Pop­ulist sen­ti­ment to face bal­lot test in four EU na­tions

Anti-im­mi­gra­tion can­di­dates make mark on Con­ti­nent.

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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.

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