The main political challenge may come from the mainstream left, not the populist rightby Nicholas Wright / March 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
Over the last 12 months, populist anger on both sides of the Atlantic has seen insurgent forces turn the established order on its head. Both the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States defied the predictions of pollsters and have ushered in a period of political fluidity, instability and uncertainty.
With presidential and general elections due this year in France, the Netherlands and Germany, the question is whether this trend is likely to continue. With a heady mix of Eurosceptic, nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric, France’s Front National (FN), the Dutch Freedom Party, and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), have all sought to capitalise on growing public discontent, hoping to ride the populist wave to power.
Their ambition and confidence was on show in January in a gathering of European populist right-wing parties in Koblenz, Germany. Billed as a “counter summit,” the parties’ leaders—Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Frauke Petry—shared a stage with Matteo Salvini of Italy’s anti-EU Northern League to set out their vision of Europe. The only common factor, however, seemed to be their desire to enact their own particular brands of nationalism.
The challenge posed by both Le Pen and Wilders is being taken seriously by their domestic rivals. The former is on course to win the first round in the French presidential race in April and thus be one of the two candidates in the decisive run-off in May. Meanwhile, Wilders’ Freedom Party has been ahead in the polls for long periods since November, although it has recently seen a dip in support ahead of the parliamentary elections on 15th March. While it remains to be seen whether other parties would join it in a governing coalition, it will still have a significant voice in Dutch politics. A victory for either populist would throw into doubt the viability of European integration as it stands.