The next 10 months will be a defining period in European politics

An Italian referendum on December 4 is the first of a series of votes across Europe in the next 10 months that may upend the old order, writes John Follain

AFTER success in Britain, with Brexit, and in the US, with Donald Trump, populists are setting their sights on the next five dominoes at risk.

Votes are looming within less than a year in Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, France, and then Germany. Exasperation with the political and business establishment, over a raft of grievances, from inequality to immigration, will likely shape all of these votes.

Exasperation with the political and business establishment, over a raft of grievances, from inequality to immigration, will likely shape all of these votes.

“Now, I think, we are beginning to learn that the polls always under-report the extremist, nationalist candidate,” Bob Janjuah, a senior independent client adviser, told Bloomberg TV. The populist surge first broke through the establishment barrier in Britain. Below is a timeline of the challenges of the coming 10 months.

The populist surge first broke through the establishment barrier in Britain. Below is a timeline of the challenges of the coming 10 months.

The Brexit referendum vote, on June 23, to leave the European Union, was the watershed. Voters defied the massed ranks of the British establishment, and the advice of global institutions, from the International Monetary Fund to NATO. The reverberations are still being felt, as uncertainty clouds prime minister, Theresa May’s plans four months after she came to power.

The reverberations are still being felt, as uncertainty clouds prime minister, Theresa May’s plans four months after she came to power.

Fast forward to Donald Trump’s win on Tuesday, and “the revolution continues,” Nigel Farage, acting leader of the UK Independence Party and an architect of the Brexit vote, said. “Two massive upsets in 2016. The unholy alliance of big business, big banks, and big politics is, I believe, coming to an end.”

“Two massive upsets in 2016. The unholy alliance of big business, big banks, and big politics is, I believe, coming to an end.”

The first test in Italy is weeks away. Italians vote, on December 4, in a constitutional referendum that prime minister, Matteo Renzi, says will make governments more stable and which will streamline legislation. Renzi’s promise to resign, if he loses, has turned the plebiscite into a vote on his premiership. Opinion polls predict a narrow defeat for Renzi, which would boost the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. It could also trigger early elections next year, in which case governments accounting for 75% of the euro area would be in play in just one year.

It could also trigger early elections next year, in which case governments accounting for 75% of the euro area would be in play in just one year.

Comic-turned-politician, Beppe Grillo, co-founder of Five Star, said that the Trump win was “incredible”. “This is the deflagration of an epoch. It’s the apocalypse of this information system, of the TVs, of the big newspapers, of the intellectuals, of the journalists.” Five Star, which runs Rome and Turin, is calling for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro area.

It’s the apocalypse of this information system, of the TVs, of the big newspapers, of the intellectuals, of the journalists.” Five Star, which runs Rome and Turin, is calling for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro area.

Five Star, which runs Rome and Turin, is calling for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro area.

Former premier, Enrico Letta, told Italian newspaper, La Stampa, that elected officials need to overhaul their relationship with voters and what he called the Clinton model, in which politicians enjoy “such long careers,” is over for ever. “Traditional parties, as we have conceived them, are finished,” he added.

The next 10 months will be a defining period in European politics

The same day, December 4, Austrians return to the polls to elect a new president. An earlier attempt was annulled. While in Austria, as in neighbouring Germany, the real power is held by the chancellor, the contest for the ceremonial post will be closely watched. It could bring to power the first far-right leader of a western European country since World War II. In May, Green Party candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, eked out a victory over the anti-immigration Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer. The margin was 30,000 votes from

It could bring to power the first far-right leader of a western European country since World War II. In May, Green Party candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, eked out a victory over the anti-immigration Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer. The margin was 30,000 votes from 4.5m cast. The outcome is still too close to call.

For chancellor, Christian Kern, the US vote holds lessons for Europe. “I’m convinced that electoral battles will become fierce battles for the middle classes, and that’s a fight we’ll take on,” he said.

