With a weakened Germany after recent elections, limits on France's hopes for further European integration, secessionist tensions in Spain, and democratic backsliding in Hungary and Poland, democracy seems incapable of addressing current issues in Europe. We asked Sheri Berman, professor of political science at Barnard college and an expert in European politics, about the challenges that democracy faces in the Old Continent.
Journal of International Affairs: We are going to focus on the state of democracy in Europe. In Germany, Angela Merkel has renewed her term, but it will be the first time with an extreme right party in the Bundestag after the Second World War. How can this impact the European context?
Sheri Berman: The fragmentation in Europe has now hit Germany, its most stable country. It is a country that is doing economically fairly well, that is politically very powerful, and that has a past that many thought would have inoculated them against extremism. But even here we are seeing the kind of instability and right-wing populism that is taking place in the rest of Europe.
The German case is very interesting as a reflection of these general trends in Europe. We will see whether Merkel can pull off this coalition [with the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Free Democratic Party (FDP)] and whether she can use this coalition to begin re-stabilizing German politics, making enough voters convinced that the government is actually working for them, in order to turn them away from the extremes.
JIA: How much impact does Alternative fur Deutschland (AFD) actually have? They will not be part of the coalition but having them in politics must change the scenario somehow.
SB: That is right. Even when a party doesn't join a government, it can have an incredible impact, for example, through agenda setting. Merkel recognizes now that she needs to be more forthright with the immigration question, at the very least because it threatens to split her own party from its historic sister party, the CSU.
AFD's success has also made her aware of the fact that there is this incredible discontent that she had hoped to sweep under the carpet. She had the hope that her party and the FDP alone would have enough votes, which would have made arranging a coalition much easier, but the AFD pulled too many votes for her to be able to do that.
JIA: How can the success of this right-wing party impact politics at the European level?
SB: Merkel has been by far the key...