2017 Will be Another Year of Key Elections for Europe

Mahmud el-Shafey.

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 23. If no candidate wins an outright majority of the vote, a run-off between the top two candidates is scheduled for May 7.
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.

Mahmud el-Shafey is anArab Weeklycorrespondent in London.

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