Many of us over Christmas might have been quietly hoping that the political turmoil will subside as Brexit, our own new government and President-elect Trump’s preparations for office all settle in and signal a “new norm”. Instead, there are still plenty of likely political shocks and unsettling events to ensure 2017 is as turbulent as 2016 has already been.
Geert Wilders and his populist Party for Freedom currently top the opinion polls in the run up to the Dutch General Election in March. Wilders has long advocated a Dutch “Nexit” from the EU, although the UK’s current Brexit trauma may serve as a warning to a country with a longer and happier relationship with the EU. In the same month our Prime Minister has pledged to give notice via Article 50 of our intention to leave the EU.
In May the French Presidential elections take place. Nobody seriously expects the incredibly unpopular Socialist Party to win so the race is likely to be between Republican candidate François Fillon and National Front leader Marine Le Pen. But the complexity of the first round still includes a strong challenge from the centrist Emmanuel Macron. Again, this process could be a catalyst for more political and economic chaos.
Later in 2017, comes the German Federal elections. Angela Merkel is running for a fourth term as Chancellor but is unlikely to enjoy a repeat of the stunning performance of her CDU/CSU alliance; more probable is a coalition with the Greens and, perhaps, the FPD, if they secure sufficient numbers. A significant upset in Germany would have serious consequences beyond Europe.
The political map of Europe will look very different by the end of 2017 – but coupled with the “known unknowns” of a Trump Presidency, which leaves a question mark over NATO and the security of its Eastern states and borders, many of the certainties of liberal democracy post 1989 are under real challenge.
In this ever changing world being ready to ‘batten down the hatches’ is a precaution many would think is wise. However, turning inwards and forsaking the UK’s responsibilities to our continent and the wider world will be a huge injustice to our next generation who will have to live and work with the consequences of the dramatic political upheaval of 2016/17. Modern Europe believes we cannot turn our backs on Europe – for we are part of Europe. What happens on the continent in the next 12 months will have a profound impact on our lives and reinforces our firm belief that despite the referendum in June we must seek to continue to promote and foster good relationships between the UK and our neighbours, the EU member states.