In 2016 and 2017, leading nations of the Western world will make, or have already made, decisions that will fundamentally change “the West,” as it has been known for years. First, there was the Brexit vote in Great Britain and now there is Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.
Will a third instance see France choose right-wing populist politician, Marine Le Pen, as president in the spring of 2017 – and thereby say no to Europe?
It seemed inconceivable that Mr. Trump could become the next U.S. president or that a majority in Great Britain could vote for the Brexit. But we’ve since learned otherwise. Apparently, the foundations of the Western world – European and trans-Atlantic cohesion, a Western outlook – are being shaken – and without any real awareness of the possible consequences.
Nowhere would a resurgence of nationalism be more dangerous than in this country, in the middle of this continent.
When Great Britain decided against the European Union, they were deciding against a European framework for peace founded on principles of integration, cooperation, a single market and shared laws, at the very moment in history when this institution is under extreme pressure, from inside and outside.
The internal pressure comes from mounting nationalism in almost all of the member states. The external pressure comes from Russia’s posturing as a great power and its suggestion of an alternative model, an “Eurasian Union,” which means nothing more than the return of Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe. Both trends aim at the destruction of the framework for peace called the European Union which, now without Great Britain, a traditional guarantor of stability, will doubtless become more fragile.
Together with President-elect Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his willingness to recognize Russia as a great power, this will lead to a kind of Yalta 2.0 at the expense of Europe and trans-Atlantic cohesion. Exacerbated anti-Americanism will affect a wide swathe of society, and cause major problems for the trans-Atlantic relationship.
The election of Ms. Le Pen in would mean nothing less than France’s rejection of Europe and the probable end of the European Union; nationalism would once again reign supreme in Europe. The Western world would be unrecognizable. Europe would no longer be an oasis of stability. Instead it would be the continent of chaos once again.
What role will Germany play? If the European project fails or is permanently weakened, Germany will pay the highest price in economic and political terms. Nowhere would a resurgence of nationalism be more dangerous than in this country, in the middle of this continent. German nationalism has shown what it can do, during the first half of the twentieth century! And what calamity it can bring!
Add to all this, Germany’s indeterminate geopolitical situation. In contrast to Germany, France looks westward, with its Atlantic and Mediterranean shores. But ever since it was founded, an oscillation between East and West has been an essential part of the German realm.
For Konrad Adenauer, Germany’s first post-war leader, integrating the country into Western Europe was more important than reunifying it. He had lived through the tragedy of two World Wars and the failure of the Weimar Republic. He believed Germany must be forced out of its isolation in the center by anchoring the country firmly in Western Europe. The German-French friendship and European integration were, and are, the essential perquisites for this.
Germany’s return to a more central, less Western outlook would endanger Europe, nourish dangerous illusions in Russia and confront this country with uncontrollable challenges. Yet this will be the fundamental issue in the 2017 German federal election, for both the right and the left wing.
The Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party embodies the nationalistic and pernicious tendencies in the German right and far-right that seek a restoration of that older position, as well as closer ties with Russia. The possibility of a coalition between the Christian Democrats and the AfD would definitively end the Bonn Republic and betray the Adenauer legacy.
And an identical danger threatens from the left. A coalition between Germany’s Social Democrats, Green and Left parties would rely on a Left Party in which leading figures desire essentially the same thing: Rapprochement with Russia and abandoning, or at the very least loosening, ties to the West.
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