A chronological run-down of European elections in 2002.
The ballot box will seal the fate of several European countries this year
Portugal Centre-right Social Democrats promising tax cuts and lower government spending are leading Portugal’s ruling Socialists in opinion polls. They have taken advantage of Socialist jitters that first showed in local elections last year, prompting the resignation of Prime Minister Antonio Guterres. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for March 17 in the country of 10 million, which has seen rapid economic growth since joining the EU in 1985.
Ukraine Reformist former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko leads the 35 competing parties in opinion polls, but with only 20 percent of voters’ support. Under the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, Ukrainians have grown sceptical of the government’s commitment to transparent democracy, and the European Union and United States have expressed concern as well. Key issues in the country of 49 million include bolstering Ukraine’s economic and political independence from neighbouring Russia. Parliamentary elections will take place March 31.
Hungary Parliamentary elections in April pit Hungary’s centre-right coalition, led by the Fidesz Party and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, against opposition Socialists. The two sides are running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls. National identity and the state purse are leading issues, as the Socialists have made an issue of a law offering state aid to ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring states. The resurgence of leftist politics among some Hungarians, despite their country’s new membership in NATO and expectation to join the EU in 2004, has sparked right-wing reaction. The extreme-right Hungarian Justice & Life Party (MIEP), seen as unacceptably anti-Semitic and anti-business by the EU, threatens to draw some conservative support from the centre-right.
France The executive branch is up for grabs in a race between conservative President Jacques Chirac and ascendant Prime Minister Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party. Chirac won the presidency in 1995, only to see the Socialists win a parliamentary majority in 1997, leading to a prolonged period of powersharing "cohabitation". Most opinion polls show the two candidates in a dead heat, two months before the first-round of elections, in April. If necessary, a second round will follow in May. In addition to immigration and the method of European integration, ethical integrity promises to be a key issue after Chirac’s refusal to testify in an investigation of clandestine funding for his party, Rally for the Republic. Parliamentary elections will follow, in June.
Netherlands Under the government of Prime Minister Wim Kok since 1994, the Netherlands have pioneered Europe’s secular humanist frontier and look likely to continue doing so. Voters’ support for euthanasia and prostitutes’ rights are emblematic of modern Dutch social thinking, but so are multiculturalism and institutionalised social welfare. Opposition parties criticise, variously, what some see as moral bankruptcy and others fear will become financial bankruptcy. But considering the country’s political trajectory, a sudden turnaround is virtually unimaginable in parliamentary elections, May 15.
Ireland The biggest Irish political decision for years came in 2001, when voters rejected the EU’s Treaty of Nice in a referendum. That vote jeopardised the EU’s enlargement plans and shocked Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who found himself hurriedly promising European allies that the decision will be reversed in a follow-up referendum. May parliamentary elections could be a major testing ground for Ahern. If opposition forces including nationalist republicans stage a successful campaign, Nice may never get its second chance. But polls in February suggested that support for hard-line republicans running with the Sinn Fein party was slipping in advance of election day.
Czech Republic On June 14-15, the Czech Republic goes to the polls to elect a new parliament. Prime Minister Milos Zeman has upped his nationalist tone in recent months, to the glee of supporters and the objection of European allies. Neither his centre-left Social Democrats nor the conservative Civic Democrats and Quad-Coalition are expected to win an outright majority. Zeman, a fan of European integration despite his diplomatic troubles, is not planning to seek a second four-year term. As a NATO member, the Czech Republic has supported new European security measures since September 11; but as a EU candidate state it still has reforms to implement, in alignment with the union’s infamous acquis communautaire.
Albania Albanian politics make Italian politics look stable. Feuding within in the country’s ruling Socialist Party brought down a government in early February, prompting Western donors to declare $100 million in aid at risk. The political vacuum has been filled this time by the new Prime Minister Pandeli Majko. An anti-communist who supported NATO during the Kosovo war and kept a bust of John F. Kennedy on his desk during a previous term as government chief, Majko has no guarantee that his power will last long. A presidential elections scheduled for June will change the executive, currently held by President Rexhep Meidani, but will not resolve parliamentary squabbles that have prevented Albania from effectively escaping its poverty trap.
