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A series of elections are coming that could shake the EU

A series of elections in Europe could shake the political establishment's foundation in the coming 12 months, as four of Europe’s five largest economies already show considerable gains for nationalists.

Published: October 21, 2016, 12:40 pm

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    The Freedom Party in the Netherlands, France’s National Front, and Italy’s Five Star Movement, are all looking steady.

    “The Netherlands should again become a country of and for the Dutch people,” Evert Davelaar, a Freedom Party backer told Bloomberg. He points out the obvious: Immigrants don’t share Western and Christian values.

    Recent polls show Geert Wilders’s anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic Freedom Party gaining on the Liberals going into the general elections to be held next year in March. They hope to spoil Wilders’ chances of finding a coalition partner however.

    In Italy the showdown might be sooner. Prime Minister Renzi wants to curb the power of Parliament’s upper house and has said he’ll resign if there’s a “no” vote. That could plunge the country into crisis, and lead to national elections in 2017. The “no” side is just slightly ahead, as Renzi’s base remains divided on the referendum.

    France’s April-May presidential elections are coming up too where voters decide on a president after primaries, followed by a first round of voting in April and a runoff in May. Polls for the first round of presidential voting show Marine Le Pen would win as much as 30 percent of the vote in April, enough to advance to a second round.

    But surveys show she’d lose a runoff to a mainstream candidate unless François Hollande decides to run again. Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, a pro-European, business-friendly former prime minister, is the front-runner in a November primary, while Hollande, the deeply unpopular Socialist president, hasn’t said whether he’ll seek reelection. Emmanuel Macron, a leftist former economy minister, is the wild card.

    In parliamentary elections in June, the party that wins the presidency is likely to gain enough seats to form a government. Despite Le Pen’s popularity, the National Front holds no seats in the 577-member National Assembly and failed to gain control of any regional governments in elections last year.

    Chancellor Merkel is publicly grovelling after her poor handling of the refugee crisis and won’t say if she’ll seek reelection after 11 years in office. At her party convention set to take place in December, she will be forced to signal her intentions though.

    If she does stand, the nationalist AfD could win seats in Parliament for the first time. Other parties would likely band together to deny AfD any power in government, but the CDU-CSU bloc could abandon their leftist coalition partners on order to appease voters.

    In Austria the nationalist Freedom Party has a shot at winning the presidency in balloting set for December 4, after an election in May that the Freedom Party narrowly lost was annulled because of irregularities in vote counting. The nationalists are deeply skeptical of European integration, and those in France and the Netherlands want to follow Britain’s lead and quit the European Union.

    “You might end up having a political crisis on top of an economic slowdown and a banking mess,” Bloomberg Intelligence economist Maxime Sbaihi says about Italy. “Suddenly, stars could align for the worst.”

    The scenario underscores what may be the biggest risk of the nationalist groundswell to international institutions: increasingly fragmented parliaments that will be unwilling to play ball with the IMF, EU or European Central Bank. The Brexit vote in June helped energize anti-globalists.

    France’s National Front, for example, wants to temporarily renationalise banks and increase tariffs while embracing new labour rules. The IMF says such policies could dampen already weak euro zone growth, forecast to drop from 2 percent in 2015 to 1.5 percent in 2017. “Politics introduces a downside skew to growth,” the IMF economists warned.

    Mario Draghi, the ECB’s President, have been fending off Berlin’s attempts to capture the central bank, as Germany continues to challenge the ECB’s conduct of independent policies with instruments and credit intermediation channels that the bank maintains are within its mandate.

    The European struggle to dominate the globalist ECB has long roots, because of the German quest for control of euro area monetary policies. Berlin has sued the ECB for transgressing its mandate in the German Constitutional Court and to The European Court of Justice, but lost both cases.

    EC Chair Jean-Claude Juncker, ostensibly defending the Union, is threatening Germany with dissolving unity in Europe as well as conflict, by blaming Berlin for the treatment of Greece. Juncker says the Grexit referendum “has left deep wounds there,” and that “Italian elections (in February 2013) were excessively anti-German.” He concluded by issuing a stern warning that “anyone who believes that the eternal issue of war and peace in Europe has been permanently laid to rest could be making a monumental error. The demons haven’t been banished; they are merely sleeping …”

    But Merkel rather than Germany, is an election issue because she is seen as a humiliating arbiter of the economic policies of other EU states. European voters believe public policy is a matter of their sovereign right.

    Central Europeans are stirring up too. Hungary is leading the opposition to Merkel’s unilaterally decreed globalist migrant policies. That opposition is at the core of a number of other grievances levied at the Chancellor and Brussels by the Visegrad Group which include Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

    Southern European states remain resolutely opposed to further sanctions against Russia which have proved to be more detrimental to European economies than to a self-sufficient Russia.

    Austria and the Czech Republic are increasingly aligning themselves with southern Europe.

    But in the aftermath of Brexit, the biggest crack has emerged between Merkel and the alcohol-afficionado Juncker, who Merkel actually blames for pushing Britain out so as to provide an opening for the resurgence of nationalist parties.

    As the Telegraph reported, citing a Sunday Times interview with a German government minister right after Britain voted against EU membership, Merkel decided to oust Juncker “within the next year”.

    While the media reported on the German chancellor’s “frustration” with the European Commission chief about whether to use the Brexit negotiations as a trigger to deepen European integration, the fight is really about globalist institutions encroaching on Germany.

    British strategists hope that post-Brexit negotiations without Juncker, would bolster the UK’s role in keeping Europe geopolitically locked into NATO, with defence contributions and links to Washington, because if not, the UK has only very limited leverage. They need Merkel to achieve the outcome they want.

    Free trade, freedom of movement and basic standards for industrial and agricultural products is sensible given the geographical proximity of European countries, but if Brussels won’t accept the limitations of integration, nationalism will impose them soon.

    karin@praag.org

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