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3/3/17

EU - dark clouds: The voting future of Europe

The year 2017 is set to be a crucial one for Europe, with key elections ahead in the Netherlands, France and Germany. The outcome of these elections will indicate whether or not the U.K.’s Brexit decision, along with the rise of populist parties, will trigger the subsequent unraveling of the union.

At a time when U.S. President Donald Trump’s ambivalence toward the European Union and NATO openly challenges the liberal democratic order, the EU’s future has gained the utmost importance in terms of upholding liberal values and preserving peace and stability in the continent.

After a number of misleading predictions such as the Brexit referendum and the U.S. elections, everyone tends to take the results of the elections polls with a grain of salt. However, the latest polls reveal interesting trends in all three countries.

To start with, Geert Wilders, the Dutch leader of the far-right populist Party for Freedom (PVV) who espouses an anti-EU, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic stance, is expected to win about 29 of the 76 seats needed to form a coalition government in the March 15 polls. The Liberal Party, on the other hand, is likely to get about 25 seats. Since the other Dutch parties are not willing to form a coalition with Wilders, the arithmetic dictates that the next Dutch government will include no less than five political parties, which means a shaky and unstable coalition. In the event of a short-lived coalition government, the PVV might emerge even stronger from a fresh round of elections.

In France, far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen, who has been campaigning to leave the eurozone, the EU and NATO altogether, is expected to come either first or second in the first round of presidential elections in late April. Among her rivals, the conservative candidate, François Fillon of the Republican Party, is currently embroiled in a widening corruption scandal. On the left, Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon’s radical leftist policies are considered unlikely to gain broader support.

Against this background, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron shines as the rising figure in French politics. A former economy minister and an ex-Rothschild banker, Macron is described as a liberal when it comes to the economy, but stands on the left on social issues. He is also in favor of revamping the EU and upholding the transatlantic alliance.

As such, Macron generates hope with his En Marche (let’s go!) movement, taking center stage as an ideal candidate who might even reverse the populist tide in Europe, provided he makes it to the second round of the elections in May. And his chances have visibly increased since veteran centrist François Bayrou declared last week that he would back Macron in the elections.

Moving to Germany, the electoral race has surprisingly become more competitive. A recent Insa poll indicates that the support for the far-right, Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) has slumped from 16 to 12 percent due to controversial remarks from AfD member Björn Höcke, who he called for “a 180-degree turn in Germany’s tradition of remembering and atoning for the Nazi era.” Nevertheless, the AFD is expected to pass the 5 percent electoral threshold and enter parliament as the third largest party.

In the meantime, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s twin conservative parties, the CDU and CSU, have been facing a serious challenge from their coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which picked former European Parliament President Martin Schultz as its leader. The same Insa poll reported that the SPD had a narrow lead on Merkel for the first time in more than a decade.

Even though there are seven months until the Bundestag elections, the prospects for Merkel’s bid for a fourth term in office now hang in the balance.

Aside from economic policies, there is little that separates Merkel and Schultz on foreign policy, EU reforms or ties with Russia. However, Schultz presents a moderate alternative to the voters to channel their resentment and, in a way, punish Merkel. It is no secret that Merkel’s endorsement of an open migration policy landed her in hot water, while a truck attack in Berlin just before Christmas led to further questions about the pros and cons of admitting more refugees to Germany.

The outcome of these three elections will be critical for Europeans in terms of defining a way forward for their countries and the EU.

It requires remembering though, that any terrorist attack could easily affect the election process by playing into the hands of the far-right.

Note EU-Digest: Terrorist attacks during the elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands could on the other hand also make Europeans more united knowing that the terrorist problem requires rather more cooperationand unity within Europe than less.

Read more: The voting future of Europe - SELİN NASİ

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