Nationalists and Populists Poised to Dominate European Balloting

Carol Matlack, Bloomberg Businessweek, October 20, 2016

As Europeans assess the fallout from the U.K.’s Brexit referendum, they face a series of elections that could equally shake the political establishment. In the coming 12 months, four of Europe’s five largest economies have votes that will almost certainly mean serious gains for right-wing populists and nationalists. Once seen as fringe groups, France’s National Front, Italy’s Five Star Movement, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands have attracted legions of followers by tapping discontent over immigration, terrorism, and feeble economic performance. “The Netherlands should again become a country of and for the Dutch people,” says Evert Davelaar, a Freedom Party backer who says immigrants don’t share “Western and Christian values.”

Even Europe’s most powerful politician, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is under assault. The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has drained support from Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats in recent state and local elections, capitalizing on discontent over Germany’s refugee crisis. In Austria the far-right Freedom Party has a shot at winning the presidency in balloting set for Dec. 4, after an election in May that the Freedom Party narrowly lost was annulled because of irregularities in vote counting. {snip}

There’s a second test of populist muscle on Dec. 4, when Italy holds a referendum on constitutional changes proposed by the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Five Star is the leading opposition to the government’s plan to cut the number of seats in Parliament’s upper chamber and limit its powers, a move Mr Renzi is seeking to speed action on economic reforms. With the prime minister threatening to resign in the event of a “no” vote, growth-enhancing measures such as a corporate tax cut and help for Italy’s fragile banking system could be off the table. “You might end up having a political crisis on top of an economic slowdown and a banking mess,” says Bloomberg Intelligence economist Maxime Sbaihi. “Suddenly, stars could align for the worst.”

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Here’s a Rundown on the Upcoming Elections:

Italy
Dec. 4 referendum

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Netherlands
March 2017 general elections

Voters will choose members of the national Parliament, where the Liberal Party holds the most seats and heads a coalition with the Labour Party.

Recent polls show Geert Wilders’s anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic Freedom Party running neck and neck with the Liberals. But even if the Freedom Party gets the most seats, it’s unlikely to find a coalition partner. Improving economic numbers could benefit mainstream parties, and Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte may shore up his support by boosting spending on health care and security.

France
April-May presidential elections

Voters will choose a president through a pair of primaries, followed by a first round of voting in April and a runoff in May. {snip}

The first round of presidential voting will pit the primary winners against Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front, and candidates from smaller parties. Polls show Ms 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 any mainstream candidate. {snip}

Germany
September parliamentary elections

Chancellor Merkel faces stiff criticism within her coalition over her handling of the refugee crisis and hasn’t said whether she’ll seek reelection after 11 years in office. {snip}

Following its recent state and local successes, the populist AfD could win seats in Parliament for the first time. But other parties would likely band together to deny AfD any power in government. {snip}

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