The transatlantic populist challenge is no longer confined to a few albeit stronger anti-establishment far right parties entering government and parliaments, according to a new report. Mainstream political parties are increasingly tempted to embrace sovereign nationalism, drawing on a mixture of preoccupations about cultural identity, security, economic nationalism, and social welfarism, analysts Rosa Balfour, Matthew Bryza and Jamie Shea write in Transatlantic Fragmentations and Policy Adaptation: The Security of Europe in 2025, a report from the German Marshall Fund.
In itself, this is undermining longstanding principles upon which the postwar Western order was built: democracy, economic liberalism, and international cooperation, the authors suggest:
The perceived risks of globalisation are giving way to a hybrid oxymoron between neoliberalism, dramatically widening the inequality gap, and a neo-nationalist political rhetoric, which, however, is not necessarily connected with the national ability to pursue public policy. Related to this is the risk of a deconsolidation of liberal democracy through the weakening of the legitimacy of the institutions supposed to represent it, media freedom undermined by law or by the market, the rights of minorities and migrants disrespected, and accompanied by trends of lesser attachment to liberal democratic values as a whole.
In a widely discussed article in the July 2016 issue of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa explored the concept of democratic deconsolidation. In the January 2017 issue, they further detailed “The Signs of Deconsolidation,” identifying the “early warning signs” that indicate democracy is in trouble.
“The shocks and surprises of the past few years show how easily assumptions about liberal markets, international relations, conflict, and democracy can be shaken. Geopolitical volatility has become a key driver of uncertainty, and will remain one over the next few years,” the GMF report contends:
Even if the majority of European citizens are not embracing populist nationalism, their political and social participation is no longer manifested through the traditional channels of political parties and/or trade-unionism, enfeebling their voice. Though it is difficult to imagine either a European or an EU answer to these challenges in the next few years, the EU will only be able to “hang in there” if European mainstream parties soon manage to shore up the legitimacy of their institutions.