The Future of Multilateralism Between Multipolarity and Populists in Power 

Please cite as:

Sithole, Neo; Pretorius, Christo; Valev, Radoslav; Guidotti, Andrea & Duman, Hilal. (2024). The Future of Multilateralism Between Multipolarity and Populists in Power. European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). April 28, 2024.     


ECPS’ Third Annual International Symposium on the Future of Multilateralism Between Multipolarity and Populists in Power, conducted online from March 19-20, 2024, raised the question of whether populist policies are contributing to a new wave of illiberal world order, marked by economic protectionism and political isolation. The symposium also aimed to explore the mechanisms that bolster the resilience of populist movements and the implications of their actions for the advancement of a necessary new-generation globalization.

BNeo SitholeChristo Pretorius, Radoslav ValevAndrea Guidotti Hilal Duman


The evolving dynamics of multipolarity and the shifts in global power dynamics have cast shadows on the relevance, legitimacy, and effectiveness of established international cooperation platforms, such as the UN, G-20, World Bank, IMF, EBRD, WTO, and WHO. Concurrently, the rise of initiatives such as BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), spearheaded by authoritarian and populist leaders, raises questions about their role in shaping the future of global governance. Thus, calls for reform of the post-war global governance architecture, often perceived as "weak" and "disingenuous," have largely remained unanswered. These developments have far-reaching implications, impacting the ability to address global challenges such as climate change, food security, conflict resolution, and humanitarian crises. As a result, proxy conflicts, political oppression, terrorism, and displacement have triggered irregular and uncontrolled migration, contributing to the rise of far-right parties in developed nations. 

Meanwhile, populist leaders, often prioritizing arbitrariness and contingency over rule-based "multilateral" governance, have operated under the assumption that their actions bear no consequences. What’s concerning is that despite facing numerous economic challenges compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, several populist governments have managed to maintain their grip on power. In our increasingly fragmented world, characterized by diverse actors and factors, these leaders have devised alternative strategies to prolong their tenures, sometimes exacerbating systemic challenges. They have resonated with their constituents by attributing their failures to non-economic factors such as independence and sovereignty.

Hence, the objective of ECPS’ “Third Annual International Symposium on the Future of Multilateralism Between Multipolarity and Populists in Power,” held online between March 19-20, 2024, was to question whether a new wave of illiberal world order, characterized by economic protectionism and political isolation, is perpetuated by populist policies. The symposium aimed to address the mechanisms reinforcing their resilience and the implications of their actions on the necessary new-generation globalization.

You can peruse the report, which comprises summaries of the presentations and speeches delivered throughout the ECPS’ two-day symposium.

Opening Session 

Irina VON WIESE, the Honorary President of the ECPS, delivered the opening speech, setting the stage for deliberations.  Dr. Barrie AXFORD (Professor Emeritus of Politics at Oxford Brookes University), delivered the first keynote speech of the symposium, exploring “The Implications of Rising Multipolarity for Authoritarian Populist Governance, Multilateralism, and the Nature of New Globalization.”

Opening Speech by Irina von WIESE 

The honorary president of the ECPS, Irina von Weise, opened the symposium by drawing the audience’s attention first to the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump’s election in 2016, both of which were successful full-scale populist campaigns. Von Weise added that as a result of these successes, we can not only expect a potential second term for Trump but also a record number of attacks on people’s freedom coinciding with a record number of elections across the world in 2024. According to her, human rights, including the right of freedom of opinion, expression, and association, and the freedom of the press, are the foundations of democracy but have come increasingly under attack across the world. Quoting a German saying, von Weise issued a stark warning: ‘Beware of the beginnings,’ for while countries like the UK and Germany have not reached the point where they have become totalitarian dictatorships like Russia, there has been an erosion of people’s rights. 

Using the UK as a case study, von Wiese highlighted that, in her view, the populist agenda amounts to an attack on democracy and the rule of law in Britain. She notes that Boris Johnson’s attempt in 2019 to see if a hold could be put hold Brexit was a crude assault on the democratic process but ultimately prevented by the UK Supreme Court. In response, the populist media and rhetoric vilified the Supreme Court as members of the ‘ruling elite’ whilst championing Johnson as defending the people since he only wanted to ‘get Brexit done.’ The second attack on the rule of law also came from Johnson’s government when they ignored the treaty, they had just signed with the European Union regarding the post-Brexit trade terms in Northern Ireland, damaging the UK’s international credibility. As a final example, von Wiese indicated that the threat of withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights by Prime Minister Sunak, made in an attempt to appease the far-right wing, would also help enable a nationalist populist immigration policy. Underpinning all these attacks were populist tactics aimed at spreading disinformation, anti-elitist rhetoric, and fostering international polarization among the British people, pitting ethnicities, and religious communities against each other. However, von Wiese ended her speech on a hopeful note, expressing her belief that liberal democracy in the UK is resilient to such attacks. She emphasized that civic education would continue to immunize people against populist manipulation, and we should remain mindful of these beginnings, which often lead down a slippery slope.

Report by Christo Pretorius

Keynote Speech 1

Dr. Barrie AXFORD: “The Implications of Rising Multipolarity for Authoritarian Populist Governance, Multilateralism, and the Nature of New Globalization”

Dr. Barrie Axford’s keynote speech elaborated on the complex interplay between rising multipolarity, authoritarian populist governance, multilateralism, and globalization’s evolving nature. His paper has since been published in ECPS’ digital journal Politics & Populism

Acknowledging the vastness of the topic and its diverse perspectives, Dr. Axford highlighted the current challenges facing the liberal international order, such as the rise of multipolarity, the retreat of multilateralism, and the resurgence of populism. After giving an overarching panorama of the scholarship, and his take on the policy world, he set the stage for a deeper exploration of these themes.

Dr. Axford’s comprehensive speech delivered a critical analysis of multilateralism within the framework of the liberal international order, exploring the ambiguity surrounding the concept of the liberal international order and multipolarity. The emergence of multipolarity and its implications for the existing world order was critical to understanding the use and abuse of the liberal order. Besides relatively more obvious challenges to liberal order from authoritarian powers like China and Russia, “the Western world” poses a threat to liberal values, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s presidency. Yet, the growing calls for a more multipolar world order challenge the dominance of Western values and institutions as the existing liberal order relies on Western powers and institutions. 

According to Dr. Axford, tensions within the liberal international order include the coexistence of state sovereignty and liberal principles and the challenges of defining and implementing multilateral cooperation. Yet, the abuse of liberalism is complex. At this juncture, the rise of populism can be seen as a response to the globalized world’s interconnectivity and rejecting its borderless narrative. Populism represents a broader struggle between national and global imaginaries, signaling a shift away from neoliberal globalization narratives. 

