Think 2016 was a big year for surprising election results? Here are 7 European elections set to tear-up the political rulebook
January 22, 2017
French Socialist party primary
With the French centre right having chosen free-marketeer François Fillon as its presidential candidate in November, January will be the turn of the other ageing colossus of French politics to vote for its hopeful. Voters will most likely be asked to choose between the staggeringly unpopular incumbent François Hollande and his centrist, reforming prime minister Manuel Valls, but neither man has declared yet. Few expect the Socialist party to make it through to the second round of the presidential election.
March 15, 2017
The Netherlands general election
In March 2015 the famously liberal Netherlands will go to the polls for a general election. Among the questions on voters minds will be ‘just what do we mean by liberalism?’. Opinion polls predict a win for the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy with the Labour party coming second, but there is a growing third force in Dutch political life: the Party for Freedom.
Led by Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom is, like Austria’s Freedom Party, another party with liberal heritage that stands accused of at least appeasing the far-right.
Like France and Austria, The Netherlands has had growing rejection of mainstream politics bubbling along since he 1990s. Also like France, the primary hot-button issue is Islam. First, Pim Fortuyn rose to prominence as a critic of multiculturalism and was branded far-right. Fortuyn, who was gay denied he was far-right and said he was concerned that Dutch liberal values were being undermined by immigration. Fortuyn was murdered in 2002 by a green-left activist who said he wanted to protect the most vulnerable in society.
Since then Wilders has come to the fore, in The Netherlands and abroad, with a similar, if even more strident, message, arguing for an end to immigration from Muslim countries, closing Islamic schools, a moratorium on building mosques and the banning of expressions of faith that are ‘contrary to the country’s order’. Wilders was at one point declared a persona non grata by the British government and banned from entering the country, though this ban was later overturned.
Wilders, who lives under police protection due to assassination fears, is currently on trial for allegedly inciting racial hatred, but refused to turn up to court until the final day. Judgement will be passed on December 9.
May 7, 2017
French presidential election
Along with the German election, this is one of the real biggies. Still reeling for eighteen months of high-profile Islamist terrorist outrages and with a stable but stagnant economy, one thing is sure for France: 2017 will see a change of political direction. Which direction it moves in remains to be seen.
The current Socialist party-led government is widely expected to be ousted and following his surprise victory, free-marketeer François Fillon is now at the helm of the centre-right Les Republicains. He wants to shake-up France’s centrist post-war consensus – something which has seen him portrayed as Margaret Thatcher on the front page of left newspaper Libération – and a tough line on immigration and integration.
His main rival is Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen, who has been growing her party with a three pronged strategy. Firstly, she ejected her own father and has sought to distance the party from its quasi-fascist past. Secondly, she has promoted a traditionally French ‘social economy’ with policies familiar from the left. Finally, she has capitalised on Islamist terrorism with calls for an end to immigration.
France’s two round run-off system favours mainstream parties: protest votes in the first round may help the likes of the FN, but in the second round supporters of the eliminated mainstream party may rally around their opponents in order to keep the fringe parties from winning power, precisely as happened in 2002 when conservative Jacques Chirac was voted into power by not only his supporters but also socialists who wanted to keep Jean-Marie Le Pen out of the Élysée.
Serbian presidential election
Europe’s pariah in the 1990s, it has been long expected that Serbia would come back into the fold, but now, with Russian flexing its muscles, the country is poised to make a choice between east and west. Snap parliamentary elections held this year saw a landslide for the free-market conservatives of the Progressive party. The result was widely interpreted as a victory for pro-EU forces, and incumbent president Tomislav Nikoli? will seek to continue this by defeating Vojislav Šešelj of the Serbian Radical party.
June 23, 2017
Czech general election
Currently polling second in the Czech republic is Ano, meaning ‘Yes’, a party that grew out of the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens. Led by billionaire media tycoon Andrej Babiš, one of the country’s richest men, the party is mildly eurosceptical. Babiš gave a cautious welcome to Trump, saying Americans ‘think they’ve had enough of corruption and the old ways’ and expressed hope that the EU would ‘solve the migration problem’ by working with Trump to end conflict in the Middle East and ‘allow them to return to their homes’.
September 11, 2017
Norwegian general election
Floating on a sea of oil, Norway has stood outside the EU primarily because it wants – and can afford – to chart its own independent course. For decades that course has been defined by social democracy, even when the centre right is in power, underpinned by a vast sovereign wealth fund. But there are other voices straining to be heard in Norway, just as there have been in other Nordic countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Siv Jensen’s Progress party is currently the junior partner in government and the free-market party is now champing at the bit for 2017. The party has been able to tempt away traditional Labour party voters with its mixture of plans for tax cuts and infrastructure building, married to implementing stricter immigration controls. Its plans may be scuppered, however, if its Conservative partners lose out to Labour as the main party.
Between August and October 2017
German federal election, 2017
Since Donald Trump won the US election and in the face of growing hard-right and even far-right parties in Europe, some have claimed Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel is the last bulwark of social liberalism in Europe.
Quite a weight to be put on one set of shoulders, and Merkel is not without her critics. Loved abroad for opening Germany’s borders to refugees, at home many have criticised her for the same thing. In September the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which campaigns on an anti-immigrant party and wants to leave the euro, beat Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to second place in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state election, though both won 18 seats in the parliament. Other states such as Baden-Württemberg and even Berlin, both of which saw the CDU outpoll the AfD, nonetheless saw the right wing insurgents win significant numbers of seats and the AfD is now represented in ten of Germany’s sixteen regional parliaments
Speaking after the Berlin election, which was won by the centre left Social Democratic Party, Merkel said that she accepted responsibility for the ‘bitter defeat’ and acknowledge the CDU vote was split due to the immigration issue.
‘If I could, I would turn back time for many, many years, to prepare better,’ she said.
Merkel is also faces criticism from her party’s own sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, which is more conservative than Merkel’s CDU. She has vowed to fight on, though, announcing in November that she would seek a forth term as chancellor. Merkel said she realised she faced ‘challenges from all sides’, but particularly from the right and noted that Germany had become polarised.