When leaders of G20 states gather in Hamburg this week, the world will be watching closely to see if they step up to the plate to fill the space ceded by the US under President Donald Trump.
The rise of Trump with his “America First” credo had boosted the fortunes of nationalist forces across Europe but recent elections in the UK and France have shown the tide has been stemmed, if not reversed.
With the success of French President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist party, La Republique en Marche in elections and with Chancellor Angela Merkel on course for a fourth term as Germany’s leader, albeit with reduced backing, many around the world are looking to Europe’s key powers to set the global agenda.
Others have pointed to the rise of the Labour Party in the UK and its leader Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to tap into the backing of the youth, despite the Conservative Party’s victory in the June 8 snap election, as a reflection of the rejection of populist policies that appeared to have spread after Trump’s win in the US.
The right-wing UK Independence Party imploded in the recent poll, its vote share of 12.6 per cent in the 2015 polls falling to just 2.1 per cent.
In March, Geert Wilders’ populist Party for Freedom was defeated in the election in the Netherlands. More recently, Finland’s ruling coalition parted ways with the rightwing True Finns party earlier this month. These developments too have been perceived as a dip in support for populist and hardline forces across the continent.
“Altogether, these national developments seem to signal that the wave of right-wing populism, which swept the US and UK last year, is receding. While reformist politics appear on the upswing, Germany and France are seizing new opportunities for global leadership,” said Antoine Levesques, research associate for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
But there are also signs that people across Europe want change, Levesques explained.
What the French and British elections had in common, he told Hindustan Times, is the revelation of a “profound sense of ill-ease among sizeable segments of their electorates with business-as-usual policies supporting ever-freer movement of labour across Europe (and) the model of financial globalisation which failed in 2007 and is blamed for austerity and widening inequality”.
Levesques said turnout in the German election in September, which will “partly be a referendum on Merkel’s pro-immigration and pro-EU policies”, will be closely watched for “signs that the respite from populism could only be temporary”.
Political commentator Jasdev Rai, also director of the Britain-based Sikh Human Rights Group, believes Trump’s politics – which he describes as “tweetomatic and impulsive” – have shaken up the world order to an extraordinary degree with “threats of wars, xenophobia, protectionist economics, racial violence and attacks on established international institutions”.
“As the US goes into internal tensions, there will be sigh of relief if Angela Merkel wins the forthcoming German election and takes leadership of the democratic liberal world order,” he said.
And in the face of Trump dismissing climate change and global warming, pushing NATO to pay more for the defence of Europe, firming up protectionist trade policies and acting unilaterally on a raft of issues that impact the world community, leaders such as Merkel and Macron have shown their willingness to do more to provide the lead.