Rarely in the past 75 post-war years has the world faced as much fluidity, uncertainty, insecurity and lack of cohesion as it does right now. Perhaps this is because the so-called X factor that determines developments is so unpredictable. As a result, many governments – in Europe especially – are struggling to respond to present-day challenges.
The main reason is, of course, the pandemic, which changed the course of events, shattered expectations and canceled plans with its sudden appearance, terrible violence and persistence. What’s more, a return to normal – or at least some semblance of what was normal before this awful virus befell us – is still not entirely in sight. The pandemic also exposed the power of social media in influencing public opinion and politics, and the growing momentum of populism in its many different guises in the United States and Europe.
The past year or so has also seen serious developments on the international stage, with the start of a new cold war that is made even more complicated by events in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, among others. To top it all off, there’s been a push to establish a worldwide minimum tax rate for multinationals.
Certain factors have, however, emerged which define the international scene right now. With regard to the pandemic, vaccines have clearly become an arena of political and corporate games that are delaying immunization programs in many parts of the world. The AstraZeneca kerfuffle in particular shattered visions of European unity. But the crisis has also established the understanding, worldwide, that a public health system is the only system capable of ensuring universal healthcare during an event of this scale.
Given the enormity of the economic and geopolitical stakes, the tension between the US, Russia and China is also palpable. Washington’s re-engagement across the breadth of the international chessboard after the hiatus of the Trump administration comes with an implicit demand that Europe as a whole and Germany in particular toes the line. While Europe welcomes American engagement with relief and does not challenge its primacy in the Western world, some friction is still likely if specific national interests are at stake. The case of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will be indicative.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fall from grace belongs in the same context, mainly because of Ankara’s increasingly close ties with Moscow in military procurements and other areas, as well as its overly ambitious and provocative actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Balkans. Western disappointment with Erdogan has so far benefited Greece, as Europe also appears ready to adopt a firmer stance toward Turkey, similar to that of the US.
In Greece, too, new factors have emerged and older ones become more firmly established. The persistence of the health crisis has shaken the government’s confidence and the trust it inspired, leading to erratic decision making and susceptibility to pressure. In the meantime, we are also dealing with well-known ills: The bulk of the opposition continues to invest in lies and populism, while a large swathe of society insists on acting irresponsibly, defying rules and reason, whining and making demands.