The Populist-Putin-Trump insurgency against liberal Europe

Europe’s liberal order could come crashing down next year. Squeezed from all directions, it may not be able to withstand the pressure. Within Europe, populists on the left and right are trying to roll back the liberal order. This insurgency is being actively backed by Putin’s Russia, and, now, it seems, Trump’s America. The European Union itself risks being an early casualty.

The coming year will be decisive, as key elections are held in France, The Netherlands, and Germany, in which anti-EU populist parties are expected to make headway. The French Presidential elections will be the most critical. Marine Le Pen, who has promised to hold a referendum on France’s EU membership, is expected to win the first round but lose the second. Yet the momentum of the populist surge favours Front National, and in any case, who can trust the polls after Trump’s election? A victory for Le Pen would spell the likely end of the European Union, as it is inconceivable that the EU could survive France’s departure.

On 4 December, Italians voted in a referendum against a set of constitutional reforms that would make the country’s notoriously unstable political system more stable. Prime Minister Renzi’s resignation may very well prompt elections in which the anti-establishment, eurosceptic Five Star Movement will make substantial gains if not win altogether. Also, on the same day, the far-right wing candidate, Norbert Hofer, was defeated in presidential elections in Austria but still won 46.7 per cent of the vote.

The refugee crisis and, before that, the financial crisis have given a boost to populist parties all across Europe, on both the right and the left.

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Fredrik Wesslau of the European Council on Foreign Relations

Fredrik Wesslau is Director of the Wider Europe Programme and senior policy fellow at ECFR. He has spent the past decade working for the EU, OSCE, and UN on conflicts and crisis management in the Balkans, South Caucasus, and Africa. He served as political adviser to the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus with a particular focus on the Russia-Georgia conflict between 2008 and 2011. Prior to that he spent several years in Kosovo where he worked for the OSCE and UN, including as Special Adviser to the UN SRSG.Most recently, Fredrik worked on Africa as Country Representative for an EU counter-piracy mission operating off the Horn of Africa and as political adviser to the EUSR for Sudan and South Sudan. Fredrik is the author of The Political Adviser's Handbook and has previously worked as a journalist, writing mainly for the International Herald Tribune. He has masters degrees from Columbia University (SIPA) and Sciences Po Paris and an Bachelor's degree in international relations from the London School of Economics.