Dr. Axford deepened his analysis of globalization and populism by discussing the evolving nature of security in the context of globalization. He referenced previous research on existential security and compared it with the current sense of volatility and insecurity, especially in wealthy countries. This shift in security perceptions contributes to the broader backlash against globalization. The digital world and technologies have contributed to globalizing crises and polarization. 

Observing a shift in individuals’ perceptions of security and existential certainty, Dr. Axford, classified this as part of the crisis of second modernity, which is characterized by increased awareness of risks and uncertainties in the contemporary world. Despite advancements in technology and knowledge, modern societies grapple with profound existential insecurities driven by factors such as declining real incomes, job insecurity, income inequality, environmental degradation, health crises, and perceived threats from immigration. These challenges fuel fears about survival and rights, leading to a resurgence of xenophobic, populist, and authoritarian movements.

This crisis of second modernity has led to a rejection of Western modernity and its associated neoliberal globalization narrative, manifesting in various forms such as anti-globalization, neo-statist rhetoric, and populist movements that seek to reclaim national identities and sovereignty. In this sense, populism is reactive to the perceived failure of reflexive modernization and the inability of institutions to address everyday challenges effectively.

Moving forward, Dr. Axford discussed the implications of globalization and digitalization for contemporary politics and society, commenting that the emergence of diverse forms of globalization challenges the hegemony of the West. Additionally, he emphasized the role of digitalization in reshaping global interactions, economies, and cultures, as it facilitates connectivity, and generates new social dynamics, power structures, and modes of governance. However, this coincides with concerns about surveillance, homogenization, and the erosion of human connections.

The concept of “multipolar globalization” was also discussed by Dr. Axford. This idea paves the way for alternative development and governance models globally, to him, especially as economic power shifts from the West to the East. Delving deeper into the interplay between populism, globalization, and the shifting dynamics of contemporary politics, Dr. Axford focused on the resurgence of “sovereignty” in contemporary politics, highlighting the idea of “sovereigntism,” which represents a longing for a more internalized version of sovereign power that emphasizes mutually exclusive territories and a retrenchment of the national dimension. However, Dr. Axford noted that sovereignty does not necessarily entail a complete withdrawal from globalization but rather seeks to fortify national identity and autonomy within the international system.

Dr. Axford next evaluated the effectiveness of the nation-state in addressing the challenges posed by globalization and populism. The COVID-19 pandemic served as a test of state capacity and resilience, challenging the perception of the state as a guarantor of security and well-being. Despite the vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic, Dr. Axford suggested that the nation-state remains a significant actor in global affairs, particularly in terms of resource management and governance.

Emphasizing the diversity and complexity of contemporary global politics, Dr. Axford argues against labels such as "global capitalism" or "neoliberal order" and emphasizes the need for critical descriptions that account for globalization’s diverse origins and temperaments.

Concluding, Dr. Axford stated that he views populism as a response to economic and cultural insecurities exacerbated by globalization and modernity and reflected on the implications of populism and insecurity for global politics. He acknowledged the deep-seated anger and polarization fueling populist movements but questioned the sustainability of radical solutions in the long term, suggesting that populism may be symptomatic of broader ontological, political shifts, reflecting a reconfiguration of identity and collective consciousness in response to global uncertainties.

Report by Hilal Duman

Panel 1: Interactions Between Multilateralism, Multi-Order World, and Populism

Moderated by Dr. Albena AZMANOVA (Professor, Chair in Political and Social Science, Department of Politics and International Relations and Brussels School of International Studies, University of Kent), the first panel focused on: “The Interactions Between Multilateralism, The Multi-Order World, and Populism.” Dr. Stewart PATRICK (Senior Fellow and Director, Global Order and Institutions Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) opened the panel with a discussion titled “Reimagining Global Economic Governance and the State of Global Governance.” Following him, Dr. Viktor JAKUPEC (Honorary Professor of International Development, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Australia; Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Potsdam University, Germany) presented on “Multipolarity and a Post-Ukraine War New World Order: The Rise of Populism.”

Dr. Stewart PATRICK: “Reimagining Global Economic Governance and the State of the Global Governance” 

Dr. Stewart Patrick gave a speech on the crisis of neoliberalism and on whether it is possible to imagine a new model of global economic governance that is resilient, sustainable, and able to deliver essential global public goods. The starting point was the assumption that the neoliberal ideology has often failed to provide economic prosperity and political stability because of the financialization of the world economy. Additionally, shocks such as the financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the resurgence of geopolitical conflicts, opened new avenues for major institutional change. In this sense, some governments started to renegotiate the terms of their integration within the global economy, particularly as they try to reassert their sovereignty. 

According to Dr. Patrick, different from the past, prominent critics are coming from former supporters of globalization, such as the United States, and the increasing conviction that the major institutions for global economic governance are not fit any more for their purposes, as they are unable to represent shifts in power relations around the world. While certifying these developments, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and the Managing Director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, referred to the need for a new ‘Bretton Woods moment’ to restore the social bargain among international actors. 

To fulfil the outlined purposes, the Dr. Patrick remarked that we need new rules and institutions, and a narrative that sustains and legitimizes them appropriately. Moreover, we must remember that we are also facing a crisis of multilateralism alongside neoliberalism, as multiple governments have lost faith in the ability of current international cooperation frameworks from a security, and accountability driven point of view. Within this context, Dr. Patrick posed the following question: Is it realistic to envision a more equitable and responsive globalization that can balance the realities of global pluralism and diverse preferences, given these dynamics? This would entail giving more voice and weight to the worldwide majority under the guidance of standard rules of international cooperation. The critical challenge lies in reconciling the domestic and international aspects of this balance while updating multilateral institutions to help mitigate the negative spillovers of national policy choices. 

Before answering this question, Dr. Patrick explained more specifically what the Global World Order currently stands for. At a minimum, it implies a degree of predictability or pattern regularity in interstate relations. In other words, it has to rely on a stable power distribution and, hence, the accompanying normative principles of conduct that help to drain the spontaneous anarchy of the system. The distinctiveness of the post-war global order is the proliferation of international organizations’ frameworks, regimes, and treaties across every global domain. This process accelerated after the end of the Cold War and has been complemented by transnational networks of non-governmental actors. The US and its allies have been the main drivers of integration within the order, following the goal of fostering capitalism, democracy and collective defense. 

