European nations have significantly seen a rise of populist parties. Along with a common stance on protectionism and immigration, these parties hold a collective admiration for President Donald Trump.
Amidst a political mayhem, France, Germany and Netherlands hold elections this year, and since they represent 56 percent of the Eurozone economy, any political shifts could significantly impact the integration of the union. On February 12, 2017, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai, “I am worried, as we all are, about the outcome of some of these elections.”
If elected, the populist parties intend on holding a referendum in their respective nations to allow citizens to choose whether they want to stay in or out of the European Union (EU). Last year, Trump’s rise in the US and a Brexit vote in the UK has reinforced the odds for a populist win across these nations.
On March 15, 2017, the Netherlands is the first country to kick start the season of elections. So far, the Dutch far-right leader, Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party (PPV) has held similar views as that of Trump’s. Over the months, opinion polls have shown his growing popularity. In the Dutch Parliament, he praised Donald Trump, “Finally America has a president, finally a country in the West has a president, who not only lives up to his promises but who says ‘the freedom of my citizens is more important than anything.'”
Often called “the Dutch Donald Trump,” Wilders’ official campaign website also displays a slogan #MakeTheNetherlandsGreatAgain, resonating the catchphrase of Trump’s campaign “Make America Great Again.” If elected, Wilders wants to hold an EU referendum similar to the UK’s EU referendum to allow voters to decide whether to stay in or exit the EU (a so-called Nexit).
He has also promised to end immigration from Muslim countries and vowed to protect “Dutch values.” In an interview with NPR, Wilders said, “A lot of people from Islamic backgrounds don’t care a bit about our values, our culture, our identity, our freedom — or the rights of women not to be harassed.”
The second EU nation to hold an election is France on April 23. The populist leader inFrance, Marine Le Pen is the leader of National Front, and like many right-wing leaders, her election agenda closely aligns with Trump’s campaign outlines. Marine Le Pen is known for her fiery speeches on increased globalization and Islamic fundamentalism. According to a new poll by a newspaper Le Figaro, French people are amongst the most pessimistic in the world when it comes to globalization, and Le Pen may benefit from such sentiments.
The poll conducted in October-November (prior to Trump’s election), surveyed a little more than 16,000 people between ages 16-64 across 22 countries, including the US, France, Germany and the UK. The survey showed 67 percent of French residents polled believed that their country was in decline, and 33 percent believed that opening country’s economy to international markets and foreign companies is a threat.
Donald Trump has made possible what was presented as completely impossible. So it’s a sign of hope for those who cannot bear wild globalization. They cannot bear the political life led by the elites.
Her policies include promotion of French businesses by protecting them from foreign competition, an introduction of taxes on companies that hire foreign workers and limiting the number of immigrants. Le Pen wants “priorité nationale” inscribed in a revised French constitution, which means “foreigners second.” Like Wilders, Le Pen wants to hold an EU referendum to let the French decide whether they want to remain integral to the EU or break away.
The third important elections in Europe will be held in September in EU’s strongest country, Germany. These elections are crucial for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose three terms in office have shown solid support for the EU project. She has maintained an “open door” immigration policy amidst growing criticism.
But following the December 2016 Berlin attacks, Merkel was deeply criticized over her refugee policy. But, even then, a populist win in Germany seems highly unlikely given the popularity of Angela Merkel and the rise of her closest rival. Martin Schulz of Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) is a popular choice amongst young people inGermany and in a tight race with Merkel. A recent poll published by Bild newspaper shows that Angela Merkel’s CDU political party fell to second place behind SPD for the first time in a decade.
Interestingly, Martin Schulz has been an open critic of Brexit and even criticized Trump’s policies as “un-American.” A staunch supporter of the single market, the former president of the European Parliament had declared Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) a top priority to “regain lost trust” in 2014. He opposes the lifting of sanctions on Russia over the country’s role in the Crimean crisis.
The rise of populism across Europe is fueled for many reasons, but the gaining popularity shows that the divide is mostly owed to economic insecurities and rising cultural backlash, and either is dangerous for the future of any nation.