In light of what was for many an unexpected result of the recent U.S. elections, Brookings Institution, in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, hosted a public panel discussion on the future of the West and transatlantic relations. Ralf Fücks, president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, William Galston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Julianne Smith, Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, discussed the future of liberal democracy, the rise of populist movements in the West, and elections in several European states next year.
All panelists wondered whether open societies and globalization as we know them need to be rethought. On a note of self-reflection, the panelists agreed that liberal democracy has failed to redistribute the benefits of globalization. Right-wing parties have taken advantage of this and have become the working class parties, now advocating for protectionism. Ralf Fücks spoke of a “crisis of modernity” and noted that multicultural society in many Western states is under threat. Given Russia’s interferences in many Western societies, Moscow is increasingly becoming the “center of anti-liberal internationalism.”
An important aspect of the discussion was the future of U.S.-Russia relations and the future of NATO. Throughout the discussion the words “I don’t know” were often uttered. Panelists wondered whether president-elect Trump will neglect NATO, and whether the new administration plans to indeed pursue closer relations with Russia. The panelists agreed that if the U.S. ends its commitment to NATO, it would mean the end of the treaty organization. Galston wondered if the incoming administration will care about the security of the Eastern European NATO partners, and, more generally, whether the United States will remain the leader of the free world.
Other aspects of the discussion included the rise of populist parties in Europe, the upcoming elections in France and Germany, and the future of the European Union. As Julie Smith remarked, many people in the new U.S. administration might not have much familiarity with the EU. In the worst case, cooperation between Russia and the United States could undermine the EU integration project. Expectations on German chancellor Angela Merkel “to hold Europe together”, as a panelist remarked, are high.