Europe is entering a new tempestuous phase of political developments and electoral tests that will determine its future course. Sunday’s victory in France’s Republican primary by Francois Fillon – a politician who only appeared on the French political map a few weeks ago – is a clear sign of the direction the continent’s political pendulum is swinging in and also underscores the fact that we should brace for more surprises. That said, we should also bear in mind that Fillon is the better choice to contain the growing influence of Marine Le Pen ahead of the crucial general elections in 2017.
Next Sunday, Europe will have to reckon with the results of a referendum on constitutional reform in Italy and also with presidential elections in Austria. Even though it is dangerous to make any predictions on the basis of public opinion polls – following their repeated recent extraordinary failures at gauging what the public is thinking – it is likely that the “no” vote will prevail in the former and that far-right Norbert Hofer will win in the latter. If both these predictions are correct, then the future does not look bright at all. In Italy, such a result would likely lead to the collapse of the banking system, and in Austria it would mean having a far-right nationalist and anti-Europeanist at the helm. The next step in both countries would be early elections, with Euroskeptic Beppe Grillo and Hofer’s Freedom Party waiting to step in.
The new year holds even more possible upsets if elections in Italy and Austria come on top of those already scheduled in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where populist sentiment is already running high. Given the pressure felt across Europe and the West by the working and middle class from mounting austerity, and especially the frustration generated by the refugee-migrant crisis, analysts believe that a pervading sense of disenchantment and frustration will be catalytic to the future of the European vision. After all, immigration policy was a key factor in Donald Trump’s victory in the United States despite the fact that the economy there has been on the mend for some years now.
It goes without saying that with nationalism gaining ever-increasing ground and Europe being rocked by multiple challenges, things do not bode well for countries that cannot survive on their own and depend on financial assistance. This of course includes Greece and the situation will only worsen in the event that Italy’s economy deteriorates further as it is a big European economy. We can only hope that the government in Athens is aware of the challenges that lie ahead but the next 12 months will determine our own country’s survival.