While an election year is about to end in the US, an extremely vital political year is starting in Europe. With Dutch, French and German general elections scheduled for 2017, voters will decide the future of the old continent. All three elections will be harshly fought with the established parties on one side and populist ones on the other.
In France, after an extremely unpopular first term, socialist Francois Hollande may become the first incumbent President to be absent of the ballot. 70% of voters wish Mr. Holland resigns from the political life forever, making him the least popular president since the war.
He is blamed for the state of the economy, the crumbling of the ideals of the EU and several terrorist attacks under his watch. To his credit, he has begun the process of structural and labor reforms that so many countries desperately need but it was too little and too late to have any effects by the election date.
Consequently, his departure will leave the field open for a fight between the French right (Alain Juppe) and the extreme right (Marine Le Pen). The likely absence of the left from the second round of the elections will focus the political discourse to anti-immigration, anti-trade and anti-EU. Just recently, the government dismantled the refugee camp in Calais as a signal to the UK that French priorities have shifted from the EU to France. Since France will have a strong say in what happens to Europe post-Brexit, the rhetoric may have destabilizing effects well outside the French borders.
The results of the elections in the Netherlands and Germany will be based solely on immigration policy, rather than the state of the economy. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) has moved from a fringe party to a serious contestant for next year’s elections. Since Angela Merkel decided to make the dramatic decision of accepting Syrian refugees, her electoral base has been slowly eroding in favor of AfD. As she has been defeated in many local elections, she is now weakened and increasingly unpopular.
In the Netherlands, the far-right Party for Freedom of Girt Wilders is the most likely to win the general elections since it is the highest polling party at the moment. The party’s manifesto is an interesting read, calling for the closure of all mosques, a ban on the Koran and immigration from Islamic countries. The party is also famously Eurosceptic, calling for a Dutch version of Brexit that would signal the end of the Union.
Uncertainty over politics and the future of the European Union has been the biggest drag on the continent’s investment and growth since 2010. The President of the European Commission, J.C. Juncker said it best: “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it”. Let us hope next year’s elections will be the catalyst that will unleash the full potential of the European Union and save it from self-inflicted irrelevance.
Ziad is the editor of the Opinion column of Chicago Business.