‘Too Much of Europe’s Future Rests on Merkel’s Shoulders’: James Sherr
14 December, 2016

Angela Merkel arguably deserves a lot of thanks. In recent years, Germany has stepped up to steer European foreign policy through crisis after crisis. Her firm stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, strategy to deal with Eurozone bailouts and domestic economic and social challenges were sometimes controversial; but 11 years on, she remains in office. Yet the world around Ms. Merkel is changing. Her decision to open the doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa was a huge risk, especially as anti-establishment voices in Europe and the U.S. get ever louder.

James Sherr, an Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House says political swings in Europe such as Brexit could leave Merkel more isolated unless countries like Poland and those in the Nordic and Baltic regions step in to support the German leader.

“The UK now can only be an ally from the outside, much diminished in influence, which greatly adds to these dangers because the whole balance in Europe risks then shifting in a different direction, in a more populist direction and in a direction that is more sympathetic to Russia and less sympathetic to the United States.”, Mr. Sherr says.

Ms. Merkel needs only to look to neighboring France to witness this shift. Opinion polls suggest Francois Fillon is tipped to be selected the next president in two rounds of voting next April and May. The hardline conservative has raised eyebrows in Germany by supporting warmed ties with Russia.

“Today we are living in a world without a gyroscope where we can not take the established rules for granted. The question is what the new rules are going to be and to what extent the established rules will be damaged.”, Mr. Sherr says.

Meanwhile, he argues too much emphasis has been put on the political significance of the Budapest Memorandum, the document which gave Ukraine security guarantees in exchange for surrendering its nuclear weapons arsenal.

“Russia’s tearing up of Paris charter, violation of U.N. Charter, should matter more than it’s disregarding of the Budapest Memorandum...Ukraine can not base its own security simply on treaties and agreements and other people’s interpretation of them. Ukraine, more than ever, must base its security first and foremost upon itself."

Despite the rise of anti-establishment forces, the international affairs expert argues the U.S., Britain and France will remain ‘functioning liberal democracies where there are different power centers, there are countervailing powers, countervailing interests, strong circles of expertise, experienced people who even Donald Trump has to depend upon’.  

Hromadske’s Zhanna Bezpiatchuk interviewed James Sherr, an Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House in Kyiv, Ukraine.