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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What to expect from the European political scene for 2016.

I was planning on writing about the U.S. primary and caucus battles that are presently unfolding, but after watching a few minutes of the circus that seems to be unfolding tonight in Nevada (and the Trump Show is certainly a circus), I thought it might be more interesting to take a look at the political scene on the other side of the pond.  I am fascinated by the thought of exactly what kind of Europe will be waiting for Barack Obama's successor.  Not surprisingly, the biggest story for the Europeans is the current health and future prognosis of the European Union.  At a time when optimists were expecting a discussion on the admission of new members, instead questions are being raised regarding the long term financial viability of the Union, and the influx of what seems to be an endless stream of refugees from Syria.  Before the refugee crisis exploded in the front page of all the European newspapers, people in Innsbruck and Rotterdam and Gdansk and Palermo and Munich were stressed out about the financial problems laid bare by another Greek bailout (if one never pays back a loan, but continues to borrow, shouldn't you drop the "loan" pretense and just call it "a gift?).  Pathetic Greece can't get a break.  Right after the embarrassment of another bailout dies down, Greece is forced to ask for even more money to deal with the refugee problem.  With the Obama Administration about ready to close up shop, ISIS still killing folks in Syria, and refugees using whatever means at their disposal to get to a "favored" new home in Europe (Germany and France are favored locations, Poland and Hungary are not), are the political dynamics in Europe shifting?

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime within the last decade, German President Angela Merkel became the de facto leader of the EU.  Whatever policy Merkel suggested, France, England, Italy and the rest were likely to follow.  Interestingly enough, Merkel usually took her lead from the United States (see Ukraine and Syria), which meant that Barack Obama had a lot more power at his disposal than he realized.  As for the Europeans themselves, the year started with most eyes focused on France and the apparent growth of Marine Le Pen's a National Front (NF).  Given the recent problems that France has had with Islamic Extremists, there was real concern that the NF would begin to emerge as a powerful political force, if not a majority party.  Actually, there was never really any cause for concern; France's bizarre electoral procedures can result in the party with the most overall votes, receiving no parliamentary representation.  France remains ripe for a right-wing coup of sorts, regardless of the antiquated political system.  One more terror arrack in Paris and I would expect Marine Le Pen to be carried to the Elysee Palace.

The specter of ISIS has also increased the strength of rightist parties in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.  Austria seems to always have a right-of-center government, and they make no bones sbout their determination to prevent criminal aliens from entering Austria.  Poland and Hungary both have governments that lean heavily to the right.  I'm never sure what to make of Itslian politics, but fortunately we have enough information to note that Europe has taken a hard jump to the right, which no doubt was greatly influenced by both the terror attacks in France and the growing refugee crisis.  Vladimir Putin's sabre rattling also has the effect of increasing support for nationalist political movements.  Whatever president takes office in 2017 will be dealing with a much more conservative, nationalistic, suspicious Europe, and for good reason.  Does this imply that it would be better for a Republican to win the election?  I don't necessarily think so.  A couple of the candidates who are doing really well are not familiar to many voters.  As for Donald Trump, I have no idea what craziness a Trump Presidency would bring to the White House.  At the end of the day, it would appear that the Europesn political scene is s lot more predictable than ours.

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