Some political analysts in mainland Europe but many more in Britain and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in the US, have rushed to call 2017 the year that can make or break the European Union. They basically argue that the three crucial legislative elections due in Holland next month, in France in April – May and in Germany this September can produce high-risk Eurosceptic governments. The argument continues by envisaging a widespread unwillingness to uphold the European project.
A possibility is discussed that one or more political leaders who may win the elections this year might vie to disengage their country from the European venture and, why not, leave the EU altogether, as Britain did. Of course, Germany is exempted from all those ‘far-sighted’ analyses. Not even these clairvoyant writers can visualize the eventuality that ‘Alternative für Deutschland‘, the extreme right wing, xenophobic, anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic party wins the September election.
The British want company
It’s understandable for the British analysts to look out for company in the solitary Brexit voyage of their country (Scotland and Northern Ireland don’t want to leave the EU). It’s equally understandable why some extreme right wing people in the Donald Trump team are so negatively disposed towards the European Union. For example, the White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, an extreme right wing populist, fear mongering and false news spreading media businessman has undermined Vice President’s Mike Pence’s amicable visit to Brussels. Bannon rushed to emit his totally negative views about the EU to European channels, only a few days ahead of the trip. Obviously, the semi fascist champions of the ‘alt right’ and the ‘tea parties’, who have recently been called to Washington by Trump, cannot tolerate the democratic European way of doing politics.
In detail now, last Monday in Brussels, Pence told the EU leadership that Washington’s pledge for the European Union is “steadfast and enduring”. Bannon, however, only a few days ahead of Pence’s visit to Europe, reportedly told Peter Wittig, the German ambassador in Washington, exactly the opposite. According to Reuters, in that meeting, Bannon said that “he viewed the EU as a flawed construct and favored conducting relations with Europe on a bilateral basis”. But let’s return to Europe.
What about the elections?
The English language commentators, who brandish the three legislative elections in mainland Europe this year, as presenting fatal dangers for the European edifice, forget that the EU is not an international body; it’s a structure of, in many respects, fused nations. Nineteen out of the 27+1 member states also share the common European currency, the euro. Brussels, authoritatively, constitutionally and collectively represents, elaborates and decides through the EU structures: Commission, Council and Parliament – about all the financial and economic functions of the entire 27 member states club. What Bannon said about bilateral relations is only possible in the case of Britain. Every other EU country has first to leave the club in order to discuss bilateral relations with the US.
Let’s see, though, what are the real electoral dangers that Europe has to face this year? Starting from Holland’s Geert Wilders, the Eurosceptic, extreme right wing, xenophobic and anti-Islamic Freedom Party leader, it’s obvious that he may win the next election. However, since the present electoral system was introduced in this affluent and easy going country, no political party has ever managed to win an absolute majority. So, even if Wilders wins the election he will have to cooperate with at least one or more political parties, in order to form a viable government.
Incumbent Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rute, and leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, hasn’t ruled out a government partnership with Wilders, again only if the latter breaks the tradition which wants him doing much better in polls than in the ballot box. The possibility of a Dutchexit with Mark Rute in government, even with Wilders as Prime Minister, is nonexistent. On top of that, Holland is vitally dependant on her economic relations with the EU and the prevailing feeling amongst voters is not anti-European. Wilders may lash out against the Muslims as Trump does, but, again, the Dutch courts will remind him of the constitutional boundaries.
Stronger Franco- German axis
Passing on to France, the next President of the Republic will either be Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillion. The former is strong supporter of a faster advancement of the European project, through a closer cooperation with Germany. The Franco-German axis has always been the power house of the EU. As for Fillion, he has never expressed the slightest doubt about the EU edifice. Those who want to view him as some kind of Anglophile forget that France’s financial industry has a lot to gain from a full and hard Brexit. No wonder if Fillion will be equally harsh as Macron has promised to be in the negotiations for the UK’s exit from the Union. Not to say anything about Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s strong willingness to remain in the EU, even if it takes a separation from the Kingdom. London has no easy answers about that.
In any case, both Macron and Fillion are expected to beat chauvinist and anti-EU Marine Le Pen in May with a very comfortable majority of double digit headway in the second round of the election. So, the European Union has nothing to fear from this spring’s Presidential election in France. It’s Britain which is bound to suffer from the inauguration of a freshly elected French President, eager to show he is working for the interests of his country in the negotiations for the Brexit. If Brexiteers and American Trumpists in a kind of a package go on contesting EU, the new French President, whoever he may be, is to confront this Anglo-American alliance in a much more effective way than Francois Hollande.
Germany stands for the EU
In neighboring Germany’s legislative September elections, the possibility of the Social Democrat Martin Schulz beating Angela Merkel is music to the ears of the federalist European idealists. Schulz, having served as President of the European Parliament for six years is committed to enhance the European project, and has vowed to promote the unity and the effectiveness of the EU. Again, even if Angela Merkel wins a fourth term in the Berlin Chancellery, the EU will also be rather on the winning side.
Not to underestimate the fact that Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union appears ready to try hard for Germany to gain from the US turn to protectionist and the retreat from the global horizons. Currently, Berlin readies to profit from Washington’s decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This agreement, extending over almost half of the earth’s surface – excluding China – is meant to create a level playing field of free trade and investment in the entire Pacific and South-East Asia area. Undoubtedly, Germany can stretch her wings more effectively in this vast region, by using the highways the European Union has already paved around the world.
In conclusion, A.D. 2017 is not expected to present any existential threats to the European Union. On the contrary, the Anglo-American partnership is already tested in the eastern provinces of Ukraine, with London strongly opposing any conciliation between Washington and Moscow.
As for Trump, his administration has so far proved impotent to draft a structured agenda on crucial strategic issues. The resignation of his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, after three weeks in office, and the rise in the White House team of the disorderly Steve Bannon, prove that Trump cannot put together a well performing administration, with clearly defined roles and targets. Already, James Mattis, the US Defense Secretary, has openly opposed Trump on crucial issues, like NATO and Iraq. Undoubtedly then, the American dysfunction may be the only source of risks for the European Union, not her own well organized internal workings.