austrian-parliament-house-vienna“The Dutch people rejected Populism”! A hysteric and powerful chant from a jubilant Mark Rutte rented the air after his party weathered the surreal threat of the far-right opposition party for freedom led by Geert Wilders at the recent parliamentary elections held in the Netherlands.

The incumbent Dutch prime minister’s victory at the polls was the right tonic for a continent witnessing a brazen and formidable populist wind that seems to be gathering more power and threatening the very foundation of her revered and long established liberal culture.

The far-right movement and politicians’ sudden rise to prominence and swelling followership on the continent was made possible thanks to the changing dynamics and events on the political landscape.

Terrorism, Islam and immigration gave rise to a fear that Europeans are no longer safe and their identity is under invasion due to the presence of immigrants from other cultures and faiths-A dangerous and complicated issue that became more surreal with the ascension of Donald Trump to power in the US.

The emergence of a far-right president calling the shots in the country believed to be the ‘leader’ of free world brought gloom, fear, and most of all raised the ultimate question: what does the future hold for Europe?

It was a question that begged for answers. And the continent and the rest of the world got it in Austria first and now, Netherlands.

Vienna had a chance to prove skeptics of a ‘one europe’ and liberalism wrong as her elections came in the aftermath of Trump’s shocking victory at the US polls.

With EU still reeling from ‘Brexit heart-attack’, far-right parties winning seats in parliament, a Europe turning its back on refugees and Trump emerging as the 45th American president, the indicators or forecast was not encouraging for onlookers watching the Austrian elections. Bet many would have resigned to fate that the Austrians cannot pull this off- The first and ‘real crash’ test to rock the foundation of the continent’s famed liberalism structure.

But they did. Norbert Hofer, the opposition candidate and leader of Austria’s far-right party was denied victory at the polls by Austrian voters. The 35 year-old lost to 74 year-old pro-Europe’s Alexander Van der Bellen. It was a victory that rekindled the hopes of liberals, reassuring them that it wasn’t all gloom for the continent.

But, if the Austrian election was considered less significant as it was just a symbolic presidential elections, the Dutch election wasn’t. It was an election with deeper political significance; one that could send a ‘shock wave’ beyond her borders.

The threat of the far-right groups was more surreal than ever before as the wind of ‘change’ that brought ‘Brexit and Donald Trump into power in the United States gave them a nightmare. So, it explained the anxiety of Pro-EU and liberal apologists as the Dutch went to polls.

However, Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (DVV) handed Europe a lifeline as he saw off opposition leader and candidate Geert Wilder’s Far –right Party for  Freedom(PVV) at last month parliamentary polls to retain his seat as the prime-minister.

Hence, his victory at least for now brings relief and hope to the continent until the bigger picture unfolds at the French presidential elections which will kick-off with first round of voting later this month and the German federal elections coming up in September.

For both countries (major actors in the EU) these presidential elections are coming at a trying period. Both have been rocked by terrorism and both have seen Islam and immigration not only dividing their societies but also denting the CVs of their respective leaders. It is a scenario that has somewhat handed the momentum to populist leaders ahead of the elections.

In France, Far-right National Front Party leader Marie Le pen has risen to prominence and would definitely pose a big threat, if not the biggest threat to liberals’ hopes there. For Chancellor Angela Merkel, it is worse.

Merkel’s handling of the immigration crisis that rocked the EU was like a self-inflicted suicide. Having opened Germany’s borders to immigrants, the attendant consequences of that policy have left a reverberating effect across Rhine land.

Surge in terrorism and crimes linked to immigrants (most especially muslims) have not only gutted Merkel but, had also left her admitting “that she erred” in her immigration policy decision-An apology that might have come too late as September looms.

The political landscape in both countries will definitely offer a sterner test than what Austria and the Netherlands offered. The elections coming up in these two countries would definitely “crack or mend” the political wall in Europe.

It is a ‘slug-fest’ that one can’t easily predict the outcome.

But, before the Germans and the French decide their own destiny at the polls, the continent can still thank the Dutch and the Austrians for the respite she currently enjoys.




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