Europe 2017: Brexit, Far-Right Surging, Russian Threat

Gregory Katz, AP, December 30, 2016

Europe’s leaders are not expecting a smooth ride in 2017 following a year marked by political upheaval, extremist attacks, unchecked immigration, and a rising military threat from Russia.

Britain is suing for divorce, the far-right is on the march, some former Soviet satellites seem disillusioned with the West even as Russia seeks to regain its influence, and America will soon inaugurate an untested, seemingly Russia-friendly president who has voiced doubts about the usefulness of the NATO alliance. The uncertainty is thick enough to breathe.

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Electoral focal points in the coming year are France, where voters may bring to power a far-right National Front government that wants to follow Britain out of the European Union, and Germany and the Netherlands, where far-right parties also stand to make gains.

The increasing appeal of the far-right has been fueled by public unhappiness with the ongoing influx of migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. Events like the recent extremist attack that killed 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin—combined with earlier assaults on civilians in Paris and Brussels—have made it more common for Europeans to view the incoming human tide as a potential threat.

The coming year will determine whether Britain’s surprise decision in a June referendum to walk away from the many benefits of EU membership in favor of establishing firm border controls was an anomaly or a harbinger of things to come.

Elections in the Netherlands in March are expected to bring strong gains for Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam, anti-EU Party for Freedom, which could emerge as the biggest party. {snip}

Wilders’ outspoken opposition to Islam has gained traction in a nation long known for its tolerance. He wants the Netherlands, a founding member of the EU, to leave the 28-nation bloc.

The first round of French voting in April is expected to bring far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen into the final round against conservative Francois Fillon.

Both pose a threat to the European status quo: Le Pen wants to take France out of the EU, end its use of the shared euro currency, and close the border-free zone. {snip}

German elections expected in September are likely to bring the nationalist Alternative for Germany party into the federal parliament for the first time. The party’s strength, stemming from dissatisfaction at the influx of migrants to Germany over the past two years, has put Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats on the defensive—particularly after the Christmas market truck attack, apparently carried out by an asylum-seeker from Tunisia.

Some experts believe a Le Pen triumph in the final round in France in May would deal a fatal blow to the EU.

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