The Dutch kick off Europe’s unprecedented 2017 voting season with parliamentary elections on March 15. The Netherlands is a laboratory for European politics, with unstable, multi-party coalitions the norm and 13 parties poised to enter parliament next year. Geert Wilders, who leads the anti-Islam Freedom Party — allied with, but no relation to, the Austrian party of the same name — is running neck-and-neck with prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals (VVD) in some polls. “The people are taking their country back,” tweeted Wilders, who wants to emulate Britain with a ‘Nexit’ vote on European Union membership. “So will we.” And yet the Netherlands may use the time to thwart a Wilders surge. Rutte has ruled out a coalition with the Freedom Party, and it’s hard to see how Wilders could cobble together a working

The Netherlands is a laboratory for European politics, with unstable, multi-party coalitions the norm and 13 parties poised to enter parliament next year. Geert Wilders, who leads the anti-Islam Freedom Party — allied with, but no relation to, the Austrian party of the same name — is running neck-and-neck with prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals (VVD) in some polls. “The people are taking their country back,” tweeted Wilders, who wants to emulate Britain with a ‘Nexit’ vote on European Union membership. “So will we.” And yet the Netherlands may use the time to thwart a Wilders surge. Rutte has ruled out a coalition with the Freedom Party, and it’s hard to see how Wilders could cobble together a working

Geert Wilders, who leads the anti-Islam Freedom Party — allied with, but no relation to, the Austrian party of the same name — is running neck-and-neck with prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals (VVD) in some polls. “The people are taking their country back,” tweeted Wilders, who wants to emulate Britain with a ‘Nexit’ vote on European Union membership. “So will we.” And yet the Netherlands may use the time to thwart a Wilders surge. Rutte has ruled out a coalition with the Freedom Party, and it’s hard to see how Wilders could cobble together a working

“The people are taking their country back,” tweeted Wilders, who wants to emulate Britain with a ‘Nexit’ vote on European Union membership. “So will we.” And yet the Netherlands may use the time to thwart a Wilders surge. Rutte has ruled out a coalition with the Freedom Party, and it’s hard to see how Wilders could cobble together a working

Rutte has ruled out a coalition with the Freedom Party, and it’s hard to see how Wilders could cobble together a working majority, if he won the election. “On the one hand, the victory of Trump makes populist politics more accepted,” said Kees Aarts, professor of political science at Groningen University. “But, on the other, all parties and politicians that might have still been a little asleep, regarding the March elections, are now wide awake.”

“On the one hand, the victory of Trump makes populist politics more accepted,” said Kees Aarts, professor of political science at Groningen University. “But, on the other, all parties and politicians that might have still been a little asleep, regarding the March elections, are now wide awake.”

“But, on the other, all parties and politicians that might have still been a little asleep, regarding the March elections, are now wide awake.”

French voters have twice backed the National Front to the run-off stage of elections, under two separate generations of Le Pens, only to back away from the anti-immigration party at the last moment. But Brexit and Trump’s victory show nothing can be taken for granted in the presidential election second round, on May 7. With François Hollande the most unpopular president in French history and his deeply disliked predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, vying to ride the Republican nomination to a comeback, Marine Le Pen may have an opening.

But Brexit and Trump’s victory show nothing can be taken for granted in the presidential election second round, on May 7. With François Hollande the most unpopular president in French history and his deeply disliked predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, vying to ride the Republican nomination to a comeback, Marine Le Pen may have an opening.

Germany, with its constitutional checks to prevent dictatorial bents, is the European country most resistant to populism. Federal elections in autumn, 2017 will show if that post-war assumption still holds. “Demagogic populism is not just a problem in America,” finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

Federal elections in autumn, 2017 will show if that post-war assumption still holds. “Demagogic populism is not just a problem in America,” finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

Frauke Petry, co-leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, sees Trump’s victory as a lesson for Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel has suffered regional election defeats on the back of an open-door refugee policy.

* John Follain is the Rome correspondent for Bloomberg and is also a non-fiction author.

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