France’s Neighbors Sound Alarm Over Election ‘Catastrophe’ Risk

  • Spain’s Rajoy, Germany’s Gabriel cite concern at Europe’s fate
  • ‘Situation could hardly be more dramatic:’ vice chancellor

Leaders in Spain and Germany voiced concern that the Europe Union faces collapse as a result of anti-establishment forces campaigning to tear down the bloc, singling out their common neighbor France as the potential trigger.

Europe’s unprecedented electoral calendar, with ballots this year in France, the Netherlands and Germany -- plus possibly in Italy -- presents the continent’s “enemies” with the chance to wreck the EU, according to German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat. He cited Brexit’s cheerleaders among the bloc’s foes.

Separately, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who saw off his own populist challenge last year, expressed alarm at the French presidential ballot in April and May and September’s parliamentary vote in Germany, elections that will determine the future direction of the two biggest economies in the euro area. Victories for the National Front in France and Alternative for Germany would “destroy” the continent, he said.

“I don’t want to even think about it,” Rajoy, whose People’s Party is a member of the same Christian Democratic umbrella group as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, said on Onda Cero radio. “‘That would be a catastrophe.”

WhenWhat
Jan. 1, 2017Italy assumed G-7 presidency; Germany hosts G-20
Jan. 27U.K. PM Theresa May meets President Trump in DC
Jan. 29French Socialist primary
Jan. 31U.K. Article 50 Brexit bill first debated in Parliament
Feb. 3EU leaders meet in Malta
Feb. 8U.K. Article 50 bill voted on in Commons
Feb. 12German presidential election by special assembly
Feb. 16-17G-20 foreign ministers meet in Bonn
Feb. 17-19Munich Security Conference, with Trump administration speakers
Feb. 23U.K. special elections in Stoke Central and Copeland
March 8U.K. Spring Budget
March 9-10EU leaders meet in Brussels
March 15Netherlands parliamentary elections
March 17-18G-20 finance chiefs meet in Baden-Baden, Germany
March 24-25EU leaders meet in Rome to mark 60 years of Treaty of Rome
March 26German state election in Saarland (ruled by a coalition of CDU/SPD)
March 31U.K. to trigger Article 50 starting Brexit process by end of March
April 10-11G-7 foreign ministers meet in Lucca, Italy
April 21-23G-20/IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington
April 23French presidential election first round
May 4U.K. local elections - first electoral test post-Article 50
May 7French presidential election runoff
May 7German state election in Schleswig-Holstein (SPD/Greens)
May 11-13G-7 finance chiefs meet in Bari, Italy
May 14German state election in North Rhine-Westphalia, country’s most populous state (SPD/Greens)
May 26-27G-7 leaders summit in Sicily
June 11French parliamentary elections first round
June 18French parliamentary elections second round
June 22-23EU leaders meet in Brussels
July 7-8G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany
Sept. 24German federal elections

Trump Inspiration

Polls suggest that National Front leader Marine Le Pen will make it to France’s run-off vote on May 7, giving her a shot at claiming the presidency on anti-euro, EU-skeptic ticket. She shared a stage last weekend with Frauke Petry of Alternative for Germany and Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islam platform has helped propel his Freedom Party to within reach of winning the March 15 Dutch election.

Europe’s populist forces see Trump’s victory as a clarion call, click here for more

Europe’s anti-establishment forces are drawing inspiration from Donald Trump’s surprise elevation to the U.S. presidency and unexpected victory of Brexit supporters in last year’s referendum. Another common strand is an anti-immigration stance that has flourished during the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with more than one million people fleeing war and oppression in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere having sought asylum in Germany alone.

Gabriel, who is poised to become German foreign minister in a cabinet reshuffle allied to the Sept. 24 election, pointed to France’s two-round ballot as the key moment that will shape Europe’s destiny. While no recent poll has shown Le Pen coming close to winning the second round, Brexit and Trump’s victory have made political analysts and investors reluctant to rule anything out.

“If Europe’s enemies, after Brexit last year, manage once again in France or in the Netherlands to be successful, then the threat to us is the collapse of the greatest civilization project of the 20th century, the European Union,” Gabriel said in a speech to lower-house lawmakers in Berlin on Thursday.

German Exports

He cited protectionist tendencies from the Trump administration and elsewhere that are “very, very dangerous,” for the world economy and for Germany, whose luxury cars, specialized machinery and chemicals make it the world’s third-largest exporter after China and the U.S.

“With Europe oriented toward international cooperation, Germany would be isolated and alone -- and after the U.K. and the U.S., more partners would be lost to us,” he said of the risks ahead. “The situation could hardly be more dramatic.”

Still, Rajoy, who rules a minority government, said he’s convinced that either Republican candidate Francois Fillon or the Socialists will win in France.

“It’s crucial for Europe’s future that elections in Germany and France go well,” said Rajoy.

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