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Overview of the most important 2017 Elections in Europe

By Alexander Grezev, Coordinator of ‘Golos’ movement in Sverdlovsk region, Election expert

2016 will be remembered as the year of events that had heavy impact and brought uncertainty caused by the results of referendum on the UK exit from the European Union, as well as the victory of Donald Trump in the election as the next President of the United States. 2017 will feature a series of continuous challenges to the current political system. For the first time in 15 years, the Federal Election in Germany and the French Presidential Elections are held in the same year. These are the two largest countries in Europe that determine the policies of European Union in many respects.

24 September Federal Election in Germany

Angela Merkel

Large-scale migration crisis, which affected the entire Europe, had a huge impact on the political system of many countries, including Germany. Though not so such radical, as for instance, in the Netherlands or Austria. The Conservative party of the largest EU country has managed to withstand the pressure, with the rise of eurosceptics and populists.

The favorability rating of the party ‘Alternative for Germany’ has almost tripled up to 13-15% in comparison with the previous elections. Therefore, it is likely that such evolution leads to strained grand coalition of CDU / CSU and SPD. After all, neither the Christian Democrats together with the FDP liberals, nor the Social Democrats in alliance with the Greens would be able to secure majority in parliament. All the parties reject a possibility of going into a coalition with the ‘Alternative for Germany’. SPD is not ready to enter a coalition with the left-wing parties at the federal level, as the ‘Greens’ will probably refuse to join the alliance of the CDU \ CSU and FDP. It is hard to imagine the Liberals forming a coalition government with the SPD and the ‘Greens’. Moreover, the Liberals are not sure if they pass the electoral threshold to enter Bundestag. 

Such a situation might induce the Germany's two largest parties to enter a coalition not only for short term gains, but for long term cooperation as well. They are surrounded by radical right-wing forces from one side and right-wing forces from the other, which are excluded for the negotiations, whereas small parties are not primed to join the political opponents for various reasons. The Danish method almost cannot be re-applied in case minority government to be formed by the CDU \ CSU and FDP with the support of the ‘Alternative for Germany’.

At the beginning of this year, the average approval rating of the CDU / CSU, led by Angela Merkel, who seeks a fourth consecutive term as chancellor, was 33-37%. The support for the Social Democrats, who have chosen the former President of European Parliament Martin Schulz as their candidate, fluctuates around 21-26%. Taking into consideration all the political alignments, the junior partner of the ruling ‘grand coalition’ has no chance to win the election. The current favorability rating of ‘Alternative for Germany’ is 11-15%, therefore, most probably it will be the third party on the list to enter Bundestag. The left-wing forces that also discuss a possibility of coalition, have the support of 9-11%; The Greens - 8-10% and Free Democrats – 5-8 %. The other parties will likely fail to pass the electoral threshold.

23 April and 7 May French Presidential Election

Photo Telegraf

The French Election resonates even louder than the German electoral race. The newscasts often feature announcements saying a candidate of the ‘National Front’ Marine Le Pen moves into lead in the French race and the opinions polls. The candidate has already announced that in case of her victory, a referendum on the France exit from the EU is held. Moreover, she would recognize Crimea as part of Russia. This is false. Even if Le Pen wins in the first round, there is a 95 % probability that she is defeated in the runoff by almost any opponent - no matter he represents the right-wing, left-wing forces or the centrist. Over 60% of French citizens completely rule out the option to vote for the candidate of the ‘National Front’, precluding her victory in the Presidential Election. Le Pen led the latest opinion poll with 25% support.

For a long time, Francois Fillon, representing the right-centrist ‘Republicans’ party, has been dominating candidate to win the Presidential race in the run-off against Le Pen. The support for his candidacy in the first round would be equal to the results of Le Pen or he could even outrun her. However, the recent scandal centered on Fillon’s wife and children, who are suspected of receiving about one million euros from the parliamentary funds, involving fictitious employment contracts, had a very negative impact on the popularity of right-wing candidate. The current favorability rating of Fillon fell to 21-22% instead of prior 25-28%.

It is likely that the former economy minister Emmanuel Macron goes to the presidential runoff, who previously represented the Socialist Party and in 2016 founded a new political party ‘Forward!’ (fr. En Marche!). The runoff of socialist presidential primary was conducive to Macron: the representative of left-wing party Benoit Hamon expectedly defeated the former Prime Minister Manuel Valls. All the moderate leftist, liberal and pro-European centrist parties, dissatisfied as with the left-wing representative Hamon and the conservative Francois Fillon, are encouraged to seriously consider their support for Emmanuel Macron. There is no sense to nominate another candidate against him in the first round. Macron with his favorability rating is only by a few percent behind Fillon or Marine Le Pen, so strengthened consolidation could really prompt his success in qualifying for the second round. The results of opinion polls make anyone confident that he defeats both rivals.

Currently, the favorability ratings of Macron and Fillon are almost identical. The Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon has the support of only 15% of electorate, eliminating him from the runoff. A candidate of the extreme left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon has 10% support. The remaining potential rivals, as the ones representing the ultra-left-wing or the right-wing are left far behind. The second-round opinion polls show that Fillon shall defeat Le Pen with a score of 60% against 40%, whereas, Macron shall be more confident in his victory - 65% against 35%. Above all, Macron will defeat Fillon - 58% against 42%. In fact, the key question in French Presidential Election is whether Macron passes through to the second round. The French Parliamentary Election scheduled for June will be as well as of significant importance; it is always held after the Presidential. It cannot be ruled out that the two electoral races will produce rather sizable differences in polling results. For the first time in 15 years, since 2002, when the Gaullist Jacques Chirac and the Socialist Lionel Jospin were in power, the President and the Prime Minister might represent the antagonistic political parties. 

