Europe’s leading anti-immigrant and antiestablishment politicians rallied in the Rhineland to launch an election year they hope will topple the European Union, displaying a new level of ambition and organization and casting U.S. President Donald Trump as their inspiration. It was the first time that Marine Le Pen, the French nationalist leader vying for the presidency, campaigned alongside Frauke Petry, the most prominent of Germany’s anti-immigrant politicians. Leaders from Austria, the Netherlands and Italy joined them in ridiculing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and congratulating Mr. Trump—echoing or even directly quoting from his inaugural address. “My friends, this year will be the year of the people—the year in which the voice of the people is finally heard,” said Geert Wilders, who is seeking to become the prime minister of the Netherlands in March elections, despite having been found guilty by a Dutch court in December of inciting discrimination.
Polls show that all of the politicians face long odds in this years’ elections, but after the U.K.’s Brexit vote and Mr. Trump’s win, they are hoping to ride a global wave of antiestablishment sentiment. While the parties gathered in Koblenz have divergent economic agendas, they all deploy anti-immigration and anti-Islamic rhetoric, slam Ms. Merkel’s acceptance of refugees, and want to weaken or destroy the EU.
Mr. Trump has signaled support for anti-EU parties, praising Britain’s decision to exit from the bloc and predicting other countries would follow suit. “2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world awoke,” Ms. Le Pen said to the crowd of several hundred in a convention hall. “2017, I am sure, will be the year in which the peoples of the European continent awake.”
The rise of the anti-EU parties represents a serious economic threat, some analysts say. Mr. Wilders, Ms. Le Pen, and Italy’s Matteo Salvini have all raised the prospect of a referendum on EU membership along the lines of Britain’s vote last year. But unlike the U.K., their countries all use the EU’s common currency, the euro, making an exit by one of them from the bloc potentially far more disruptive to the financial system. “Looking ahead to this year and next, the biggest risk I see is another referendum in the EU,” said Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin. “Such a referendum won’t simply be about EU membership but, in the end, about the euro.”
This year’s first electoral test will come in March in the Netherlands. Mr. Wilders’s anti-EU and anti-Islam Party for Freedom is projected to become the first or second largest, according to recent polling, but the fragmented political landscape would still make it hard for him to form a governing majority. Later in the spring, Ms. Le Pen is likely to make it into the runoff round of the French presidential election, according to polls. In the fall, Ms. Petry’s Alternative for Germany is likely to become the first party to the right of the mainstream conservatives to enter German Parliament in decades. It now polls as high as 15%. Mr. Salvini, whose Northern League party has been polling at around 13% in recent weeks, wants Italy to hold a referendum on EU membership. The Northern League and the more popular, antiestablishment 5 Star Movement pose a threat to Italy’s political mainstream ahead of elections, which are due in 2018 but could be brought forward to this year. Speaking in Koblenz, Mr. Salvini broke into English to quote directly from Mr. Trump’s inaugural speech: “We’ll bring back our jobs, our borders, our wealth,“ Mr. Salvini said. ”We’ll bring back our future and our dreams.”
Ms. Le Pen said Mr. Trump’s inauguration speech featured “similarities to that which some of us have been saying for months, and some of us for years.” Harald Vilimsky of the Austrian Freedom Party said his party’s chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache, missed the Koblenz event because he was holding meetings with U.S. senators and members of Congress on the sidelines of the inauguration.
The euroskeptic politicians’ praise of Mr. Trump underlined concern among pro-EU politicians that the new U.S. president will seek to weaken or split the EU, similar to aims they say Russian President Vladimir Putin has pursued for years. “Trump and Putin are both pursuing policies seeking to divide or even destroy the European Union,” German lawmaker Niels Annen of the Social Democrats, Ms. Merkel’s junior governing partners, said in a newspaper interview “We’re used to this from Putin. But that our most important ally is now pursuing these policies represents a serious danger for the European Union.” German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and the regional prime minister, Malu Dreyer, came to Koblenz to join a counterprotest. Several dozen protesters sat down to block the street leading to the convention hall, and hundreds of police, some armed with automatic weapons, were deployed to secure the area. The conference participants, however, said the momentum was on their side, “Just as there is a Europe of the establishment in Strasbourg and Brussels, we must build a Europe of the antiestablishment,” said Johannes Dietrich, 60 years old, an Alternative for Germany politician from the Frankfurt region. “We want a little bit of a revolution.”
Courtesy:Wall Street Journal