Populist sentiment to face ballot test in four EU nations
Anti-immigration candidates make mark on Continent.
As the Netherlands elected new leadership Wednesday, apparently turning aside a far-right anti-Islamist candidate, European neighbors watched with unusual interest because the struggle between nationalist, anti-immigrant politicians and pro-EU forces is playing out across the continent in elections later this year.
The Dutch vote is likely to resonate across borders. Here’s a look at Europe’s upcoming electoral battlegrounds:
Like President Donald Trump and Dutch politician Geert Wilders, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has set the tone for the campaign for France’s election with her anti-immigrant and anti-globalization program, and polls suggest she could advance to the second round of France’s presidential election, set for April 23 and May 7. Yet her goals — which include leaving the EU and shared euro currency, and banning Muslim headscarves and Jewish kippahs anywhere in public — scare many French voters, and she is unlikely to win the decisive runoff.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen abroad as a bulwark of tolerance, is seeking re-election in September. Committed to European unity, Merkel’s conservatives face a challenge from the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. But the migrant influx that helped drive the rise of the party, known as AfD, has slowed.
Italy is facing a national parliamentary election in 2018 because pro-EU Premier Matteo Renzi resigned following the failure of a reform referendum in December. With Italy’s economy failing to rebound, opinion polls show the populist 5-Star Movement, led by satirist Beppe Grillo, is consolidating gains over the ruling Democratic Party. But the 5 Stars have so far ruled out working in a coalition and don’t have the numbers to rule alone.
Bulgaria holds a general election March 26, after a campaign dominated by nationalist rhetoric and anti-immigrant, euro-skeptic sentiment. Polls suggest a strong showing for a newly formed populist movement Volya (Will) and the United Patriots, a coalition of three nationalist parties. They are fueling skepticism of the EU by alleging that Brussels aims to transform Bulgaria into a buffer zone where refugees will remain stranded. While they remain in the minority, they could complicate efforts by traditional parties — such as the center-right party of former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov — to form a strong majority government.
Facing voters: Marine Le Pen (left), a far-right French candidate, and Germany’s Angela Merkel.