Was 2016 the year that set a new nationalist world order in motion? I ask, because after Brexit and Trump, France looks set to be the next country to surprise/disgust the world. And if a Frexit (sorry) does happen, then what will become of the EU? And what consequence will that have for Germany and other major EU players?
So many questions; so much speculation. That's all it can be for now. So let's have some fun with it. The right in France is clearly jealous of the UK's Brexit and the rather spurious 'take back control' mantra that Brexiters insist on happening (without ever defining what it actually means); the right in France also includes the far-right National Front (FN), a party led by Marine Le Pen, and who are a party with a few sniffs of success in their nostrils.
I don't know how accurately they can be portrayed as France's version of Ukip (FN have the potential to be more than just a protest vote), but Le Pen does like to draw attention to the failure of opinion pollsters to predict things with any degree of accuracy regarding both Brexit and Trump, and besides, Le Pen thinks Trump is largely a good thing. No surprise there. She thinks this because 'he acts in the interests of his people'. Deluded and wrong? Of course she is, but the fact is that's what she thinks, and therefore such nationalist thinking should apply to France, as it surely would in the UK if they weren't so obsessed with closer ties to the US.
The polls, if they can be trusted at some level, indicate that Le Pen's party will do well in the first round of voting but possibly less well in the second round. But regardless of what happens in France, many feel the European integration dream is finished. If Eurosceptics win in France it will merely hasten the decline of the project, or so the thinking goes.
Certainly Brexit has added weight to the possibility of a post-EU Europe. But for some, it's not whether the EU will survive, but what will replace it when it's gone? Yes, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. Italy isn't happy with the EU; there's a (very crucial) election later in the year in Germany. Populist right-wingers and social democrats are already making inroads into Merkel's powerbase (with many citing her immigration policy as the reason for her slump in the polls).
So if Europe's big hitters are being torn further apart, then what of the future? It is conceivable that Merkel will no longer be around a few months from now, and a new chancellor might not be so predisposed to the EU. We have seen in the US what nationalism can mean, what 'America first' means (even if it seems to mean anything Trump wants it to mean). Trump has clearly decided to take a cue from his mate Putin, with the same fiery brand of petty nationalism, authoritarianism and contempt for anyone who doesn't think exactly what he thinks.
To witness Trump's miraculous conversion to evangelical Christianity is akin to observing the atheist Putin's delight at throwing his weight behind the Russian Orthodox Church. After all, authoritarianism begets authoritarianism. Naturally the Orthodox Church responds in kind, just like the fundamentalist churches in the US will enthusiastically back Trump now that he's nailed his Jesus-shaped colours to the mast (if you'll pardon the imagery). In Austria last year we witnessed how close far rightist Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party of Austria came to power, and that was not a freak result. Viktor Orban in Hungary is an old-school nationalist, as is Erdogan in Turkey. If these things are reactions against what has gone before, then nationalism and xenophobia is on the rise, and this can't just be attributed to the rise in immigration.
In the UK many leading politicians are happy to be on the fringes of the right, and see further integration with the US as the only way forward, thus rendering the notion of 'taking back control' a hollow sham. Of course the leader they all look to, Trump, has no truck with NATO. Even in the far east Japan's leader, Shinzo Abe, is an unashamed nationalist, and China, whilst it shows off its military might to the world, is using that might to take control of parts of the South China Sea.
Nationalism is everywhere. Brexit is just the start of it, not the end. And if every nation is out for what it can get, then what about trade deals? The death knell of globalisation has already been sounded. The message seems to be that with the rise of nationalism we'll see a breaking down of the notion that whatever unites us is stronger than what divides us. Division will be the new integration, the new right will be the new old left, and walls will replace borders.
Dave Beamish for Political Provocateur