January 23, 2017
What if the populists clash with one another?
Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, Geert Wilders, and Matteo Salvini, the leaders of the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany, the PVV in the Netherlands, and the Lega in Italy, met in the German city of Koblenz to co-ordinate their strategy ahead of a string of elections in all four countries. The common theme was the tyranny of the EU, the debate about which has reached a new linguistic escalation. Petry puts it this way.
"Europe has never tolerated an occupying power. Neither Napoleonic France, nor Nazi Germany. Nor the Soviet Union. And it will not tolerate the EU, God willing, any longer."
With language like this, it would probably be unwise to take a complacent view of what could happen if any of them ever got into power. Petry's theme was echoed by the others with various degrees of hysteria. Wilders gave his speech in German, in which he criticised the elites and their insistence that all cultures are morally equivalent.
The only sign of discord at the meeting, which was attended by 1,000 delegates, was a comment by one of the leaders of the AfD who said that his party should keep a certain distance from the FN because of Le Pen's protectionistic economic policy. Germany is after all a country with a 9% current account surplus - a reality that even the AfD cannot escape.
Timothy Garten-Ash focused on precisely this theme: what happens once the interests of the various nationalists collide? This is already the case in the UK, where the English nationalism that supported Brexit is now colliding with Scottish nationalism. It gets really scary when you look at Trump and China. The risk of an accidental naval or air confrontation in the South or East China Seas is far from negligible. The outcome would then depend on the wisdom and statecraft of Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. Here is his scary conclusion:
"No, I’m not predicting the third world war. But a 21st-century variant of the Cuban missile crisis? Entirely possible. So let’s have no illusions. Up on the magic mountain in Davos, Trump’s smooth-talking mouthpiece Anthony Scaramucci tries to persuade us that everything is going to be fine. He says “the path to globalism for the world is through the American worker” (unpick that if you can), and that Trump’s “disruptive change” is going to be “a positive thing in [our] lives”. Don’t be fooled; don’t be Scaramuccied. We are in for a dangerous, rough ride over the next few years, and we’d better be ready for it."