2017: An election odyssey

2017: An election odyssey

At the start of 2017, Europe was braced for a sharp turn to the right.

After Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election and the British vote to leave to leave the EU in 2016, a populist surge seemed imminent ahead of elections across the bloc this year.

But where did those far-right parties end up? And has their popularity in national politics increased? Here’s a look back at 2017’s major elections, in the order in which they took place.

The Netherlands

All eyes were on the Netherlands in March for the first of the big elections this year. Although the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, did well in opinion polls prior to the vote, it didn’t secure enough support to win. That honor went to the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has been leading the country since 2010. It finished first, well ahead of the PVV, which became the Netherlands’ second-biggest party. However, the VVD lost eight seats from the 2012 election, while the PVV gained five.

The political landscape was fragmented following the vote, with 13 parties winning seats in parliament. But the far right was excluded from a government formation process that lasted a record 225 days. Once the impasse was broken, Rutte officially started his third term as prime minister on October 26 at the head of a four-party coalition.


Boyko Borisov took the helm of his third coalition government in May after his center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) emerged as the biggest party in the parliamentary election. However, GERB failed to get an absolute majority, as did the four other parties that entered parliament.

The far-right United Patriots (UP), a coalition of three nationalist parties, finished third in the election. Overall, the nationalists’ share of the vote went down by almost 2.5 percentage points from the 2014 election. But for the first time in the country’s post-communist history, a populist party made it into government, as Borisov turned to the UP during coalition talks. The deal put a strain on the government’s relations with Brussels at an awkward time — it takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in January.


Prime Minister Joseph Muscat won a comfortable victory in a June snap election he called amid corruption allegations concerning his wife and some of his political allies, a year before the scheduled end of his first term. His Labour Party’s victory (with 55 percent of the vote) came close to the level achieved in 2013, when he put an end to an almost unbroken quarter-century of rule by the center-right Nationalist Party.

The result allowed Muscat to form his second government. The populist Maltese Patriotic Movement, founded in 2016, received just 0.36 percent of the vote.


U.K. voters went to the polls in June after Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in a bid to strengthen her Tory Party’s majority in the House of Commons. It didn’t go to plan: While the Conservatives remained the largest single party in terms of seats and votes, their parliamentary majority was wafer-thin and they had to get outside support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

The anti-EU UKIP stood in fewer constituencies than in the previous election because of a shortage of both money and people. UKIP has imploded since the Brexit referendum and long-time leader Nigel Farage stepping down. In the 2017 election, they lost their one seat in the House of Commons and saw their vote share fall from 12.6 percent in 2015 to 1.8 percent.


The French went to the polls twice this year, for a presidential election in April and May, followed by a legislative ballot in June. Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, in the runoff of the presidential vote, with 66.1 percent to her 33.9 percent. It was the first runoff in history that did not feature either of the traditional big two parties — the Socialists and Les Républicains.

The National Front was less successful in the legislative election, where it failed to reach the 15-seat threshold needed to form a parliamentary group. Macron and his allies hold 350 seats in the 577-strong French parliament, while their main opposition in the National Assembly — Les Républicains and its allies — have 137 seats.


Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed to have secured a fourth term as Germany’s leader after the September election, but her victory was overshadowed by the surge of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). The party gained around 13 percent of the vote to enter parliament for the first time. Both Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats recorded their worst post-war results.

The AfD said it will use its new powers to hold Merkel’s next government to account. “We will hunt them. We will hunt Frau Merkel … and we will reclaim our country and our people,” one of its two leading candidates, Alexander Gauland, said after the vote. The fragmented political landscape made forming a coalition government difficult. Talks among the CDU, the Greens and Free Democrats collapsed, leaving the most likely option a return of the “grand coalition” between the CDU and Social Democrats.


Austria’s conservatives and right-wing populists surged to victory in the October parliamentary election, marking a shift in the country’s politics after more than a decade of centrist coalition rule. The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), led by 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, finished first with 31.5 percent and the Social Democrats (SPÖ) of outgoing Chancellor Christian Kern came in second. The right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) finished third with 26 percent of the vote.

A coalition government made up of the FPÖ and ÖVP took office in December, causing concern in Brussels and beyond.

Czech Republic

Populist billionaire Andrej Babiš and his ANO movement easily won the October general election. Support for Babiš, whose campaign was based on anti-establishment policies and Euroskepticism, is largely down to his plan to fight political corruption. ANO won almost 30 percent of the vote, putting it way ahead of the center-right Civic Democratic Party. The ruling center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) of former Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka picked up just 7 percent of the vote, coming in sixth.

Babiš’ win will mark a turning point in the country’s relationship with Brussels, experts warned. The collapse of the ČSSD and the rise of new political forces has left the Czech Republic with a fragmented parliament that includes nine parties. Babiš’ minority government got off to a shaky start as it lacks broad parliamentary support and faces a confidence vote in January.

What’s next

There are more national elections to look out for in 2018. Voters in Hungary and Italy are going to the polls in the spring. Slovenian voters will pick their new parliament in the summer and parliamentary elections in Latvia and Sweden are scheduled to take place in the fall.

Source: Politico

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