Europe’s populist parties were emboldened by Donald Trump’s decisive victory in the U.S. presidential election and predicted that they would make great gains in the national votes over the next year, potentially reshaping the electoral map in the world’s biggest trading bloc.
To them, Mr. Trump’s win proved that Brexit – Britain’s June vote to exit the European Union – was not a one-off event but part of a backlash in the Western world against the centrist, liberal economic order that has dominated European politics for decades.
Many of the populist parties oppose the use of the euro or membership in the EU itself, want to control their borders so they can slow or end immigration, are skeptical of free trade and want to dilute the power of the political and economic elite that they argue has abandoned the middle class and the poor.
“This election should be interpreted as the victory for freedom,” Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front, said on Wednesday after the polls confirmed Mr. Trump’s victory. “Let’s bet that it will give another reason for the French, who cherish freedom so much, to break with a system that hampers them.”
In Italy, Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant, right-wing Northern League party, hailed Mr. Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton as the “revenge of the people” and a “win for courage, pride and labour and security issues against the banks, speculators, journalists and pollsters.”
Beppe Grillo, the former comedian who leads the Five Star Movement, Italy’s second-biggest elected party, which was formed in 2009 as a protest party and now polls at 30 per cent, predicted that Five Star will win the next election. “There are similarities between these American events and our movement,” he said in his blog. “We will end up in government and they will be asking, ‘But how did they do it?’ [The answer is that voters] channelled their rage.”
The Brexit victory, and now Mr .Trump’s victory, have put the leaders of Europe’s centre-right and centre-left parties on edge as an election cycle looms. Some of heads of government, including French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, had openly endorsed Ms. Clinton, only to issue rather insincere congratulations to Mr. Trump on Wednesday.
France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Mr. Trump’s victory was a warning to European politicians. “There is part of our electorate that feels … abandoned,” he said, adding that many Europeans feel “left behind by globalization.”
The European votes start on Dec. 4, when Italy holds a referendum on constitutional reform that would see the Senate’s powers largely eliminated. The referendum seems to be emerging as a popularity test for Mr. Renzi, who has said he would resign if the vote goes against him.
Were that to happen, an election, if called, could go in favour of Five Star, which has been gaining support and picked up election wins recently in the municipal elections in Rome and Turin. Five Star has vowed to hold a referendum on the euro if it forms the next government.
Francesco Galietti, chief executive of Policy Sonar, a political risk consultancy in Rome, does not think that Mr. Trump’s victory will have an direct effect on the referendum, but he said it could exert some influence on any subsequent election. “The U.S. election can turn the anti-establishment vote into less of a taboo,” he said in an interview.
Austria is to hold its presidential election on the same day as the Italian referendum. The Austrian vote is a rerun of the vote in May, which was overturned because of voting irregularities. On Thursday, independent presidential candidate Alexander Van der Bellen used a press conference to urge Austrians to endorse him over right-wing populist candidate Norbert Hofer. “The American election is a wake-up call for Europe and not least the presidential election in Austria,” he said.
A general election is to be held in March in the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and Euroskeptic Party for Freedom, is poised to capitalize on anti-establishment sentiment.
A month later, Ms. Le Pen hopes to make a breakthrough in the French presidential elections. Political analysts expect her to make it into the second round of the vote, though the polls suggests that she will get stopped there. Still, analysts say the wins for Brexit and Mr. Trump have improved her election chances.
No later than October, Germany is to hold a general election that could elevate Alternative for Germany, the three-year-old populist, anti-immigrant party that has come on strong in recent state elections. Recent polls suggest that it could win about 15 per cent at the national level. AfD’s gains have forced German Chancellor Angela Merkel to put new restrictions on migrant entries, effectively ending her open-door policy that saw one million arrivals last year, mostly from Syria.
On Thursday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged European lawmakers to pay attention to Mr. Trump’s victory and adopt more-inclusive policies or risk being replaced by populist politicians. “Demagogic populism is not only a problem in America,” he told Germany’s Bild newspaper. “Elsewhere in the West too, the political debate is in an alarming state.”Report Typo/Error