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

The EU, with its touted ideals of shared demo­cratic val­ues and free move­ment of peo­ple, has never seem so frayed and vul­ner­a­ble

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Gre­gory Katz

lon­don» Europe’s lead­ers are not ex­pect­ing a smooth ride in 2017 after 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.

It all looks so dif­fer­ent from the tri­umphant panorama pre­sented more than two decades ago when the Euro­pean Union was ex­pand­ing. Formerly cap­tive na­tions freed from Soviet con­trol seemed ea­ger to em­brace lib­eral democ­racy, cap­i­tal­ism and sub­stan­tial sub­si­dies from their wealth­ier neigh­bors.

There was rosy talk of a closer union, the de­vel­op­ment of a sin­gle cur­rency and a co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia. It hasn’t turned out that way.

“The risks for 2017 re­main very high,” said Adam Thom­son, di­rec­tor of the Lon­don-based Euro­pean Lead­er­ship Net­work re­search group. “We Euro­peans need to rec­og­nize that we face a level of risk in the West-Rus­sian con­fronta­tion that we have not seen since the 1960s. It is partly be­cause a lot of the se­cu­rity rules of the road have been torn up or sus­pended, so there are fewer rules and less pre­dictabil­ity.”

He said most Euro­peans do not per­ceive the dan­ger be­cause they have been lulled by the cor­dial East-West re­la­tions that pre­vailed for years after the Soviet col­lapse in 1991.

“Euro­peans have got­ten used to 25 years of peace div­i­dend, and a sta­bil­ity they have come to think of as nor­mal but in fact might be the ab­nor­mal­ity in Europe’s long his­tory of con­flict,” Thom­son said.

There is deep un­ease in the Baltics, Scan­di­navia and else­where as Rus­sia moves more mil­i­tary forces to its bor­der re­gions and even places nu­clear-ca­pa­ble Iskan­der bal­lis­tic mis­siles into the Rus­sian en­clave of Kalin­ingrad, where they can threaten part of Poland, Ger­many and other coun­tries.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin seems em­bold­ened by the luke­warm in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to his gov­ern­ment’s an­nex­a­tion of the Crimea two years ago and his strong in­ter­ven­tion in Syria this year — and by the grow­ing sup­port he en­joys among far-right po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who are gain­ing ground in Europe.

He has been mak­ing in­roads, with a proRus­sia can­di­date elected pres­i­dent in Moldova and a can­di­date call­ing for a Euro­pean rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia winning in Bul­garia.

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’ an­tiIs­lam, anti-EU Party for Free­dom.

To­bias Sch­warz, AFP/Getty Im­ages

ter­ror­ism. Fire­fight­ers in­spect the truck that crashed into a Christ­mas mar­ket in Ber­lin, killing 12 peo­ple and in­jur­ing dozens. Ter­ror at­tacks have made it more com­mon for Euro­peans to view im­mi­grants as a po­ten­tial threat.

Ben Stansall, AFP/Getty Im­ages

brexit.

In June, the United King­dom voted to leave the 28-mem­ber Euro­pean Union. After the re­sult was de­clared, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron an­nounced that he would re­sign. He was re­placed by Theresa May.

Alexei Druzhinin, The As­so­ci­ated Press

rus­sian pres­i­dent vladimir putin. He seems em­bold­ened by the luke­warm in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to his in­ter­ven­tion in Syria — and by the grow­ing sup­port he en­joys among far-right po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in Europe.

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