2017 will be another year of key elections for Europe

Sunday 15/01/2017
Staff count ballot papers at the Glasgow count centre at the Emirates Arena, Glasgow, Scotland, on June 23rd, 2016, after polls closed in the referendum on whether Britain will remain or stay in the European Union. (AFP)

London - If 2016 was the year of Donald Trump, Brexit and the rise of nativist politics, 2017 looks likely to continue in that vein with an ongoing migration cri­sis and several European elections that could shape the future of the continent for decades.
France and Germany, key mem­bers of the European Union, are to have parliamentary and presiden­tial elections in 2017, with security and migration expected to be the major election issues. Italy, where former prime minister Matteo Ren­zi stepped down after a referendum defeat, could also have snap elec­tions in 2017.
While it is unlikely that any other European country could choose to follow Britain out of the European Union, there has been a marked rise in right-wing Eurosceptic parties that appear likely to increase their share of the vote, if not take office, in 2017.
“In five months, you will make a choice… France is open to the world. It is European. It is fraternal. How can we imagine our country huddled behind walls, reduced to only its domestic market, return­ing to its national currency and discriminating against its children according to their origins?” asked French President François Hol­lande in his New Year’s Eve ad­dress.
Whatever happens, Hollande will be vacating Élysée Palace after the election, with the sitting president — the most unpopular French leader since the second world war — declin­ing to stand for re-election as the So­cialist Party candidate in favour of former prime minister Manuel Valls.
Despite this, many political ana­lysts say the election will come down to a choice between the Conservative François Fillon and the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Both candidates are running on a broadly anti-immigra­tion platform.
The first round of France’s 2017 elections is set for April 23rd. If no candidate wins an outright major­ity of the vote, a run-off between the top two candidates is sched­uled for May 7th.
German Chancellor Angela Mer­kel will also be facing a tough task in 2017, with many in the country criticising her for acceptance of un­fettered migration and the slew of terrorist attacks that took place in 2016.
An estimated 900,000 refugees have arrived in Germany since 2015, with many linking the open-door refugee policy to the increas­ing number of terrorist attacks in the country. Most recently an Is­lamic State-inspired terrorist used a stolen truck to run down shop­pers at a Christmas market in Ber­lin, killing 12 people.
“As we pursue our lives and our work, we tell the terrorists: They are murderers full of hatred but it’s not they who determine how we live and want to live. We are free, humane [and] open. Together we are stronger,” Merkel said in a defi­ant New Year’s Eve speech.
She faces a tough challenge in securing a fourth term in office in September’s federal elections fol­lowing questions from Bavarian sister party and coalition partner the Christian Social Union (CSU) over immigration and the rise of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) that looks set to enter parliament for the first time with a healthy number of seats.
While Italy is scheduled to have elections before May 2018, many analysts say these could be sooner rather than later after Renzi’s resig­nation following a referendum de­feat on constitutional reform.
The appointment of Renzi’s for­mer Foreign minister, Paolo Gen­tiloni, as head of Italy’s centre-left government signals a continuation in policy at a time when the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and anti-immigration Northern League party are on the rise.
Elsewhere in Europe, elections in Holland, Serbia and Slovenia could prove critical for the future of Eu­rope as many anticipate a continu­ation of the rise of the right that be­gan in 2016.
In Holland, far-right politician Gert Wilders was ahead in polls at the turn of the year, with many ex­pressing alarm at the prospect of a Dutch prime minister known for his anti-Islamic views and who has previously been convicted of hate speech.