One point Dr. Patrick stressed is that the crisis of the multilateral world order does not only concern competing and conflicting material interests of its members, but it increasingly involves fundamental divergences of different world order visions over the purposes that global governance should advance, and, therefore, the rules and principles to be followed to grant these interests. Some of the diverging ideas pertain to governing financial development and investments, managing the global commons, and addressing the Earth system concerning climate change and biodiversity, global health, as well as upholding democracy and human rights as essential values. We are witnessing both a resurgence of the East-West divide, particularly in relation to Russia and China, and a deterioration in North-South relations between wealthy and developing countries. Emerging powers like India and Brazil are increasingly assertive, seeking to transition from being mere rule-takers to becoming rule-makers themselves. To conclude, all of these new trends are suggesting the development of a new world order that is normatively thinner. Put another way, global governance will need to aspire less in the domain of global governance. 

Exploring some of the other major issues the global world order is currently facing, Dr. Patrick highlighted a second factor complicating the international world order. Backlash to globalization comes in the argument that it ultimately did not bind nations closer together due to increasing inequalities among and within them. The main losers in this trend have been the lower and middle classes in rich countries, while the big winners are the already wealthy. The third major shock, as a by-product of reducing people living in extreme poverty and increasing their living standards, has been climate change, which is shaping the Earth system. In the face of it, there is an increasing understanding that the cause is at least partially coming from the acquired benefits caused by increased living conditions. 

A fourth challenge is the demographic mismatch between young and old people: while some countries are well below replacement levels, others are booming in practically uncontrolled fertility rates. New risks posed by innovation and technological improvements are related to massive dislocation in knowledge-based sectors, and monopolistic developments. The sixth trend, and the most related to our symposium, is democratic backlash around the global and the parallel rising of populism. This has reinforced the retreat from a common civil and political culture and provided authoritarian governments with an unprecedented surveillance capability. Moreover, a vacuum of leadership, mainly coming from the US, favored skepticism and fueled uncertainty in the multilateral system, marking a qualitative departure from decades of internationalism. 

To conclude his speech, Dr. Patrick tried to offer five solutions to these problems: First, we should learn from history on how relevant policy-oriented ideas, including the empowerment of social movements and the mobilization of broad coalitions, gain political prominence. Dramatic institutional change often occurred during policy failure moments and where crises discredited established orthodoxies, opening a window of opportunity for new models and frameworks of thinking. 

Second, any reimagining and reforming of the system of global economic governance would require building a world economy that rewards labor as much as capital to ensure that the gains from globalization are fairly and equitably shared. Put differently, it is a kind of embedded liberalism along the lines of the post-war period. 

Third, we must invest equally in natural capital as human, physical, and financial capital. That is to say, we need to manage the collision between the Earth and the international systems, remembering that nature is a precondition for human well-being and rethinking environmental damage differently from an unavoidable externality of market activities. The battle against climate change has not to be seen as a costly distraction from the imperative of development but as one of its crucial components. 

Fourth, it’s crucial to expand the benefits of the digital revolution beyond its current winner-take-all dynamics. AI holds the potential to become as widespread and transformative as electricity, but we must ensure its development and accessibility are inclusive for all. This requires the establishment of secure, interoperable digital public infrastructures governed by trusted systems that citizens can access for public services.

Finally, we need to free up space at the top of the global governing system for rising powers within multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, and UN Security Council. They will gain legitimacy if relevant adjustments, and not necessarily drastic changes, are implemented. 

Dr. Viktor JAKUPEC: “Multipolarity and a Post-Ukraine War New World Order: The Rise of Populism” 

Dr. Viktor Jakupec, who explored the shifts in power relations and ideological preferences, examined multipolarity in the aftermath of the post-Ukraine war and the new world order, with a specific focus on populism. His main thesis is that after the Russian-Ukrainian war, we will end up in a post-war setting composed of two different orders: a liberal rule-based order and a multipolar populist world order. The war between Russia and Ukraine has catalyzed significant political paradigm shifts, particularly regarding the shifts from liberalism to populism across various global contexts. The primary reason is that a growing portion of the population in the EU is experiencing economic hardship and growing disillusionment with the sanctions imposed on Russia and their consequences. From the point of view of the wider population, the liberal political leadership is focusing on Western liberal values and ideologies at the expense of national interests, while the populist political leadership is directing its attention towards national economic issues and alleviating the negative impacts of the sanctions. 

This divide in priorities sets the stage for significant political shifts, which become evident in the discourse surrounding the 2024 elections in both Europe and the US. The cumulative paradigm shift that is carried by EU elections consists of the weakening of the liberal rules-based world order and the strengthening of the rise of a multipolar populist world order. In this respect, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is causing multiple effects: it is catalyzing a further rise of populism, eroding neoliberalism globally, highlights weaknesses in liberal institutions, and shows the inability of liberal institutions to address complex international relations. Ultimately this causes widespread and general disillusion in liberal ideologies, increasing the appeal of populist movements, and a parallel turn to national interests and sovereignty. 

From the geopolitical point of view, the conflict has had a significant impact on liberal entities such as NATO, the EU, and the UN, especially as it forces nations to align themselves, exacerbating tensions, and prompting diplomatic recalibration. In addition, the Global South criticized the EU and the US’ involvement as a case of neo-colonialism, being in parallel, for many countries, non-compliant with Western sanctions. Taken more broadly, the Global South is moving away from the Washington consensus and is becoming closer to the Beijing one, thus creating new alliances in the global arena and reshaping the multipolar world order. The alliance that currently stands as prominent in criticizing the liberal world order is represented by the BRICS, that, with the addition of countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, is now almost counting for half the size of the global population. 

In conclusion, Dr. Jakupec first discussed the tendency for the populist multipolar order to counterbalance the liberal rules-based world order, highlighting that there is a coexistence between these two orders. He further stated that there is a possibility for the resurgence of an in-out bloc division along the lines of the Cold War divide. Dr. Jakupec also theorized that the complex interplay of geopolitical dynamics and domestic political forces will result in political and military power distribution among multiple actors, enhancing the sovereign capabilities of nation-states from a realist perspective, while also providing a greater diversity of geopolitical and geoeconomic perspectives. This will provide more resilience against the hegemony of a specific country, while also empowering grassroots movements and the protection of socio-cultural identities. 

Report by Andrea Guidotti  

Panel 2: The Future of Democracy Between Resilience & Decline

The second panel, moderated by Dr. Nora FISHER-ONAR (Associate Professor of International Studies at the University of San Francisco), delved into “The Future of Democracy Between Resilience and Decline.” She emphasized that this panel aimed to gather insights from experts across various global regions, focusing on the intersection of material concerns in International Political Economy and normative issues such as democratic resilience and human rights.

