Will Trump-style revolt engulf Europe?

Related Topics
image copyrightDie Zeit frontpage

First Brexit, then US President-elect Donald Trump. Now the political earthquake rattling the West threatens liberal democratic leaders in Europe, Laurence Peter writes.

A nationalist backlash against mass immigration has been gaining momentum. Since 2008 populist politicians have also harnessed grassroots anger over the financial crisis, globalisation and elite leaders cushioned from hardship.

Huge electoral tests are coming up for establishment politicians in the EU. Will Donald Trump's "Brexit plus plus plus" turn into a tsunami?

Italy's make-or-break vote

A constitutional reform referendum looms on 4 December - and it is now looking like a vote of confidence in centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. He has threatened to resign if he loses the vote.

Under the reform bill, the power of the Senate (upper house of parliament) would be reduced, as would the powers of regional governments.

Mr Renzi says the plan will cut costs and make Italian governments more stable. Opponents say it will concentrate too much power in the executive.

Opinion polls suggest he risks a narrow defeat - and that would boost Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

In June, M5S did well in regional elections and now runs the cities of Rome and Turin. It is Eurosceptic and wants a referendum on the euro.

Five Star's founder, ex-comic Beppe Grillo, tweeted that Mr Trump's election triumph was "the apocalypse for information, TV, the big newspapers, the intellectuals, the journalists".

image copyrightAFP
image captionBeppe Grillo pokes fun at Italy's political establishment

Sharp right turn in Austria?

On the same day as the Italian vote, Western Europe could also see a far-right head of state elected for the first time since World War Two - Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer.

In May, former Green Party politician Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly beat Mr Hofer by less than 1% of the vote. But that result was annulled by the country's highest court because of problems with the way postal votes were counted. So Austrians will go back to the polls.

The presidency is a mainly ceremonial post, but a win for Mr Hofer would be a hugely symbolic triumph for the far-right, anti-immigration Freedom Party.

Populist push in the Netherlands

Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders expressed joy at Donald Trump's victory, and adapted one of the Trump slogans, by tweeting: "We will make the Netherlands great again".

The Netherlands will hold parliamentary elections on 15 March - the first in a crucial election year for countries at the heart of the EU.

"I will give the Netherlands back to the Dutch," Mr Wilders said. That echoed the successful "take back control" slogan of the Brexit camp in the UK's 23 June referendum, which set the UK on course to leave the EU.

According to a De Hond opinion poll on 6 November, Mr Wilders's populist Freedom Party (PVV) is likely to get 27 seats - so it is neck-and-neck with the liberal VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Even if the PVV fails to form a ruling coalition it looks set to remain a powerful influence on Dutch policy. Mr Wilders is currently on trial, charged with inciting racial hatred.

image copyrightAFP
image captionGeert Wilders (R) is a political ally of French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen (L)

New French revolution?

National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen is shaking up French politics and is widely expected to get through to the second round of the presidential election in May 2017.

Her anti-EU, anti-immigration FN got more than 27% of the vote gains in regional elections in December. But it did not get control of any region, because the two main parties collaborated to defeat it.

The centre-right Republicans and centre-left Socialists are expected to repeat those tactics against Ms Le Pen in the presidential vote, if she makes it to the second round.

She praised Donald Trump, tweeting that "a new world is emerging, the global balance of power is being redefined because of Trump's election".

She also mocked the ruling French elite, including the country's top newspapers, for having backed Hillary Clinton.

image copyrightLiberation
image captionThe French left-wing daily Liberation views the Trump victory with horror

Socialist President Francois Hollande has slumped to the lowest approval rating of any French president since World War Two.

Ms Le Pen said the British, with their Brexit vote, had "fired the first shot" in the battle against Europe's elites.

France will hold parliamentary elections next June. The FN currently has two seats in the National Assembly.

media captionWATCH: France's National Front leader Marine Le Pen says she wants legislative, territorial, economic and monetary sovereignty all returned to France

Resurgent German nationalists

The nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) threatens to woo more voters from both left and right of the political spectrum, in the run-up to parliamentary elections in September 2017.

The AfD has made gains against Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) in regional elections. Opposition to Mrs Merkel's "open-door" policy towards refugees in 2015 boosted the AfD's support.

In September the AfD came second in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with almost 21%, behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD - 30.6%) but ahead of the conservative CDU (19%).

image copyrightGetty Images
image caption"Merkel must go" says the banner: Germany has seen a wave of nationalist demonstrations

The AfD is widely expected to get at least 10% in the parliamentary elections. It has MPs in nine of Germany's 16 state parliaments, but none yet in the federal parliament.

Although it was created by a group of anti-euro economists, the party has gradually shifted further to the right, with anti-Islam rhetoric.

Germany's Focus news website says there are clear parallels between the discontent that produced the Brexit and Trump victories and the grievances of AfD supporters. The backlash could equally give the AfD a "surprise success" in the 2017 federal elections, it says.

Mrs Merkel has not said yet whether she will run for a fourth term as chancellor next year.

More on this story