15 March Parliamentary Election in the Netherlands

Geert Wilders. Photo ANP 

The Dutch Election will be the first election in Europe this year. It is another big stressful test for European integration, much more dangerous than in Germany or France. The leader of far-right anti-European Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, who echoes Le Pen’s objective to hold referendum on the exit from the EU, is leading the polls. Under various estimates, the party may win from 27 to 35 seats in the 150-seat Parliament. Its main rival for the first place - the ruling right-liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, led by the Prime Minister Mark Rutte – with 24 to 29 seats.

The victory in electoral race does not guarantee the right to form a new government. Obviously, the Freedom Party cannot gather a coalition and its success will have rather psychological effect for all eurosceptics. However, the outcomes will be extremely disagreeable to European institutions. The victory of the Party will be very favorable to Marine Le Pen, as well as ‘Alternatives to Germany’.

Given the ultra-socialists could win 15 seats, almost all major pro-European parties, such as the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, ‘Christian Democratic Appeal’, ‘Democrats 66’, Labour Party and possibly the ‘Left-wing Greens’ with the party ‘50Plus’ will be compelled to somehow hold negotiations and build the largest ever coalition.

26 March Parliamentary Election in Bulgaria

Boyko Borisov. Photo

The term of Bulgarian Parliament was due to expire only in 2018, but since Rumen Radev, who supported the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, won the November Presidential Election, the right-wing government led by the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had to resign. However, the early Parliamentary Election can facilitate the restoration of balance of powers, since according some opinion polls, the Borisov’s party ‘GERB’ can once again win the election. According to some estimates, it might get up to 36% of the vote. Moreover, the average favorability rating of the Socialists - 27-29%.

Many construe the above-mentioned election as a geopolitical confrontation, referring to the contingent pro-Russian course of the new President Radev and the Socialists. In fact, the direction of Bulgaria’s foreign policy in the upcoming election is less important than the interior; no changes in the course could be expected. Regardless the outcomes of electoral race, the process of government formation will be complicated. The main parties will be compelled to negotiate with other political forces holding diametrically opposing views on key issues. In opinion polls, another 3 parties pass the threshold: the nationalist alliance ‘United Patriots’, Movement for Rights and Freedoms, representing the Turkish minority and the new party Volya (‘Will’).

9 April Presidential Election in Serbia

Photo AP Photo / Darko Vojinovic 

Although Serbia is only a candidate for EU membership, the upcoming Serbian Presidential Election is of significant importance. The incumbent President Tomislav Nikolic will stand for the second term, relying on the support of the ruling Progressive Party, founded by himself in 2008, after leaving the Serbian Radical Party and declaring his support for European integration.

However, the efforts to find a balance between the EU and Russia, as well as the recent scandalous statements on the sanctions and Kosovo have provoked growing discontent even among his supporters representing the pro-Western political forces. In the view of many analysts, the Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will play an important role in the election, as he is the most popular politician in the country holding much more pro-European views. Nikolic and Vucic have long been on the verge of open conflict. However, most likely Nikolic can expect stronger support, albeit largely formal one.

Given the above-mentioned political developments, the opposition, holding even firmer stance on Euro-Atlantic integration, is going to nominate several candidates: the non-partisan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Jeremic and the Human Rights Commissioner Sasha Jankovic, supported by the Democratic Party, as well as by more than 100 public figures and scholars. On the other hand, the radically different anti-Western and pro-Russian opposition has also nominated its candidates. The first one to be mentioned is Vojislav Seselj representing the Serbian Radical Party and Bosko Obradovic, the leader of the extreme pro-Russian nationalist party Dveri (‘Doors’).

The final list of candidates has not yet been confirmed and no reputable surveys have not yet been conducted. Nevertheless, we can estimate that the election winner will be decided only in the second round between the two frontrunners, Tomislav Nikolic and a pro-Western candidate.

October Parliamentary Election in the Czech Republic

The Czech Parliamentary campaign is not yet much visible. Moreover, no thundering or precarious election results are expected. The centrist party ANO 2011 stably keeps its top post in approval scores, as a junior partner of the Social Democrats in the current coalition government. Despite the accusations of populism, since the Election to European Parliament and joining the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the party has become quite respectable and pro-European.

A very large number of parties that can pass the parliamentary threshold makes the election peculiar. Currently, eleven parties could be mentioned in this regard. We could find numerous coalition options. Under our estimates, the incumbent ruling parties, such as ANO 2011, the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, will remain in power, only this time the Prime Minister shall be appointed by ANO 2011. Theoretically, there is a possibility of right-wing coalition with the Civic Democratic Party and the Top 09, excluding the Social Democrats.

In addition, we should also highlight the 2 April Parliamentary Election in Armenia, as well the 18 June Parliamentary Election in Albania or the polls in Norway scheduled for 11 September with completely unpredictable results. In November, the Slovenian Presidential Election is held, where the polls often bring surprises. Likely, the early Parliamentary Election is held in Moldova, where the pro-European forces could be defeated what would radically change the course of state foreign policy.