron has yet to establish his role as a major political force with broader leadership qualities. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power, meanwhile, is on the wane, causing significant concern because she was ultimately a bastion of common sense and moderation. From Hungary to Italy, the powers of defenders of extreme solutions to the immigration crisis and other issues are constantly gaining ground.
Citizens want clear proposals and leaders who don’t mince their words. They are laboring under the delusion that this style of governance will provide a solution to their problems. It turns out that anti-systemic sentiment ran a lot deeper than thought by those who were confident that Europe is strong enough to absorb all of the shocks rocking it.
But it is not just Europe that is being rocked. On the other side of the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has been challenging – with his words and actions – the global status quo as this was shaped by the West in the aftermath of the Second World War. He is even picking a fight with Canada, his country’s closest and oldest ally. He claims that the European Union is more dangerous than China and is pressuring Macron to consider leaving the bloc. He wants to weaken NATO and destroy the World Trade Organization: the two main pillars of the global status quo. And no one can say whether this is all part of a plan.
After a brief period of respite, the rest of the Western world’s leaders need to ask themselves who the real voice of American politics is: Trump or what is left of the deep state?
History has taught us that whenever a superpower shrinks or shirks its role, something bad is going on. It is always something bad and something major, from a war to a major economic crisis.
It is hard right now to imagine where all this uncertainty and all these incredible changes will take us. For those of us who have always seen Europe as a safe haven from storms at home and abroad, the dark clouds gathering on the horizon are understandably causing grave concern, as we all feel that we are on the brink of a storm breaking out in the safe haven itself.