As we’re about to enter the month of September, none of the political ruin which was predicted for European continental elections in 2017 has so far taken place.
Most political commentators on the continent fell over each other back in December of last year when it comes to Donald Trump in the White House and the UK entering Brexit negotiations with the EU Commission. Back then, it was widely forecasted that the upcoming Dutch, French and German elections would tear the union apart and European voters would surely vote new parties on the right of the political spectrum into their respective parliaments.
The migrant crisis of 2015 and 2016, which saw millions of mainly Muslim migrants enter the continent via Greece and the Balkan countries, seemed to be the key issue for the rise of parties on the right spectrum of continental politics. Geert Wilders of the VVD was first in the Dutch Polls, Marine Le Pen of the Front National would surely come out on top in France, and over in the economic engine of Europe which Germany still is, Angela Merkel would have to deal with the AfD, the Alternative fur Deutschland making a rise in national elections. All were warning European voters about middle eastern immigrants entering into the continent. Merkel famously said ‘wir schaffen das’ (we can handle it), and European citizens watched as seven members of the 2015 Paris terrorists cell which killed 130 people slid in with the migrant stream, through the Balkans, straight into France.
One month from now, Germany will indeed hold elections. Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU holds a very comfortable lead in the polls, the AfD has fallen far behind and her Socialist contender, Markus Schultz, needs to resort to scare tactics in order to make even a dent. As the Financial Times reported yesterday, he claims Germany will enter an arms race as most European Nato allies are indeed upping their defence spending to 2% of GDP, as the US is requesting.
In Holland, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD (liberal party) is negotiating a new government with the Christian conservatives whilst Marine Le Pen was soundly beaten 35 to 65 in France’s presidential run-off. President Macron has not said a word on migration yet, but it is estimated that he will be less lenient than his predecessor Hollande on the issue.
So what happened?
Well, firstly, the gates and walls built by the Eastern European countries as Hungary, Macedonia and Croatia in 2016 did their job in stopping migration from Syria and the Middle East. Whilst heavily criticized by Western European leaders, they now seem less of a problem. And a backdoor deal with Turkey for not letting middle eastern economic migrants cross into Greece also helped.
Meanwhile, the European conservative parties slowly swung a bit further right in order to fit the national continental moods after two years of terrorist attacks combined with an endless stream of migrants.
The immigration problem has now shifted geographically from Eastern Europe to Southern Europe. As the Balkans route is closed, immigrants, mostly from Africa, now take boats towards Spain and Italy. It is estimated that so far in 2017, some 2,000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Europe made another shady deal with the Libyan coastguard, who stops the boats heading for Italy before they get too close the continent.
Brexit meanwhile, a vote largely won on the issue of immigration stops needed in the UK, is having its own difficulties. With another page taken right out of Trump’s playbook, the EU is threatening tariffs on UK goods as soon as Brexit negotiations would end.
Immigration stops walls and fences, higher defense spending, a swing to the right and tariffs on trade. European leaders have been fiercely critical of the US this year and claim to have the moral high ground, but at the same time, they seem to have copied some of the policies which got Trump into the White House in order to deal with their own issues.