Dr. James BACCHUS (Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs; Director of the Center for Global Economic and Environmental Opportunity, School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs, University of Central Florida, Former Chairman of the WTO Appellate Body) was the panel’s first speaker, delivering a speech on “The Impact of Populist Authoritarian Politics on the Future Course of Globalization, Economics, the Rule of Law, and Human Rights.” Following him, Dr. Kurt WEYLAND (Mike Hogg Professor in Liberal Arts, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin) presented on “Resilience of Democracies Against Authoritarian Populism.” Concluding the panel, Dr. Marina NORD (Postdoctoral Research Fellow at V-Dem Institute, University of Gothenburg) delivered a speech entitled “Global Trends for Democracy and Autocracy: On the Third Wave of Autocratization and Cases of Democratic Reversals.”

Dr. James BACCHUS: “The Impact of Populist Authoritarian Politics on the Future Course of Globalization, Economics, the Rule of Law and Human Rights”

Dr. Bacchus began by stating that he is an optimist influenced by the philosopher Sir Karl Popper, who believes humans are inherently good. However, continuing, he said it’s hard to remain an optimist in the face of the current collective global issues, such as climate change and the need for sustainable development. According to him, the danger of being pessimistic about populism is that we might start to accept the premise that widespread involvement in politics is harmful and would legitimize the concerns of populists that people who hold those views are “elitists.” 

According to Dr. Bacchus, public participation can be positive as well as negative globally, and the need to look at political and geopolitical events in context is what’s needed. He found that in the United States, the consensus amongst historians, including himself, is that the populist movement in the 19th century had a positive influence on broadening and deepening American democracy and justice. Although the populists never won the presidency, their ideas were adopted by both the Democratic and, to a lesser extent, the Republican parties at the time – ideas such as the direct election of senators and personal income tax, which were all part of the Ocala Demands which originated from a convention of the Populist Party in Ocala, Florida, in 1890. This example highlights Dr. Bacchus’ previous statement that one of our challenges is galvanizing popular participation in a way that produces positive results, not negative ones.

Over the last decade, since the global recession, dangerous forms of populism have grown, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Bacchus focuses on Donald Trump as one of these individuals, remarking that his comments during a rally for Senate candidate Bernie Moreno in Ohio on March 16, 2024, where he predicted a bloodbath if he does not win the presidential election, are not traditionally found in American politics but have become increasingly common. This highlights the highly divisive nature of recent populist rhetoric that aim to polarize public opinion. Trump wants to showcase that with multilateralism America will lose its national industry which will negatively impact the American economy. By creating a climate of fear and attributing economic challenges to multilateralism, a potential victory for Trump in the upcoming elections could result significant shifts in open trade and economic cooperation between nations. 

With the high popularity of Trump in America, right-wing populism is undoubtedly the prevailing populist movement. However, Dr. Bacchus highlighted that there is also a potential for left-wing populism in the United States. So far, no political party has tried to engage with the legitimate concerns of the people – such as the proposed higher taxes on upper-income individuals to provide greater services to those in need. In Dr. Bacchus’ opinion, the US has not seen a president like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who he believes is currently the type of leadership the country needs. There is a positive outcome to this, however, as Dr. Bacchus believes that current events will strengthen democracy in the long term.

Dr. Bacchus looked to the global stage and highlights emerging democracies worldwide in Indonesia and Brazil. The need for a “strong democracy” is a proposed democracy by the philosopher Benjamin Barber, who called for a much more participatory system. These democracies are much more suitable for facing the current global crises. The need to promote affirmative kinds of citizenship and participation is needed. The form of this, which Dr Bacchus suggested, is that trust needs to either be restored or created towards the system, and the right kind of leadership is needed, as opposed to a ‘finger in the wind.’

Dr. Kurt WEYLAND: “Resilience of Democracies Against Authoritarian Populism” 

To start his talk, Dr. Kurt Weyland highlighted that the concern of populism arose around Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. The fear is that if movements like this can occur in the United States, which is often seen as the paragon of liberal democracy, then it can certainly happen in other countries. The crux of his argument is that the focus on cases where populist leaders have strangled democracy can be misleading because the majority of populists do not actually end up destroying democracy.

His research started by defining populism – a movement that revolves around a personalistic plebiscitary leadership, a domineering figure that claims to fight for the people. Two key factors are present in this definition: First, these figures are a threat because they not only run up against the checks and balances that liberal democracy has in place to try and constrain people like them, and second, they base their power on mass support from the people, and thus try to establish a direct personal emotional connection to them. This kind of pandering means that a populist “supercharges” their appeals, rallying them around the flag that they are fighting against the elite. Supporting these populist leaders undermines civil electoral democratic competition, as it alienates democratic competitors not as legitimate alternatives but as enemies to be fought.

Because Dr. Weyland argued that populism‘s threat to democracy is real and serious but not as severe as it is depicted. He believes that populism is an inherently dangerous movement, he investigated forty cases of populist leaders that won power in Latin America and Europe over the last four decades and found that only seven had destroyed their respective country’s democracies. This number is so low because when populist leaders come to power, they face a high risk of being overturned. Investigating the cases where populists managed to destroy democracies would, therefore, shed light on the conditions they needed to do so. Dr. Weyland found that when a country has weak institutions, populist leaders have more opportunities to concentrate power, which means that in countries with a tradition of strong institutions, such as Western Europe or the US, there is less chance for a populist to damage the democratic system. However, this doesn’t paint the full picture because there are cases where populists did not destroy a country’s democracy despite weak institutions – such as Pedro Castillo’s election in Peru. 

The second factor Weyland focuses on is popular support, which has proven difficult for many populists to gain. For example, Nayib Bukele in El Salvador reportedly had 80-90% support. This support can come in two types, according to Dr. Weyland. The first is a massive resource windfall, such as in the cases of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, where the government has an enormous revenue source from which they can roll out generous social programs, buy off businesspeople and politicians through juicy contracts and corruption respectively. Economic windfalls are significant for left-wing populists who want to lift people out of poverty, but the conditions also allow them to destroy and strangle democracy. 

On the other hand, there are severe economic crises, such as hyperinflation. Populist leaders can use this as the catalyst to launch their campaign as the people‘s savior by controlling the situation. Alberto Fujimori is one such populist who solved hyperinflation and gained major support. According to Dr. Weyland these economic crises are essential for the rise of right-wing populists, as their appeal is typically order and stability, with numerous examples of right-wing populist leaders being elected in the wake of the 2008 financial crash – such as in Hungry – and Erdogan in Turkey following a crisis in 2001. 

Dr. Weyland argued that his findings hold validity, especially when using South America as a case example, because right-wing populism is less likely on the continent, except in the cases of Alberto Fujimori and Nayib Bukele, who both utilized economic crises to come to power. Both also solved a serious public security threat by decapitating the Shining Path guerrilla insurgency and fighting serious gang crime, respectively. This focus on public security is another critical factor for right-wing populists and adds another crisis for the populist to solve, thus increasing his popularity. Dr. Weyland added that sometimes solving one crisis isn’t enough, as in the case of Álvaro Uribe Vélez in Columbia who tackled a public security challenge but was ultimately voted out after his second term, and Carlos Menem of Argentina who was voted out even though he had gained popularity by fighting hyperinflation. 

