2017 Look Ahead: Elections

by Michael Dowsett

After a tumultuous 2016, political watchers across the world are increasingly asking: where next for the upsurge in populism across the developed world? Following Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, there are a number of elections in 2017 which have the potential to upset established parties across Europe, potentially impacting both on the UK’s forthcoming exit negotiations with the EU and the fragile state of the Eurozone – writes Michael Dowsett.

Dutch General Election, 15 March:  the anti-EU Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders currently leads the incumbent centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy in the polls. Proportional representation means the PVV are unlikely to win a majority in the Dutch House of Representatives, but the Party’s rise does raise the likelihood of a referendum on ‘Nexit’ (Dutch EU exit) if Wilders is able to form a Government.

French Presidential Election, 23 April & 7 May: former French Prime Minister François Fillon, of the centre-right Les Républicains, is currently the strong favourite to defeat Marine Le Pen of the Front National in the second round of voting, with the chances of the candidate of the ruling Socialist Party (probably Prime Minister Manuel Valls) going out in the first round looking high. Fillon is campaigning on a platform of radical economic reform, whilst Le Pen has pledged a referendum on France withdrawing from the EU. The result will largely hinge on whether centre-left voters rally in a ‘popular front’ behind Fillon in the second round, or whether they baulk at his plans for scrapping the 35-hour work week and cutting civil service numbers, and back Le Pen’s platform of economic protectionism instead.

German Federal Election, between 27 August & 22 October: Angela Merkel is the favourite to win a fourth term as Chancellor following her announcement last month that she would stand for re-election. Her Christian Democrats Union party hold a lead of around 10% in the opinion polls over their coalition partners the Social Democrats, yet the populist, anti-Euro party Alternative für Deutschland has also gained in popularity off the back of last year’s migration crisis. Therefore, even if she can reassemble her Grand Coalition after next year’s vote, Merkel is likely to be operating with a much smaller majority in the Bundestag.

Italian General Election, before 23 May 2018: following the defeat in a referendum at the weekend of Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reform proposals and Renzi’s subsequent resignation as Prime Minister, there is increased talk of a possible early general election in 2017; one which the Five Star Movement, who campaigned for a ‘No’ vote in the recent referendum, would be well-placed to win according to current polling. The Movement’s founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, has called on Italy to leave the Euro, comparing the single currency to a “straight-jacket”.

Therefore, it looks like next year could be as electorally explosive as the past twelve months. A strong showing for populist parties in 2017 could force other EU countries to close ranks and offer the UK a restrictive trade deal once Article 50 is triggered in the spring, regardless of any economic damage this would do to the EU itself, in an attempt to dissuade other member states from following the lead of Brexit.

Alternatively, should a number of countries elect strongly Eurosceptic governments in 2017, the pressure for the EU to itself change radically or risk a fresh round of referendums on Euro/EU withdrawal across multiple member states could become overwhelming.

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