Sweden Prime Minister Göran Persson and his Social Democrats have run a minority government since 1998, co-operating closely with the Left Party and the Greens. It faces public scrutiny running up to September’s parliamentary elections but in January was still showing strong. Public support for the government nudged up to 60 percent, according to the pollster Skop. The number critical of the government was far below, at 17 percent. Persson said he does not fear a rightward swing by Europe’s political pendulum because "it will always return," Reuters reported.
Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose Social Democrats have governed in coalition with the Greens since 1998, faces his greatest challenge from the union of opposition Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU). Fielding as their candidate the popular Bavarian Premier Edward Stoiber, the CDU/CSU is poised to attack on economic and social issues. Stoiber has highlighted Schröder’s failure to reduce unemployment, and the weakened state of Germany’s economy, while calling for sharp cuts in immigration. Though elections have traditionally featured competition between party platforms, this September’s vote is shaping up as a personality contest, not richer in rhetoric than genuine debate.
Slovakia Having broken peacefully with the Czech Republic in 1993, the Slovaks have since trailed the Czechs in the sprint toward NATO and EU membership. The Czechs already joined the military alliance in 1999 and are considered a leading candidate for 2004 EU entry, but Slovak reforms languished for years under former prime minister Vladimir Meciar, now the opposition leader. Meciar’s machinations have at times destabilised the new government under Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, who threatened to quit in February. A shake-up could trigger early elections, but otherwise a new parliament will be elected in September.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Home not only to a population of 4 million but to SFOR, a NATO-led stabilisation force of 21,000, the former Yugoslav region of Bosnia and Herzegovina remains riven by ethnic conflicts that define its internal borders and politics. Its executive branch is a presidium of three leaders representing different ethnic groups – for the Croatians Jozo Krizanovi, for the Bosniaks Beriz Belkic and for the Serbs Zivko Radisic. The United Nations High Representative to the region, who has powers of oversight, fired Croat presidium member Ante Jelavic in March 2001, casting doubt on voters’ prerogative to select the leaders of their choice. October elections will put that again to the test.
Latvia The Baltic republic of Latvia, with its population of 2.4 million, aims to join NATO and the EU. Indeed, it is considered a leading candidate for both, after years of reforms that have place heavy economic burdens on a society occupied for half a century by the Soviet Union. Prime Minister Andris Berzins, a centrist from the party Latvia’s Way, favours gradual integration of the country’s large ethnic Russian population but has taken power without their support. Hundreds of thousands of Russians who do not speak Latvian (an Indo-European tongue, not Slavic) are denied the right to vote because they do not speak the national language and have not passed a citizenship test instituted after 1991’s post-Soviet break-up. Nationality will play a big role in October parliamentary elections, as will living standards, which remain much lower than the once-prosperous nation would like.
Slovenia A presidential election will occupy the most prosperous former Yugoslav republic in November. Milan Kucan has held the executive post since 1990 and could hold on for yet another term. Slovene economic success has been such since it declared independence from Yugoslavia that through 2001 it was the most advanced EU accession candidate in terms of economic output. Kucan has called for a referendum, to be held before November, on the country’s bid to join NATO. Slovenia’s relations with the EU and NATO are likely to remain dominant political topics through the presidential election.
Macedonia The former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia has perhaps Europe’s most acute problem with migration. But it is not westbound, rather eastbound and southbound that matter most to the government in Skopje, the capital. Albanian extremists crossing into the republic from Kosovo ignited a low-level civil war in 2001, and violence has never fully died down. Spring and summer could bring more fighting. Elections to take place this year are not yet scheduled, and it will be hard for President Boris Trajkovski to choose the perfect moment. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his gingerly-balanced cabinet of ministers have sought with limited success to win local Albanian support for counter-terrorism measures.