Dr. Weyland ended his presentation by recapping his talk – highlighting that institutional weakness and a unique conjunctive opportunity are the key ingredients needed for a populist to destroy a democracy, and thus in his opinion, Western European populist leaders such as Marine Le Pen, and US populist Donald Trump cannot be considered a serious threat to American democracy. Paradoxically, Weyland found that a report from Freedom House found that former Italian populist leader Silvio Berlusconi improved Italian democracy because his opposition mobilized more participation. In conclusion while populist leaders do present a threat, Dr. Weyland warns we should be too alarmed by them because democratic resilience is stronger than one thinks. 

Dr. Marina NORD: “Global Trends for Democracy and Autocracy: On the Third Wave of Autocratization and the Cases of Democratic Reversals”

Based on the latest report from the V-Dem Institute, Dr. Marina Nord’s presentation focused on the global changes in democracies and autocracies. According to the report, there are the same number of democracies worldwide as in 1985, with an overall trend of democracy regressing. Since 2009, for fifteen years in a row, the number of people living in autocracies has overshadowed those living in democracies. Political systems, as interpreted by V-Dem, are categorized in different ways – Closed Autocracy, Electoral Autocracy, Electoral Democracy, and Liberal Democracy – with a grey zone between the broadly defined autocratic systems and democratic systems, which encompass countries that are harder to classify due to confidence intervals overlapping. From these definitions, V-Dem has found that Closed Autocracies have increased since 2013, while the number of liberal democracies has decreased. Conversely, there are more electoral democracies currently than electoral autocracies. 

Based on population levels, more people, about 71%, live under autocratic regimes than democratic regimes, extensive in part due to India’s changing political situation. This statistic highlights the growth of authoritarianism globally, as in 2003, only 50% of the world’s population lived under an autocratic regime. V-Dem focuses on specific ‘democracy indices’ when compiling their reports, such as voting, regional elections, freedom of association, clean elections and freedom of expression, with a net positive increase in 2013 for all these indices globally. However, in 2023, nearly all these indices saw a net negative decrease, with clean elections and freedom of expression most affected by global political changes.

When looking at the top-20 declining indicators: government censorship, freedom of expression, harassment of journalists, and free and fair elections- they are all in decline this year. Dr Nord highlights that this is probably because they are the first aspects governments target as they were autocratic. 

Regarding regional changes, Dr. Nord showed that autocratizing countries are mainly in Eastern Europe, North Africa, India, and Central Asia, especially with larger populations. The trends in regime change highlight that in 1992, the number of democratizing countries reached its apex, which coincides with Francis Fukuyama’s book ‘The End of History,’ but since then, the trend has reversed with more countries autocratizing increasing during what has been called ‘the third wave of autocratization.’ Today, according to V-Dem, there are 42 autocratic countries, of which 28 were once democracies, and only 15 have chosen to remain democracies in 2023. 

A distinction is made between ‘stand-alone’ autocracies, in which countries continuously slide into autocratization, of which 8 out of 10 investigated countries, such as Greece and Poland, started as democracies and slowly autocratized. On the other hand, ‘Bell-turn’ autocratization represents failed democracies, where an attempt was made to democratize, but ultimately the country returned to being an autocracy. Examples of these include South Korea, Indonesia and Mali. Dr. Nord indicated that one of the reasons behind this is the decline of freedom of expression, which generally only survives in a later stage of democratization. 

Today, only 18 countries are democratizing, with Brazil being the country with the largest population represented. Once again, V-Dem differentiates between ‘stand-alone’ democratizers and ‘U-turn’ democratizers, with the latter being more important to study as autocratic policies and institutes were reversed. On average, 70% of autocratic countries have been found to have democratized once again in the last 30 years. Because the ‘U-turn’ examples were essential to investigate, Dr. Nord found that large-scale popular mobilization, judicial independence and action, a unified opposition, critical elections and events, and support and protection for democratic ideas were some of the main reasons for countries to democratize again. 

To conclude, Dr. Nord talked about this year’s election, showing that most countries have autocratized during elections. 

Report by Christo Pretorius

Keynote Speech 2

Dr. Robert KUTTNER: “How Globalization, under Neoliberal Auspices, Has Stimulated Right-wing Populism and What Might Be Done to Arrest That Tendency?”   

The second keynote speech of the symposium featured Dr. Robert KUTTNER, Meyer and Ida Kirstein Professor in Social Planning and Administration at Brandeis University’s Heller School, Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The American Prospect. It revolved around populism and its connection to globalization, with a focus on understanding its origins, manifestations, and implications for democracy. Dr. Kuttner, offered a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter, critiquing neoliberal policies and their role in stimulating right-wing populism while advocating for alternative approaches to economic governance.

Dr. Kuttner discussed the nexus between globalization, neoliberalism, and the rise of right-wing populism, drawing from historical contexts and contemporary political landscapes. The discussion aimed to unravel the intricate relationship between these phenomena and their implications for democratic governance in the 21st century. Through a meticulous examination of past movements, economic theories, and policy frameworks, Dr. Kuttner offers a nuanced perspective on the complex dynamics shaping modern democracies.

Dr. Kuttner traced populism‘s roots to the late 19th century, emphasizing its dual nature encompassing both progressive and right-wing elements. He distinguished between left-wing and right-wing populism, highlighting their respective ideological underpinnings and socio-political dynamics. 

Analyzing historical precedents, Dr. Kuttner underscored the impact of economic crises, austerity measures, and nationalist sentiments in fostering right-wing movements, citing examples from Europe and the United States. He emphasized the significance of post-World War II recovery programs in curbing far-right extremism and promoting social democratic principles. By contextualizing contemporary developments within a historical framework, Dr. Kuttner illuminated the cyclical nature of populist mobilization and its resonance with periods of socio-economic upheaval.

Dr. Kuttner critiqued the neoliberal paradigm, citing its role in exacerbating economic inequality, weakening labor movements, and privileging corporate interests. He highlighted the adverse effects of globalization, particularly the erosion of national sovereignty and the exacerbation of socio-economic disparities. By interrogating the underlying assumptions of neoliberal economics, Dr. Kuttner challenged the prevailing orthodoxy and called for a reevaluation of economic priorities. In contrast, he praises post-World War II recovery programs for curbing far-right extremism and promoting social democratic principles.

Linking neoliberal policies to the rise of right-wing populism, Dr. Kuttner discussed how economic insecurity, coupled with cultural anxieties and immigration, fueled populist movements. He analyzed the electoral successes of far-right parties and leaders across Europe and the United States, attributing their appeal to disillusionment with mainstream politics and neoliberalism. 

