European elections push Brexit to the background

In another major upset, former president Nicolas Sarkozy crashed out of the French primaries yesterday.

How often can you use the phrase ‘shock election’ before it stops shocking people? The year 2016 seems to be testing it out.

In another major upset, former president Nicolas Sarkozy crashed out of the French primaries yesterday.

You get the feeling the unlikeliest result will soon become the likeliest. Or, at the very least, it’ll soon lose its element of surprise.

Sarkozy was expected to make it to the second round of the Republicans’ primaries and fight it out with Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé.

Instead, Juppé faces neoliberal and social conservative François Fillon.

The media speak of a shock result because Fillon managed to get 44 per cent of the votes even though he trailed both Juppé and Sarkozy in the polls less than a week ago.

In a matter of days, he overtook his rivals and turned into the favourite to win the conservative’s candidacy for next year’s presidential election.

Fillon, a big fan of Thatcher’s policies, served as prime minister under president Sarkozy from 2007 until 2012. Juppé, another former PM, appealed on a more centrist platform as he hopes to unite the French against the far right.

Whoever wins the republican nomination will have to battle with far right politician Marine Le Pen and the socialist candidate in the election next April.

The socialists haven’t announced their candidate yet. Sitting president François Hollande is deeply unpopular with the electorate and many on the left hope he won’t stand again.

His PM Manuel Valls is the most likely alternative and would almost certainly do better than his president, though it remains to be seen if it’d be enough for the French left to retain office.

A dark horse in next year’s election is Emmanuel Macron. He briefly served as Hollande’s minister of economic affairs but left the socialists to start a new party.

As he’s only 38 years old, his youth and the fact that he’s recently started a new party will work against him. With his support base currently stuck at around 18 per cent, he appears to be more the candidate for the future than the present.

Still, if voters are given the choice between a deeply unpopular incumbent president, a Thatcherite and a far right extremist, Macron could exceed expectations with help from left-wing and centrist voters.

Thanks to his background in finance and his socially progressive views, Macron appeals to both the left and the right and he’ll certainly make the election more interesting.

For now, though, it looks like the election will be decided between the republicans, the socialists and the far right. The better Le Pen does in the polls, the more attention will shift to France in the next five months.

The Netherlands and Germany

The Netherlands will have a general election next March and far right politician Wilders’s poll leads have caused concern. However, his chances of taking power are slim.

Wilders tends to do well in the polls when there’s no election around, but nearer the vote his share usually shrinks.

He’s further hindered by the Dutch proportional representation voting system and the great number of political parties, which means no party ever wins a majority on its own.

After an unsuccessful co-operation with the previous government of conservative liberals and Christian democrats, Wilders is unlikely to find a party willing to work with him.

Meanwhile in Germany, Angela Merkel announced yesterday that she’ll stand for a fourth term as the country’s chancellor.

Though she took a dip in the polls last year following her decision to allow a great number of refugees to come to Germany, she has since bounced back and will be the favourite to win once more.

These elections are likely to preoccupy Europe in the next months with the matter of Brexit shifting to the background.

This isn’t bad news for Britain. The government’s still appealing the court case on who can trigger Article 50 and it may have to allow a vote in parliament on the issue.

At the same time Europeans absorbed in domestic politics will buy the May cabinet more time to devise a strategy for the exit talks.

After 2016, next year promises to be an equally interesting year of elections in Europe.

Before we know if European countries can successfully hold off the far right, the Brexit talks will already be under way, marking a new period of uncertainty for Britain and the continent.

I’m starting to see why the Chinese consider living in interesting times a curse.

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