14:27 May. 21, 2016
The institutions set up to defuse global tensions are no match for today's populism, writes Natalie Nougayrède
This is the age of the disgruntled – in domestic politics and foreign affairs alike. Anti-establishment sentiment within countries is somehow echoed by the way the rule book of international relations is being torn up. These dynamics feed on each other. They are at play in America (the rise of Donald Trump), Europe (growing populism) and Asia (nationalism and an arms race). Finding a way to address them will be crucial if democracies are to have any hope of resisting instability.
I recently attended the Lennart Meri conference in Estonia – a transatlantic gathering where much of the talk focused on how the "dream of a Europe whole and free" might be fading, and how that is affecting security and stability. And this week in London, at a meeting on global governance, and what needs to be done to improve it, a key focus of British and other European participants was: how do we restore the legitimacy of international institutions?
In democracies it is only natural that public opinion influences actions taken by governments on the international stage. But the way that pressure is exerted has changed. The Dutch government would never have sought a review of an association agreement between the EU and Ukraine if a referendum in the Netherlands – with a turnout of only 32%, triggered by a petition that had just over 300,000 signatures – hadn't signalled a rejection of that treaty.
Angela Merkel would never have pushed for a relaunching of EU membership talks with Turkey (something she had been blocking for almost 10 years) if the German far right hadn't started doing better in opinion polls.
In my country, France, although Marine Le Pen's Front National failed last year to win control of any region in local elections, her admiration for Vladimir Putin has made it more difficult for the socialist government to stick to its policy of renewing EU sanctions against Russia later this year. In Austria, where the far-right seems within reach of the presidency (ahead of voting on Sunday), populist pressures have already led to borders being shut to refugees. And in the US Donald Trump's success is already beginning to frame the foreign policy debate.