Austrian elections, Italian referendum show EU's fragility
by Yusuf Selman İnanç
ISTANBULDec 07, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Yusuf Selman İnanç
Dec 07, 2016 12:00 am
It has been a year of lows for the European Union, finding itself tussling with the growing influence of the far-right, the refugee crisis and the Brexit.
The 28-country bloc has failed to handle the refugee crisis sufficiently, as hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in detention camps in bad conditions. It has also been mostly unsuccessful in tackling the rapidly increasing Islamophobia across the continent with reports indicating attacks on Muslims and Islamic institutions have reached unprecedented numbers and to make matters worse, the far right groups have re-emerged in its politics, apparently attracting millions.
In France, the next elections will witness a race between two right wing parties, while another far right political party is likely to bag the upcoming elections in the Netherlands.
Last but not the least, the U.K.'s decision to leave the EU has come as a major blow to its unified structure. With the EU's second largest economy out of the union, experts claim it may lead to a domino effect unless efforts are made to boost the economy.
Meanwhile, the Austrian presidential election showed how close the EU it is to disintegration, with threats posed by far right political parties, after Norbert Hofer, leader of Freedom Party, only marginally lost the election.
"Hofer of the anti-immigration Freedom Party had lost the May election by less than a percentage point, and polls had for months shown the race too close to call. But, within minutes of polls closing, it was clear that he had lost to former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen, who had put the June Brexit referendum at the center of his campaign, saying Hofer would lead Austria down the same road as Britain and warning voters not to ‘play with this fire,'" reported Reuters.
Hofer was anti-immigration and promising to follow the U.K. "Hofer, whose Freedom Party (FPO) is anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic, had suggested at one point in the campaign that Austrians could vote within months on whether to follow Britain out of the EU, though he later rowed back from the comments," Reuters said.
The previous elections were held in May and due to the very close number of the votes, it was re-run this week.
Although it seems to be a victory for pro-EU politicians in Austria, the close-won victory shows the declining popularity of the EU. In almost every European country, the anti-EU parties are not marginal anymore but have recently become active political actors.
The EU's felicity over the defeat of the Austrian far right party did not last long as a constitutional referendum in Italy has brought about the fall of its Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. He is set to resign on Sunday. Despite the fact that the referendum was neither about the eurozone nor the EU, it has worked an opportunity for the far right and populist groups to show their muscles, nonetheless.
"The government crisis could open the door for elections next year and to the possibility of the opposition 5-Star Movement gaining grounds at the heart of the single currency area. 5-Star, which campaigned hard for a 'No' vote, wants to hold a referendum instead on membership of the euro.
"I take full responsibility for the defeat," Renzi said in a televised address to the nation, adding that he would hand in his formal resignation to President Sergio Mattarella on Monday. "I will greet my successor with a smile and a hug, whoever it might be," he said, struggling to contain his emotions when he thanked his wife and children for their support.
With Renzi's defeat "the euro sank even lower, jolting stock and bond markets over concerns that early elections could follow, possibly paving the way for an anti-euro party, the 5-Star Movement, to come to power," according to a Reuters report.
Nicola Mai, head of the European sovereign credit research at PIMCO said, "Renzi's resignation is likely to lead to a period of higher political uncertainty which comes in the midst of ongoing recapitalization efforts in the Italian banking sector."
Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Italy needs to take "significant" additional measures to reduce its debt but it is impossible for the EU to ask for more budgets from Italy.
"European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici dismissed talk of a euro zone crisis, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged calm," claimed Reuters.
Apart from leaders and supporters of the Italian right, France's far right leader Marine Le Pen was also happy with the results, saying the Italians has rejected the EU and Renzi.
Bogged down, the EU seems to be dragged into an even more uncertain future as political and economic problems might trigger even worse, and the rise of the far rights, the exit talks and unsolved problems like the immigration issue have all apparently shaken the EU's unity to the core.