Emerging European right a positive sign for Trump's foreign influence
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE may have pledged to make American great again, but one look at Europe shows how he may be able to shape all of Western politics.
 
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On Sunday, Austrians went to the polls in a rerun of its second round of Presidential elections and did not choose to elect Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right’s Freedom Party (FPÖ).
 

Yet despite receiving just short of 47 percent of the vote for the historically ceremonial post, the signs are not at all bad for Austria’s nationalist and immigration reform partisans.

In the first round of six candidates, the two establishment centrist parties took their hardest hit since World War II, while, Hofer and the FPÖ won a substantial victory in eight out of nine regions, and an overwhelming majority of the country’s municipalities.

Indeed, the electoral map of Austria was painted Hofer-blue in the same way that the American map is Trump-red, with both candidates winning nearly every locality except urban centers.

But although the FPÖ missed its chance to make Austria the first nation in Europe to elect a far-right national leader, the party is well situated to dominate Austria’s parliamentary elections required to take place in the near future.

Survey data also confirms the FPÖ’s strength. Their 35 percent in recent parliamentary polling is 10 points higher than where they stood two years ago; 9 points higher than their nearest opponent; and, 16 points above their center-right competitor. The next election should see them gaining more than the 38 seats they now hold.

Elsewhere in Europe, the result of a referendum in Italy sent shockwaves across the continent and caused the country’s prime minister to pledge to resign.

Like the 2016 U.S. election, this vote was largely seen as a clash between the establishment government and a broad spectrum of populists, nationalists and those seeking formative changes to Italy’s outlook on globalism and immigration. This included the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League, and the burgeoning Five Star Movement (M5S), led by comedian Beppe Grillo.

Officially, M5S is neither right nor left, and decries the traditional party system. It is formally populist and perceptively “Trumpian,” and after becoming the face of the “no” vote during the referendum lead-up, it is likely to become the leading party in the next election.

An M5S government could easily become an ally of a Trump administration seeking to influence the EU.

Still, in 2017, M5S and FPÖ are far from alone in riding the populist, Eurosceptic wave towards victory at the polls. In fact, in the face of this broad movement dominating European politics in the next presidency, Donald Trump may be the in the best position to work collaboratively with Europe’s new leaders.

Across the continent, right-wing parties have continued to grow and organize, and since 2015, Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) has been an official group of the European Parliament, consisting of members deriving from populist and nationalist parties in nine countries.

ENF has already sought to be the natural ally of the new administration after sending a delegation to the U.S. to observe the final weeks of the campaign. The group, which was in town to learn from Trump’s victory, included the FPÖ’s Harald Vilimsky and Georg Mayer, as well as its dynamic young Secretary General, Ludovic de Danne.

Yet the broadening support for Europe’s right-wing is rooted as much in each country’s voting public moving itself towards the right, as it is in any particular party’s organizational ability.

One undeniable catalyst for the popular shift was Brexit. 

Since then, the left’s collaborated and cataclysmic predictions of the economic ruin of Great Britain has not materialized and nearly all forecasters, like the most recent CBI survey, believe it likely won’t. The six months since the vote have demonstrably shown that the public need not have unnecessary fears of a devolved Brussels government.

The lessons learned by UKIP in how to channel populist and anti-establishment sentiment were not lost on the Trump campaign, which took no pains to hide the fact that Nigel Farage had informally advised the candidate for months. Now these concepts are again alive and in-play on the continent.

But perhaps they weren’t the first.

In Scandinavia, Norway has long set the standard of a successful non-E.U state, as it often holds the distinction of being the most prosperous country on earth. This history, along with the common denominators going into the Brexit and Trump victories, likely had a significant impact on one of its northern neighbors.

In 2015, the Danish People’s Party ushered in a shift to the right as it overtook the center-right establishment to be the second party in Denmark’s Parliament. It did so by appealing mostly to rural voters who felt left out of the country’s prosperity, and directly challenged the dominance of urban elites in Copenhagen.

In the Netherlands, polls are showing a rising tide of support for the Party for Freedom (PVV), led by the staunchly anti-Islamic Geert Wilders. The party has led in 5 of the last 6 published polls with some by as much as 10 percent over the party currently in power.

The Dutch are poised to give the PVV a majority, though it is unclear whether the establishment parties can form a strong enough coalition to block Wilders, or the E.U. referendum he promises.

Still, the two main countries to watch in 2017 are France, and to a lesser extent Germany. They form the true heart and soul of the European project.

In France, the Socialist President Francois Hollande has met such limited success that he announced he would no longer seek reelection, as he and his party are suffering in the polls.

More than likely, the second round of voting will feature Francois Fillon of the center-right Républicains Party, and Marine le Pen, of the emergent right wing and populist Front National (FN).

Whether left-of-center voters will rally behind Fillon remains to be seen but the country has moved decidedly right.

Fillon won the Républicain nomination last month as a hard-liner a field that placed him principally against the centrist Alain Juppé. He succeeded on one hand by adopting many of the positions the FN has taken on immigration, security and Islam, and on the other hand, adapting his rhetoric to mimic the nostalgic and nationalist tenors of Trump, Farage, and le Pen, herself.

Given the rise of the FN in recent years, Fillon was wise to do so. Despite losing all of the regional races in 2015 to a scorched earth coalition of Socialists and Républicains, the party outperformed all of its past vote counts and proved it would be the force to be reckoned with in 2017. Regardless who wins, the new French president may be more in lock-step ideologically with Trump than Hollande has been with Obama.

In Germany, Angela Merkel will face her own challenges in the new year. In September, her party suffered embarrassing losses to the far-right Alternatives for Germany (AfD) party in regional elections.  

Although AfD is not truly in the mix for the Chancellorship, the party has grown to 15 percent in the polls after only having been formed in 2013. It has done this by drawing on a Trump-like message, as its Chairwoman Frauke Petry proudly exclaimed last month:

“The election of Donald Trump is … a victory of ordinary people over the political establishment. It’s a victory over the politically correct globalist elites who show little interest in the well-being of the people.”

Elsewhere in Europe, the momentum is the same. Whether there are elections or not next year, the far-right is poised to possibly make gains in many other countries. (Greece, Finland, Hungary and Poland are all examples.)

If 2016 was any preview, Euroscepticism, nationalism and localism may soon replace globalism and unification as the prevailing governing concepts on the continent. Trump, who has been both a catalyst of this movement, and the benefactor of its sentiments, may be in a position to understand these leaders better than a President Clinton would have.

Regardless, Americans must brace themselves for their country’s soon-to-be-dealings with the new politics of Europe, because, like it or not, many of these European leaders have already been interested in dealing with Donald Trump. 

Joe Borelli is a New York City Councilman, professor, and Republican commentator. He can be followed on twitter at @JoeBorelliNYC.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.