Proposing alternatives to neoliberalism, Dr. Kuttner advocated for a return to managed capitalism, tighter regulations, and inclusive economic policies. He cited examples of progressive measures undertaken by the Biden administration, including industrial policies and support for trade unions, as potential remedies to address socio-economic grievances. By offering concrete policy recommendations, Dr. Kuttner sought to bridge the gap between theoretical analysis and practical policymaking, emphasizing the importance of political will and collective action in effecting meaningful change.

Throughout his presentation, Dr. Kuttner engaged with the ideas of various scholars to support his arguments. He references John Maynard Keynes’ warnings about the consequences of austerity economics and Karl Polanyi’s analysis of the pitfalls of unregulated capitalism. Additionally, Dr. Kuttner drew on the works of contemporary scholars such as Danny Rodrik to propose alternative frameworks for economic governance.

The seminar conducted by Dr. Robert Kutner provides a deep dive into the multifaceted relationship between populism and globalization, shedding light on its historical underpinnings, contemporary manifestations, and socio-political implications. Through a meticulous examination of past movements, economic theories, and policy frameworks, Dr. Kuttner offers a nuanced perspective on the complex dynamics shaping modern democracies. His critique of neoliberalism and advocacy for alternative policy approaches contribute to a richer understanding of the challenges posed by right-wing populism in an era of globalization. By engaging with scholarly literature and advancing novel perspectives, Dr. Kuttner enriches the discourse surrounding populism and globalization, laying the groundwork for informed policymaking and democratic renewal.

Report by Radoslav Valev

Panel 3: Globalization in Transition

Moderated by  Dr. Anna SHPAKOVSKAYA (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, China Research Analyst at Institute of East Asian Studies, Duisburg-Essen University), the third panel of the symposium explored “Globalization in Transition.”  Dr. Steven R. DAVID (Professor of Political Science at The Johns Hopkins University) presented the first speech titled “China’s Appeal to Populist Leaders: A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed.” Dr. Jinghan ZENG (Professor of China and International Studies at Lancaster University) followed with a presentation titled “Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Vision for Globalization.” The third speech of this panel was presented by Humphrey HAWKSLEY (Author, Commentator and Broadcaster) on “Predicting the Nature of the Next Generation Globalization under China, Multipolarity, and Authoritarian Populism.” A special commentator alongside the speakers was Dr. Ho Tze Ern BENJAMIN (Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, Coordinator at the China Program, and International Relations Program).

In her brief introduction to the panel, Dr. Shpakovskaya highlighted that despite the topic of globalization’s age, its relevance should not be underemphasized, particularly given the volatility of the international arena in light of geopolitical events. This underscores the importance of conversations around globalization, which have become increasingly critical. Few actors in these conversations have become as vital and pivotal to the changing international dynamic as China.

Dr. Steven R. DAVID: “China’s Appeal to Populist Leaders: A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed” 

Dr. Steven R. David’s speech dealt with China’s appeal to populist leaders and why it matters in terms of the competition for influence between China and the United States, a competition that is estimated to involve close to 40% of the world’s leaders. Prefacing his talk, Dr. David stated that in this competition, China holds several key advantages and looks not only at what these advantages are but also at what can be done to respond to them. 

To understand why populist leaders may turn to China, it’s first necessary to understand what the interests of these leaders are- to do this utilize the theory of omni-balancing. Omni-balancing was developed as a correction to the traditional balance of power theory. In the traditional balance of power theory, states’ heads pursue the national interest, often protecting their countries from external threats like invasions, war, or conquest. Dr. David offers some of the ways omni-balancing differs from traditional balance of power approaches. These include the argument that it’s not so much the national interest that drives the way leaders behave but rather their interest. Here, what is central to the leaders, is maintaining power, and in trying to achieve this end, leaders are hyper-focused on finding countries that are best suited in terms of a willingness and the capacity to assist in helping the leader remain at the helm. Chief among these is the recognition that the most serious threats are not those posed to the state’s security, but rather those directed towards the leaders’ grip on power. While the traditional balance of power theory primarily concerns itself with external threats, omni-balancing theory shifts the focus to domestic challenges. This shift occurs because what concerns populist leaders most urgently are domestic issues such as mass protests, coups, insurgencies, and assassination attempts. According to the omni-balancing theory, populist leaders are inclined to seek assistance in deterring internal threats, much like China would be poised to do.

Having explored China’s appeal as an international partner for populist regimes seeking to maintain power, Dr. David posed a rhetorical question: "How does China achieve this?" The primary reason cited is the extensive export of digital technology, which Dr. David contended has been honed domestically, affording the Chinese government nearly complete surveillance capabilities over its citizens in various forms.

It is suggested that China has globally provided populist regimes with the necessary technology to replicate this surveillance infrastructure, including facial recognition, social media monitoring, data collection, and censorship. Dr. David argued that these tools empower populist regimes to monitor their citizens, suppress dissent, and control access to information. Statistical research indicates that leaders utilizing such digital technologies encounter fewer protests and challenges to their authority than those who do not.

Furthermore, these technologies enable leaders to monitor potential challenges from elites that could incite a coup, a fear shared by many of these leaders. This surveillance capacity is augmented by artificial intelligence, allowing a relatively small number of individuals within a country to monitor the entire population. This capability is particularly crucial during mass protests, which have emerged as the primary catalyst for forcible regime changes in the past decade. 

In this line of thought, Dr. David provided a brief overview of the issue of controlling political preferences and the role of digital technologies in shaping them. China emerged as the favored candidate for international partnership among populist leaders in this context. However, it’s worth noting that Dr. David appeared to show less enthusiasm for the United States, despite its own history of utilizing the internet to influence the political preferences, particularly among its right-wing population.

It is crucial to discuss China’s behavior on the international stage. Often, discussions surrounding China’s international actions assume it operates as a unilateral actor, particularly in the context of initiatives like the Chinese Belt and Road project. However, as Dr. David astutely points out, this is not the case. Like other global powers, China is influenced by various political forces within the country, each with its own interests, agendas, and interpretations of globalization and how to pursue it. Therefore, when analyzing China’s behavior on the global stage, it’s essential to recognize that it is not always driven by a clear, coherent strategy from the central government.

Dr. Jinghan ZENG: “Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Vision for Globalization?” 

Dr. Jinghan Zeng opened his speech by introducing a sentiment that, while not explicitly stated, underlies the discussion: In the collective perception of the West, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Chinese foreign policy are often seen through the lens of geopolitical competition among states. While this perspective holds some validity, Dr. Zeng suggests that the similarities between the Chinese authoritarian state and the US democratic system outweigh the differences.

