The Future of the West Will be Decided in 2017
Yes, the title is melodramatic, but it is not entirely false. While people are still reeling from the big events of 2016, very few are looking forward at the momentous events which are set to take place next year, which could make 2016 a side note in the history books. In particular, there are five events that should be watched very carefully in order to understand how the United States and Europe will progress over the next several decades. We will start with the one that Americans know the most about.
1. Donald Trump’s Presidency
(above) President-elect of the United States, Donald Trump
There is no doubt that the election of Donald Trump is a historical event in its own right, but at the moment, there is still no clear indication of what exactly will go on in a Donald Trump presidency. While the Congressional Republicans push a more economically conservative plan that privatizes Medicare and reforms welfare, Donald Trump has been speaking about a populist plan which goes after the revolving door in Washington, imposes term limits on members of Congress, and rebuilds the nation’s infrastructure. Meanwhile, his chief adviser is a borderline white nationalist, and his transition team has apparently been discussing a national registry of Muslims.
It is still unclear what the driving force of a Trump presidency is going to be. Republicans control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, but it seems unlikely that Republicans in Congress will agree with many of Trump’s more controversial measures, and Trump, in retaliation, may not agree with some of the Congressional Republicans’ more intense economic plans. There is also worry that Trump may not even be able to form a functional administration or properly get in contact with foreign governments.
So, while we know that a Donald Trump administration will most likely bring about change, we do not know what that change will be, or how deep it will go. The first 100 days of Trump’s presidency in 2017 should give people a better idea of exactly what will go on in his four to eight years in the White House.
2. Dutch General Election
(above) Party for Freedom chairman, Geert Wilders
Those who follow global politics will know that Donald Trump is not a unique figure in the western world. In fact, the Netherlands have their own Donald Trump in Geert Wilders. In 2006, Wilders founded a party known as the Party of Freedom, or PVV when shortened in Dutch. The PVV supports a platform of populist right-wing nationalism, mainly centered around an opposition to immigration. Wilders himself has a long-standing hatred of Islam, and has tried to get the Quran banned in the Netherlands.
Now, the general election for the House of Representatives is coming up in the Netherlands, on March 15th, and the PVV looks like it could make a surge. It currently holds 12/150 seats, and is a part of the opposition coalition. However, the latest polls show them getting anywhere between 22 and 30 seats. The current leading party, VVD, which holds 41 seats and is a part of the government coalition, is projected to fall to that level as well, between 22 and 30. If the PVV ended up beating the VVD in total seat count, not only would it mean that this nationalist ideology was legitimized, it would also give the PVV an opportunity to move out of the opposition coalition and into the government, allowing them to have greater control over policy.
While the Netherlands is not an extraordinarily large country, they are still important in the European Union, and the PVV are hard euro-skeptics. If they were to take control of the government, that would have heavy implications for the European Union in general, especially when combined with the next few subjects.
3. French Presidential Election
(above) President of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen
Of course, the Netherlands is not the only country having an election that has a Trump figure looming over it. In France, the next presidential election is in April of 2017, and the country is in a unique situation. Over the last few years, France has had a series of high-profile terrorist attacks that have occurred along with an immigration crisis that has been going on all across Europe. Now, the normally very liberal French people are looking to other options. One of these options is Marine Le Pen, president of the French National Front. Le Pen has been a strong supporter of Trump, and her niece, another prominent member of the National Front, has expressed an interest in working with Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Now, polling in France has Le Pen at a solid second place.
To understand how the presidential elections are going to end up, it is important to understand the French presidential election system. There is a first election held on April 23rd, where a candidate from each of the parties runs, generally resulting in around ten candidates. Whichever candidates win first and second place then move on to a run-off election on May 7th. The polling at this moment shows Le Pen easily moving to the run-off elections, as she is in a dead heat with Republican (formerly Union for a Popular Movement) candidate, Alain Juppé. Her future in the run-off election is much less rosy though, as she is consistently polling 30 points under Juppé in head-to-head polling. While polls have not been the best this year, they have still been close to the margin of error, around 1–5% off.
That being said, there is still hope for Le Pen. It is possible that a much less popular candidate to run against her. The primaries for the Republicans will be held on November 20th, so it’s still possible that Juppé may not even make it to the general election. It is also possible that incumbent president François Hollande may enter the race, and suck away enough votes from other candidates to get to second place. Due to his incredible unpopularity, polling has a race between him and Le Pen in a dead heat, which makes her much more likely to win. So, while it is unlikely that Le Pen will win, it is not impossible.
4. Brexit Negotiations
(above) British Prime Minister, Theresa May
While Brexit took a sizable set-back from British courts in November, it is still most likely to go into effect in 2017, assuming that it will make it through Parliament. Along with this, Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that she intends to go through with a “hard Brexit”, which would not only separate it from the European Union, but would also remove Britain from the European ‘single market’, which was made the promote trade within Europe. This move would be made in order to get away from all of the regulations that come with EU trade, further establishing Britain’s independence from Europe.
All of this being said, it is still relatively unclear how Brexit will turn out. The path forward involves a vote in Parliament, the triggering of Article 50, and then the negotiations with the European Union over the specifics of a new agreement. This will all be affected by the results of the elections that were mentioned earlier, as a European Union full of right-wing euro-skeptics will be much kinder to Britain the current government. So, if the Brexit negotiations begin in 2017, they will an important event to watch.
5. German Federal Elections
(above) Alternative für Deutschland chairwoman, Frauke Petry
There is no country more important to the European Union than Germany. It has acted as a sort of centerpiece for the organization over the past several years, leading immigration talks, and bailing out Greece in order to keep their economy afloat. Germany has been led for the past 11 years by Angela Merkel as chancellor, and she has been incredibly popular, generally maintaining an approval rating in the upper 60’s. However, after a few attacks by immigrants over the summer, her approval rating plummeted to the mid-40’s.
Meanwhile, a new party has been gaining steam in Germany: Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Like many of the other parties mentioned, it is euro-skeptic, right-wing populist, and generally anti-immigration. It was formed during the last federal elections in 2013, and since then, it has gone from having no support to having nearly 15% of the populous in the latest opinion polls. Meanwhile, Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has fallen from about 45% support to around 30% support, and the second-place party, Social Democratic Party (SDP), as fallen from around 25% support to around 20% support.
However, this is still the least likely event to have a major effect on world politics, as the system in Germany is not kind to AfD’s chances. The governing coalition of the Bundestag (German equivalent of the House of Representatives) is currently composed of the CDU and the SDP, which control 300 of the total 503 seats. Even with the potential results of the next election, it seems likely that those two parties will still retain a majority. Even if they don’t, the other main parties, the Left, the Greens, and the Free Democratic Party, are all quite liberal, and would much rather form a coalition with the CDU and SDP over AfD. Therefore, it is unlikely that AfD will take control over the government, but it is still likely to make a splash.
While 2016 has marked the rise of a right-wing nationalist movement across the western world, but it has most likely not marked the end. 2017 will be an interesting year to watch, and will have an immense effect on the future of the west. If Europe and America are divided between left and right, it will most likely give rise to the power of Russia, China, and India on the world stage. It’s up to all of us to decide if that’s the path that we want to take.