Last year was marked by a deep sense of insecurity arising from terrorism, the rise of populism and autocrats, and the erosion of democratic values. In 2017, the West may seriously be put to the test, Barbara Wesel says.
The Supreme Court in London decided that the British Parliament must be involved in the Brexit process.
The EU government heads of 27 nations held a special summit in Malta to discuss Europe's future after Brexit. Until now, there has been a lack of enthusiasm and of exciting, new ideas.It was dominated by fears of the EU's falling apart. The leaders of The Netherlands, Italy and France are "lame ducks" at the moment.
In mid-March, the Netherlands will be holding parliamentary elections. Surveys show that Geert Wilders' populist party could become one of the strongest political forces. Wilders has been campaigning against Islam, immigrants and the EU for years now. His hero is Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, even if Wilders wins 25 percent of the vote, he would still need other partners to rule in a coalition in the extremely fragmented Dutch parliament. It is highly unlikely that he will find any. In any case, the formation of a government will prove difficult after this election.
On March 25, the 60th anniversary of the European founding treaties will be celebrated in Rome. The day is supposed to convey a message of confidence and hope, but right now no one knows where the optimism should come from.
Around the same time, British Prime Minister May will trigger Article 50 to begin the EU exit negotiations. Brexit may be the toughest test for the EU's survival. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Brexiteers massively underestimated the consequences and difficulties of leaving the bloc. The remaining 27 EU members have formally defined the rules for the procedures. Whether or not Britain's withdrawal from Europe can be completely negotiated in the coming one-and-a-half years remains to be seen. Some believe that Brexit will get stuck in a legal and bureaucratic morass.
At the end of the month, French voters will be casting their ballots. The first round of the French presidential election will be held on April 23. At the moment, it looks like the conservative Republican candidate Francois Fillon and the right-wing populist National Front nominee Marine Le Pen will clinch the two top spots. The Socialist party and the independent candidate Emmanuel Macron are not expected to take votes away from the National Front. The two winners of the first election round will run for the second ballot two weeks later that determines the ultimate winner.
The second and decisive round of the French elections will be held on May 7. It is expected that the Republican candidate will clearly triumph over the right-wing populist Le Pen. Francois Fillon stands for conservative societal values and patriotism and upholds the traditional concept of family. But Europeans are concerned about his admiration for Vladimir Putin. His commitment to Thatcher-style reforms could also be damaging for his campaign. If the French do end up voting for Marine Le Pen and choosing right-wing populism, it would mean the end of the EU. The bloc would not be able to survive the withdrawal of the second-strongest country - and Germany's historical partner.
New elections could take place in Italy, as the socialist Matteo Renzo lost his referendum in December and a transitional government has been at the helm since then. At the end of last year, Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement was leading the polls. The party has no government experience, is euroskeptic and believes in grass-roots democracy. However, there have now been corruption scandals among the "Stars" as well, and the Italians may change their minds by the summer. But the country's looming debt crisis continues to threaten the eurozone, and political instability would also endanger the EU.
Germany will vote for a new parliament. The elections may again result in some sort of a coalition under Angela Merkel - unless her challenger, Martin Schulz, manages to retain his initial momentum. It is considered highly unlikely that the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will play an important role. The chancellor is currently seen by many as Europe's savior - even as the guardian of Western values. A great deal depends on the stability of Germany's democracy and economy. There are massive expectations of Merkel as a steadfast anchor in an uncertain world.