The Belt and Road Initiative, since its inception and more since its launch, has been widely spoken of as China’s version of globalization, with historical roots in the ancient Silk Road trade routes. Dr. Zeng displayed, however, the existence of two contrasting BRI interpretations. The first sees the initiative as a top-down geopolitical strategy to reshape global order, and the second, which is the focus of Dr. Zeng’s presentation, views the BRI as a political slogan open to interpretation and subject to change. 

The first perspective on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is commonly adopted by the US and numerous other international observers. They perceive the BRI as a meticulously crafted grand strategy intended to bolster Chinese geopolitical dominance and challenge American power in the process. However, Dr. Zeng contends that this viewpoint requires a more balanced assessment of the initiative. There is a need to recognize the evolving nature of the BRI, marked by shifts in focus and alterations in its narrative. These changes have led to a lack of coherence and objective consensus regarding what the BRI truly entails.

This leads us to the second viewpoint. Dr. Zeng posits that the BRI is rooted in decentralization and competitiveness, emerging as a result of competition among various domestic actors, including state enterprises, provincial governments, and the private sector. Contrary to being a unified national endeavor, the BRI is shaped by diverse interests and is not a singular, centrally coordinated effort. For instance, different Chinese provinces vie to position themselves as the starting points or hubs of BRI projects, leading to internal competition and fragmented initiatives. This structural competition reflects China’s distinctive form of federalism and underscores the intricacies within Chinese domestic politics.

Furthermore, the trajectory of the BRI evolves over time as shifting contexts influence its geopolitical and domestic priorities. This notion aligns with Dr. David’s argument that Chinese engagement in the international arena is not solely dictated by central government planning. Instead, the BRI exemplifies a multifaceted initiative driven by various actors with differing interests and objectives. Thus, China’s participation in multilateral cooperation cannot always be attributed solely to its state-centric interests but also reflects the interests of other stakeholders within China.

The presentation culminates with a final point concerning the future trajectory of the BRI. As previously noted, the BRI has undergone evolution, and this evolution is expected to persist in the future. Chinese President Xi Jinping has explicitly expressed his vision for the BRI to become more focused, targeted, and sustainable moving forward.

Dr. Zeng concluded by emphasizing that the Belt and Road Initiative is not a monolithic, top-down strategy but rather a nuanced and dynamic phenomenon influenced by a multitude of domestic and international factors. Recognizing this complexity is essential for comprehending China’s global role and devising effective policies to engage with China on trade, investment, and infrastructure development. This understanding is pivotal for shaping the trajectory of multilateralism and fostering mutually beneficial cooperation between China and other global stakeholders.

Humphrey Hawksley: “Predicting the Nature of the Next Generation Globalization under China, Multipolarity, and Authoritarian Populism” 

Mr. Humphrey Hawksley gave us a refreshing approach not only by granting into the viewpoint of journalism but also because he stated towards the end of his talk that he does not believe China is an existential threat, a change in narrative from the previous two speakers. Mr. Hawksley explains that, unlike the political sciences, journalism encourages ‘getting the message out to the widest possible audience and in doing so requires a dumbing down and speeding up.’ It reminded us that regardless of what is central to the discussion is the ‘phraseology of the elite’ and when speaking of multi-syllable words like globalization, multipolarity, authoritarianism and populism that originate in academia and think tanks of Western democracies, the values and the glue of Europe and North America, we are forced to confront the difference in perception of them between these two regions, and the Global South. 

Hawksley provided a grounding to better grasp the message conveyed in his presentation. He illustrated the Indo-Pacific region, consisting of approximately 50 nations, where five developed democracies exist, depending on how one measures democracy. Among these, Australia and New Zealand are essentially viewed as European satellites, while Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are generally considered American proteges with East Asian work ethics, having emerged from or currently facing war-related circumstances.

The majority of states in the Indo-Pacific, however, represent a diverse tapestry of values and systems, ranging from military oligarchs to various forms of communism, sultanates, and authoritarian regimes. These entities coexist, sometimes uncomfortably, hoping to maintain stability without resorting to violent conflict. Given this intricate landscape, it was argued that many nations in the region cannot readily adopt lofty ideological phrases like "democracy," "freedom," and "human rights" to address their realities and meet their day-to-day needs.

To underscore this point, Hawksley recounted an experience from 2019 while in Indonesia during the peak of the Hong Kong protests. He queried a colleague about the lack of support for the Hong Kong Democracy protests in Southeast Asia, to which he was informed that it stemmed from contrasting living conditions between Hong Kong residents and those in the rest of Southeast Asia.

During his presentation, Mr. Hawksley introduced the concept of ‘Asian pragmatism,’ which appears to be a significant factor differentiating electoral and populist support in the Indo-Pacific from that in the West. According to Hawksley, ‘Asian pragmatists’ tend to gravitate towards solutions that offer the most benefit while minimizing risks. For instance, in Taiwan’s recent presidential election, voters supported the governing party’s policy stance against China’s interference and intimidation. However, they also opted for a compromise that signaled their reluctance to provoke Beijing into escalating hostility or inciting war. In essence, Asian voters exhibit what could be termed as electoral ‘common sense’—they eschew idealistic pursuits often associated with liberal ideals and instead seek pragmatic approaches that work within existing systems. They prioritize leaders with a proven track record of achieving tangible results.

As Hawksley highlights, this pragmatic approach starkly contrasts with the more rigid and uncompromising efforts backed by the West, such as the attempts made a decade ago to promote democracy in the Middle East and North Africa without adequate preparation.

When considering the future trajectory of China’s role, Mr. Hawksley suggests that by embracing Indo-Pacific pragmatism, China can reclaim the middle ground. This entails China entering into agreements that foster greater accountability to other Indo-Pacific nations.

Special Comments by Dr. Ho Tze Ern BENJAMIN

In delivering what could be considered the closing statements for this panel, Dr. Ho Tze Ern Benjamin offered a concise, yet comprehensive summary of the key points discussed by the speakers. He also shed light on the underlying threat revealed in the presentations regarding global perceptions of Chinese relations. Dr. Ern particularly emphasized how much of the discourse surrounding populism and its impact on global multipolarity is influenced by US attitudes towards China’s presence in the international arena.

In echoing the sentiments expressed in Dr. David’s presentation, Dr. Ern reflected on how American attitudes towards China are largely shaped by American self-perception. He emphasized that these relations are rooted in US values and how they appear in contrast to Chinese values. However, the fundamental disparity in the international perception of these values lies in how they are implemented at the level of domestic governance, as previously highlighted by Mr. Hawksley.

