European elections: will the far-right rise?
Readers will know that W&D has a healthy interest in elections. As does Mrs W&D. And Europe will be where it's all happening this year.
Impale elections in Netherlands, France and Germany on top of Brexit and Tsar Trump's victory and W&D gets "Brussels. We have a problem". Populist parties have surged in the polls.
The only matters the populist parties have in common is a desire to reduce immigration/ refugees and put their country's membership of the EU to a referendum.
Some Eurocrats might be planning ahead and considering the local Centrelink option. Just kidding. Bureaucrats, like cockroaches, will survive the nuclear bomb or electoral equivalent.
Netherlands: General election - 15th March
Far-right leader of the Far-right Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, all other things being equal would become the Netherland’s next Prime Minister. But they're not. The Netherlands relies on coalition governments and all other main parties have ruled out working with Wilders.
On policy: he has vowed to call a referendum on Dutch EU membership and to end immigration from Muslim countries. He may get the most votes, but that's all. However, the strength of the vote he gets may beholden other anti-Europeans.
France: Presidential election - First Round 23rd April, Second Round 7th May
The French, being French, have a system where the top two candidates in the First Round (there are nine serious candidates) fight it out in the Second Round (assuming no-one gets over 50% in the First Round). The outcome reflects roughly what would happen in an Australian (preferential) election i.e. for the House, not the Senate (which uses a proportional system).
The First Round front-runner is Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front, which has a strong Eurosceptic, anti-Islam stance and has pledged to hold a referendum on France’s membership of the EU.
But it is likely that whomever comes second in the First Round will gather enough of the votes of the supporters of the other candidates to win the Second Round. So the key issue is who will come second in the First Round?
Well, it was going to be François Fillon (the one with Penelope, his Welsh wife), of the conservative Republican Party. But his campaign has been beset by allegations of misdeeds ('Penelopegate'). The Independent (sort of) Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! party is now favourite. En Marche! is a social, liberal political party founded less than 12 months ago by Macron, a former Minister of the Economy. The party is strongly pro-European.
The French will choose whomever doesn't disturb, too much, the union-government compact of incumbent M Hollande.
W&D changes his earlier opinion that Fillon would win (made before 'Penelopegate'). Macron is the choice for the French people that will least disrupt their mostly comfortable and a little indulgent life-style.
But, to W&D's mind, the French election is not about immigration and refugees. It is about the long-term structural issues facing the French economy. With Fillon there was a chance. With Macron, sooner or later the French government will run out of other peoples' money.
Germany: General election - 25th September
Angela Merkel's coalition, based around the centre-right Christian Democratic Union, is in grave danger of losing to a coalition led by Martin Schultz' centre-left Social Democratic Party. The wild card is Frauke Petry's far right-wing Alternative for Germany.
Frau Petry is not a leather-clad skin-head one might associate with the far-right. Petry is something different, a disarmingly wholesome figure - a former businesswoman with a Ph.D. in chemistry and four children from her marriage to a Lutheran pastor. And her party is polling at about 10% simply because of Ms Merkel's decision to allow some one million Syrian refugees into German last year
Err, what? W&D hears readers ask. Essentially, it is this. The Germans are desperate not to tread on others' toes, having so done a couple of times in the past century or so. And will do almost anything to appease any view that suggest they might.
Had Merkel rejected the refugees, the international cries would have come up about the re-emergence of German nationalism. But, ironically, having accepted them, German nationalism has arisen in protest.
Merkel badly misread the mood of the German people with her refugee decision. But in the end, Germans are pragmatic. Germany is all about internationalism, not about the budget deficit and entitlements, as it is in Australia. Whilst Germany doesn't want to be the political leader in Europe, most German realise that their security lies with someone who understand that, de facto, it is. And that is Ms Merkel.
The good news, looking into W&D's crystal ball, is that none of the far right-wing parties will win government.
The bad news is that immigration/ refugee issues have dominated the debates. To W&D's mind the debate should be about the future of the economies of Europe. Which is different from the economy of Europe.
We live in interesting times.