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Three elections that could cause a political earthquake in Europe in 2017

Observers say Le Pen can’t win in France, and that Merkel will return in Germany – but does anyone trust the polls anymore?

2016 MAY HAVE been a year of populist earthquakes – but there could be more to come in the next 12 months.

Elections in three of the founder member states of the EU could dramatically alter the political landscape of Europe in 2017.

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has pledged to trigger Article 50, officially kicking-off the UK’s Brexit negotiations, in March.

And while a court action means that that promise has now been thrown into doubt – the following elections mean that negotiators from France, Germany and the Netherlands may be more than a little preoccupied with events at home, when it comes to sitting down to hammer out new deals with the UK government.

EU/UNION JACK FLAGS Source: PA Archive/PA Images

The Netherlands  

Populist anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders will be the main political figure to watch ahead of the Dutch election, taking place in just two months’ time.

Wilders’ Freedom Party has risen strongly in the polls since he was tried and convicted of discrimination, late last year. A December poll found they would pick up 36 out of 150 seats in the lower house of parliament, making it the biggest single political group in the new set-up. Before the trial began on October 31, the party was credited with 27 seats.

Wilders was found guilty of discrimination against Moroccans in the Dutch courts but acquitted of hate speech over remarks he made at an election rally in March of 2014.

He had asked supporters whether they wanted “fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands.” When the crowd shouted back “Fewer! Fewer!” a smiling Wilders answered: “We’re going to organise that.”

Wilders has, among other things, vowed to confiscate Korans, close mosques and Islamic schools, shut the borders and ban migrants from Islamic countries.

He has also promised to immediately pull the Netherlands out of the EU if he becomes prime minister. ”We are not sovereign any more – we are not even allowed to form our own immigration policy or even close our borders and I would do that,” he said last year.

Geert Wilders arrives in the UK Source: PA Archive/PA Images

It’s likely other, more mainstream political parties will form a coalition government to keep Wilders out of power, should his party remain in the lead.

December’s poll put Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals in second with 23 seats (against 40 currently). Labour, the junior coalition partners, would gain 10 seats (compared with 35 now). The country would be left with a much more unstable political set-up as a result.

France  

France is next up, in May. The National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, is expected to go to a second round in the presidential election, against the conservative Francois Fillon.

France Election Source: AP/Press Association Images

The far-right leader was one of the first politicians to congratulate Donald Trump on his election in the US, saying in the aftermath of the businessman’s shock win that it “shows that people are taking their future back”.

Centrist politicians like French President Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel should feel isolated in the wake of Trump’s triumph and the Brexit vote, she added.

Le Pen wants to withdraw France from the eurozone and, like Wilders, has called for a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union.

She is opposed to multiculturalism, and before Christmas proposed that the children of illegal immigrants in France should be refused public school places.

“I’ve got nothing against foreigners but I say to them – if you come to our country, don’t expect that you will be taken care of, treated (by the health system) and that your children will be educated for free,” Le Pen said.

That’s finished now, it’s the end of playtime.

France Election Contenders Francois Fillon Source: David Vincent

Polls currently show Le Pen qualifying for the second-round of the election. She is forecast to face – and be defeated by – rightwing Republican candidate Francois Fillon, who saw off (amongst others) former president Nicolas Sarkozy in a primary.

Few analysts see her as likely to take power, but the last 12 months has been an unpredictable year in politics and the country’s sickly economy and immigration are top issues.

Hollande has decided not to contest the election – and former prime minister Manuel Valls is the leading contender to contest the vote for the Socialists. The party holds it primaries later this month – but they’re so unpopular at the moment they’re unlikely even to make the second round.

Germany 

Angela Merkel is likely to return for a fourth term as Chancellor after this year’s parliamentary election – but her ruling coalition is likely to lose seats, and the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) has been surging in the polls in the wake of last month’s Berlin truck attack

The Christian Democrat Union and its sister party in Bavaria the CSU garnered 42% of seats in the 2013 ballot – but, coupled with the response to the Christmas market attack, Merkel’s “open door” approach to the migrant crisis will likely affect her popularity.

Germany Merkel New Year Source: Markus Schreiber

Support for the AfD soared to a year high of more than 15% – a rise of over 2% on the previous week – in the wake of the December truck attack, a poll released in its aftermath showed.

The poll, for the Bild newspaper, put support for Merkel’s Christian Democrats on 31.5%. Junior coalition partners the Social Democrats were just above 20%.

While support for mainstream parties is likely to rise in the coming months, her critics have been hammering the German leader in the wake of the attack.

“The milieu in which such acts can flourish has been negligently and systematically imported over the past year and a half,” the AfD’s co-leader Frauke Petry said last month.

Germany AfD AfD (Alternative for Germany) chairwoman Frauke Petry. Source: Markus Schreiber

German Marshall Fund analyst Christian Moelling has said the “biggest risk to Merkel is how her own party will react to” the attack.

Up to now she is the candidate of the conservatives for the chancellor post… but maybe the conservative right-wing will try to get more concessions from her on the questions of internal security and migration.

The polls 

While observers may be predicting a Merkel win in Germany and a Le Pen loss in France, current polling systems have been widely discredited after predicting a Remain vote in the Brexit referendum and a Clinton win in the US.

Lecturer on political theory at Harvard University Yascha Mounk says there is “huge uncertainty” going into 2017.

One thing is clear: Trump’s election proved that there is no natural limit on the growth of populist movements.
If people think it’s impossible for Marine Le Pen to win, they’re making the same mistake that a lot of my friends made in thinking that Trump couldn’t win.

With reporting from © – AFP 2017

Read: The UK’s ambassador to the EU has unexpectedly resigned >

Read: 25 photos of the biggest world news stories of 2016 >

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