This becomes increasingly apparent as more players in the international arena scrutinize developments in American domestic politics, observing a perceived decline in local conditions. Global reporting highlights spikes in poverty, crime, homelessness, drug use, and a growing lack of gun regulation, particularly evident in the prevalence of public shootings. These factors have reshaped perceptions of the USA, both domestically and internationally, from its previous image as the "golden land of opportunity," a transformation especially pronounced among Asian populations, as noted by Dr. Ern. For many Asian states, global prestige is no longer solely about perceived dominance and influence in the international order. Instead, it hinges on which country’s government reliably provides essential services and security at home, encompassing metrics such as safety, economic stability, social services, and housing.

Dr. Ern noted that while populism presents certain challenges, the broader issue concerning multipolarity revolves around how domestic values are upheld, as this determines their potential for emulation. Indeed, in the international arena, the primary means of expansion has been through the exportation and replication of values. Dr. Ern poses the question: "If America’s political values are so highly esteemed and worthy of emulation, why is this not reflected in domestic American governance?" Continuing, Dr. Ern stressed that the disconnect between international and domestic governments should not be overlooked. This discrepancy was the initial reason for Asian compliance with US international leadership, as they witnessed positive outcomes in US domestic political life.

Dr. Ern also weighed in on Dr. Zeng’s accurate description of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a collection of diverse plans and projects by various competing actors, rather than a monolithic program solely executed by the Chinese government, as it is often portrayed.

Reported by Neo Sithole

Closing Session: Economic Implications of Rising Populism and Multipolarity

The closing session of the symposium was moderated by Dr. Patrick HOLDEN (Associate Professor in International Relations at School of Society and Culture, University of Plymouth), and explored the “Economic Implications of Rising Populism and Multipolarity.” Dr. Giorgio SACERDOTI (Professor of Law, Bocconi University; Former Chairman of the WTO Appellate Body) presented his speech titled: “Demise of Multilateralism and Politicization of International Trade Relations and the Multilateral Trading System.” For the symposium’s closing remarks, Dr. Cengiz AKTAR (Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Athens and ECPS Advisory Board Member) reflected on the key insights and discussions from the previous two days, highlighting the challenges facing multilateralism, including external constraints and domestic populist movements. He emphasized the global trend of growing populism leading to a shift towards independence among mid-sized powers, amidst diminishing faith in neoliberal governance and the rise of authoritarian tendencies.

Dr. Giorgio SACERDOTI: “Demise of Multilateralism and Politicization of International Trade Relations and the Multilateral Trading System”

Professor Giorgio Sacerdotti began his presentation by providing background on the optimism towards increasing globalization and international cooperation in economic matters. He also discussed the shift towards protectionism, starting with the financial crisis and the Trump administration’s stance against multinationalism on economic issues, prioritizing ‘America First’ and bringing jobs back to the US. He highlights the perception of foreign economies, particularly China, as unfair competitors harming the American economy and workers despite the benefits of international trade and foreign investment for established and developing countries.

Professor Sacerdotti outlined the challenges faced by the WTO, the pillar of multilateralism, in governing international trade. These include the failure of the Doha Round, addressing non-trade issues like labour, environment, and human rights, and the difficulty of combining free trade with protecting non-trade values. He also mentioned the need for WTO instruments for new aspects of international trade, such as the digital economy.

Professor Sacerdotti emphasized the politicization of international trade relations as a significant issue, contrasting with the post-World War II philosophy of managing trade relations based on equal legal rules independent of political clashes. He discussed the principles of removing border barriers, reducing barriers through mutual exchange, equal treatment (with exceptions for developing countries), and the dispute settlement system. However, these principles were challenged by the Trump administration’s protectionist measures, such as the trade war with China and increased duties on steel and aluminium imports, disregarding WTO rules.

Economic security was also discussed as a measure that the WTO only allows in cases where countries face great financial crises. However, the definition of economic security has been extended, especially by the US. This has happened through subsidies to industries and quotas for exports. However, the EU has also had to justify specific measures such as CBAM or the deforestation regulation, saying that they are non-protectionists but rather protect the environment or human rights. This results in the increased politicization of trade. Even though the WTO has the instruments available to enforce specific rules, these have not been used effectively, and often, certain restrictions are wholly disregarded by more prominent countries like the US.

Concluding Remarks By Dr. Cengiz AKTAR

Dr. Cengiz Aktar made the conclusory remarks for the panel. He argued that multilateralism is externally trapped and is domestically challenged by populists. He also claimed that present-day multilateralism seems to polarise rather than synergise. Furthermore, he quoted other scholars saying that the Global North is losing faith in neoliberal governance and ideology, and Global North voters are turning to the national populist movements in the Global South. Meanwhile, the Global South perceives the global geopolitical and economic problems caused by the West. 

Only less than 30% of the global population is governed by democratic governments, and autocracy often continues after democratic breakdowns, taking countries further into more harsh dictatorships. Finally, Professor Aktar remarked that it seems that growing populism is pushing leaders of mid-size powers to become more independent instead of relying on the hegemons. 

Reported by Radoslav Valev


The conclusion shed light on external and domestic challenges to multilateralism. Externally, multilateralism is constrained by the Orwellian concept of multipolarity, while domestically, populist movements are gaining power. Present-day multilateralism seems to polarize rather than synergize, feeding into populist dynamics at home. We cannot ignore the alarming rise of populist, illiberal tendencies in Europe and beyond, as highlighted by ECPS’ Honorary President Irina von Wiese.

Dr. Axford observed that the current surge in populism is intertwined with the emergence of a new globalization paradigm, indicating its significance as a global political force. Dr. Patrick emphasized how the crisis of the rules-based order complicates international cooperation, particularly in global economic governance. Dr. Sacerdoti highlighted the trend towards "deglobalization" driven by the need for economic security and national control. At the same time, Dr. Kuttner provided a political reading of this trend, linking it to the erosion of prosperity and the rise of neo-fascist tendencies.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jakupec pointed out the dilemma of a world where populism reshapes domestic politics and multipolarity, potentially leading towards a shift away from liberal democratic governance. The research presented by Dr. Nord underscored the global trend of autocratization, highlighting the decline in democracy and the rise of harsh dictatorships in many countries.

On a more optimistic note, Dr. Weyland suggested that advanced industrialized countries may withstand the threat of populism due to their institutional strength. However, Dr. Azmanova cautioned against complacency, particularly in ailing democracies. Finally, Dr. Kuttner reminded us of the importance of distinguishing between neo-fascism and populism conceptually and semantically while also noting that growing populism is pushing leaders of mid-size powers towards greater independence in global governance.

In conclusion, the rise of populism presents significant challenges to multilateralism and global governance, requiring careful consideration and concerted efforts to address the underlying issues and promote inclusive and democratic solutions.

By Hilal Duman

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